We have few iconic couples from the 1960s and 1970s left. Sonny and Cher divorced and went their separate ways politically. Republican Congressman Sonny Bono died tragically in a skiing accident in 1998. Cher continues to perform by herself.
But not all was Laugh-In and flower power.
Today another famous couple, comrades-in-arms and former collaborators in Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), Weatherman, and then Weather Underground — and now coauthors of the book Race Course Against White Supremacy — are bringing their show on the road.
I am talking about Bill Ayers, once-fugitive “peace activist,” whose photo of him defiling the American flag was used against his “pal” Barack Obama during the presidential campaign.
His wife, Bernardine Dohrn, praised mass murderer Charles Manson and was jailed for seven months for refusing to cooperate with a grand jury investigating the 1981 Brinks truck robbery by the Weather Underground and the Black Liberation Army that killed two policemen and a guard.
The peace and love couple, looking like the tenured professors of a postmodernist stripe that they are (earrings — on men — have replaced the love beads), are doing the book tour. Harlem is on their itinerary. They already visited a public library in Baltimore, a visit that, like Ayers’ other appearances, has drawn ire for his violent past and, conversely, a defense of his “free speech” rights, such as the one by the Baltimore Sun editorial board that claimed “[Ayers] is a distinguished education scholar, and he’s elevating the discourse about race relations in this country.”
The “discourse” about white oppression forms the incessant beat reverberating in the halls of academe, where Ayers and Dohrn now reside comfortably, and where those like me labor as furtive migratory workers for our refusal to admit this “truth” and explore it in our scholarship.
Ayers and Dohrn’s groups supported murderous black power groups like the Black Panthers — even though civil rights acts were being passed left and right. But for them, in 2009, racism still exists.
Nor is racism “a little secondary subplot in the U.S. story,” they claim in their book, “but a central and permanent theme coloring every other. It’s built up over centuries of misbehavior and oppression, infecting our attitudes, our assumptions, our behavior … a plague out there in the world as surely as it is in here, inside our own minds and hearts.” In case others don’t see this racism, the professors deconstruct language and history embedded with “white superiority.” We are enjoined to scour our consciences and unearth bad attitudes with questions like, “Do whites think Black people are human in exactly the same ways they are themselves?” No answer is given, but it is really the question — the “interrogation” (a favorite academic term) — that is important.
A “colossal effort” is this battle against racism in which one “must fix one eye firmly on the world as it is, while the other is looking toward … a future fit for all our children, a place of peace and justice.”
As an example, the couple relates their own heroic efforts. When an elderly couple cooing over their infant son comments that they are happy to see a “white baby” in Golden Gate Park, the young mother, Bernardine Dohrn, “erupted forcefully” with “Go away!” Ayers’ sensitivity began as a young boy, when he asked innocently why his family’s maid was “brown.” Such awareness propelled him into activism. A “sit-in” at the draft board in 1965 sent him to jail for ten days, where he “got to know some wonderful people, including folks who’d just founded a small free school affiliated with the Civil Rights Movement.” He repeats from Fugitive Days, “I walked out of jail and into my first teaching job” at the Children’s Community, a school that “stood against racism and segregation, authoritarianism and cynicism, violence and war.” Teaching gigs were interspersed with activism, like the Weather Underground’s bombings in “retaliation for attacks on the Black and Latino struggles” and against “the imperialist war machine.”
Her own experience in prison provides the credibility for Dohrn’s chapter titled “The Modern Slave Ship.” She learned much from her encounters with the other prisoners who were African American or Latina drug smugglers victimized by the “so-called war on drugs”; they were “humorously willing to try to teach this ignorant gringa Spanish.”
In spite of the election of their favored candidate (they were members of Progressives for Obama) as president, the couple refutes “the recurrent U.S. story … a tale of democracy and freedom, uplift and forward motion, perpetual improvement and never-ending progress.” We cannot congratulate ourselves on progress, they insist — not even for the 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education which forced millions of children onto buses to overcome segregation in schools. “The decision followed incessant and increasingly intense demands by African Americans,” but Brown coincided, importantly, “with clear white interests that had nothing to do with Black well-being: avoiding a revolution led and defined by subjugated African Americans, transforming the feudal South and integrating it into a repositioned capitalist juggernaut.”
Racial justice will never be realized until capitalism is overthrown!
As Ayers said in one of his many visits to Venezuela, “Capitalism promotes racism and militarism.”
A defector from the Communist Party USA, Louis Budenz in 1953 outlined the communist strategies for “creat[ing] division within America,” in order to bring about its downfall. Seeking “unceasingly to penetrate Negro groups,” communists deliberately caused racial strife, often to the detriment of blacks — a prime example, the 1931 Scottsboro case of nine young black Alabama men accused of raping two white women. The Comintern elbowed its way into the case being handled already by the then-conservative NAACP, the Negro Bar Association, the Negro Business Men’s League, and other organizations, according to William A. Nolan’s 1951 study. Roy Colby in his 1967 book also details the strategies of communists behind black separatist movements and riots of the 1960s.
In the days following the 2008 election, conservative commentators on the air and in print, dismayed at the election of a radical president, nonetheless expressed gratitude for the country’s racial progress in electing a black man.
But to Dohrn and Ayers, this is still a racist country. Now we know why.
As that other famous 1960s couple sang, “And the beat goes on.”