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Chris Timmons: It's time the GOP realizes the human complexity of black experience

So again, Jeb Bush belittles black people.

After a decade of uniform disdain for black life, Bush’s view amounts to the pejorative “free-stuff” argument — food stamps, Head Start, unemployment (not necessarily free), which black people tend to take advantage of “disproportionately,” as a Washington Post article put it.

That, Bush says, is the cause of black misfortune.

Black failure to attain the American Dream of white picket-fences, the complete suburbia nirvana (at least at the level of others) is not the cause of slavery and its legacy, Jim Crow and its harsh rigidity, urban renewal and its antecedents, but black effort.

What blacks need, says Bush, is the Republican prescription of hope and opportunity. That old-fashioned American can-do spirit.

What presumption!

He has his cheerleaders, a fledging young Republican policy mind, who wrote in Context Florida recently that the problem of black dependence could be located in LBJ’s nefarious Great Society program. She says anyone attacking Bush using buzzwords like “racism” are just being “frivolous.” So be it.

This is what the cultural critic Albert Murray (who in his work attempted to create a counter-narrative that emphasized the heroism, independence, and omni-American nature of black existence) called the “fakelore of black pathology.”

That lore excludes every moment in American history where black Americans (again omni-Americans) attempted to take charge of their own lives and were repeatedly thwarted: Reconstruction, the Booker T. Washington moment (beginning at his Atlantic Compromise speech), the NAACP-led years of legal protest (1920-54), the Great Migration of the 1920s (the greatest act of self-emancipation in American history), and the civil rights years and onward.

But there’s no explaining this to the GOP, tied as it is to a myopic vision of American history.

Recently, an important black activist died. “Activist” may be an unusual designation for someone like her, activism being associated as it is with protest on the streets, something like the Black Lives Matter movement.

But activist she was.

Sybil Mobley was founding dean of Florida A&M University’s School of Business and Industry.

She created the SBI mystique, a standard of excellence and polish that drew Fortune 500 companies — companies more likely to traverse to Wharton than a black college —to recruit her best pupils.

She demanded students not only have the right book knowledge but the right practical knowledge. Walk around the school’s building, and you’ll see students in business suits — dressed to impress, as the cliché goes. She found out what companies desired and met a need.

Mobley did something more: She went beyond black middle-class respectability and gave young people self-confidence.

With a mix of W.E.B. Dubois’s Talented Tenth and Booker T. Washington’s drop-your-bucket-where-you stand, she enabled generations of blacks to attain “self-sufficiency” yet more: the self-respect that comes from demanding the best of yourself.

Black life is complicated as it involves people — full of the willfulness, pride, foolishness, folly, sincerity, feeling, joy, the full panoply of human nature and human concerns.

Blacks need more than ideological reductionism — a reductionism that says all they want is “public giveaways” and to freeload off the Silent Majority.

Once the GOP realizes the human complexity of black experience, it will liberate that party from endless faux pas on the question of the place of blacks in this country.

In the 1950s, the great black sociologist E. Franklin Frazier riled against the “black bourgeoisie,” though trapped through no fault of their own in an American racial caste system, for not vigorously stamping their presence on American life.

Up till then, and even now, the black middle-class had sought protection in a private world of make-believe and fancy. They created myths about extravagant success in business and affairs of the world to get over the sense of inferiority to whites.

Well, in the 1970s, when an upstart academic named Sybil Mobley decided to create a program that would capture the interest of America’s corporate elite, she boldly struck against this trend and waded into the perilous theater of the American economic scramble in the hope of genuine black integration into this country’s life.

As that ultimate Republican, Calvin Coolidge, put it, “The chief business of America is business.”

Mobley’s effort showcased black perseverance, black imagination, and again, a daring of the kind that has helped create not “freeloaders,” but great citizens.

Chris Timmons is a native Floridian, bird-watcher, editorial columnist, and a fellow with the James Madison Institute. He lives in Tampa, and his opinions belong to him alone. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Photo:  Sybil Mobley, who died September 29, was founding dean of Florida A&M University’s School of Business and Industry

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