It took me a while after arriving in the U.S. 50 years ago to grasp the spectrum of political views within the black community. As a black Jamaican immigrant, I slowly became aware of lines drawn in the post-Civil Rights era.
There was the moderate wing, whose members tended to be admirers of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and mainstream achievers, focused on diplomacy, opportunity and accomplishment.
Then, there was the more radical left, who seemed to resonate more strongly with Malcolm X, Elijah Muhammad and radical preachers and activists.
This is the group that made America most nervous. They were blunter about the impact of racism on African-Americans. They were less inclined to be winsome. They laid the blame for the gaps and community deficits squarely at the feet of White America. They complained frequently and were often accused of playing the “black card.”
As time went on, such complaints found a more sympathetic ear from the Democratic Party, while the Republican Party, guided by Richard Nixon’s racial prejudice, and then Ronald Reagan’s racial indifference, drifted in the opposite direction, insisting that the problems were more internal to individuals and communities and that personal responsibility, initiative and grit represented the real American response.
As the two parties spread further apart, views on race went along. On the right, the view evolved that too many on the left complained about America and that patriotic Americans did not disparage the country. Complaining became the stigma of the left.
So it has come as a seismic shock to me, and to American culture, that the right has suddenly produced America’s loudest complainers and that the Republican president is now the complainer in chief, dwarfing any complainer, of any hue, the left has ever produced. Flags are now waved to carping rants, making complaining the new expression of allegiance.
Just last week, the president elevated his already monumental grousing, to whine that no president had been treated worse than he, not even the assassinated Abraham Lincoln, deadly enemy to half the country. Complaining has now become … heroic!
I write of this, not to reclaim the title of leading complainer faction for the left, but simply to hold a mirror up to my mentors on the right. Yesterday, you instructed me to quit complaining, then admired me for not complaining.
Then, just when I had mastered the art of bucking up and taking responsibility, despite history or circumstance, you switched it up and made complaining the virtue.
Don Samuels lives in Minneapolis.