Whites’ increasing resistance to racial equality perplexed African-American moderates who looked on in horror as their former allies, who now termed themselves neo-liberals, began propagating political principles that absolved them from any responsibility for racial inequality.
Whites couched their increasingly public attacks against racial progressivism within well-worn individualistic Horatio Alger uplift stories. Neo-liberals shifting principles dramatically altered the political landscape in regards to racial matters. Whites reasoned that their retreat from the battle for racial equality was beneficial for African-Americans as it provided them an invaluable opportunity to independently address intra-racial social vices, political inefficiencies, and economic deficiencies.
After the Watts rebellion, whites considered benign neglect their lone opportunity to aid African-Americans. From their perspective, Blacks only hope of securing respect in America was to follow the same path to politico-economic empowerment that European and Asian immigrants traveled; meaning the mobilization of and strategic utilization of politico-economic caches. Although calls for African-Americans ‘to lift themselves up by their bootstraps’ were a familiar refrain, it remained neither fair nor achievable in the mid-sixties considering their dearth of politico-economic caches. Unfortunately for African-Americans, this reality did not prevent neo-liberals from shifting the blame for persisting racial inequities to their strong shoulders. The insinuation was obvious; whites were no longer willing to aid the American Negro. Neo-liberals publicly attacked Blacks for requesting group protection by admonishing that socially responsible individualism was the only path to racial equality, not offensive rallies, marches, and speeches.
From its genesis, neo-liberalism propagated flawed theories regarding Black suffering to a gullible white populace. For example, Neo-liberals disputed their former Black allies’ assertion that institutional racism was the real catalyst to persisting racial inequities. President Lyndon Baines Johnson articulated such thinking during a commencement address at Howard University on June 4, 1965. Johnson’s speech signals progressive whites’ abandonment of liberalism for a more conservative politic. At the addresses opening, Johnson enveloped himself in traditional liberal jargon by acknowledging the pernicious effects of racial discrimination and calling for continued diligence in the battle to subdue it. The President pointed out,
[Y]ou do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, “You are free to compete with all the others,” and still justly believe that you have been completely fair. Thus, it is not enough just to open the gates of opportunity. All our citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates.
However, the most significant aspect of President Johnson’s presentation occurred after these initial thoughts when he endorsed a new path to racial equality; Lyndon Baines Johnson then proceeded to blame Blacks for persisting racial inequities.
Equal opportunity is essential, but not enough. Ability is stretched or stunted by the family you live with, and the neighborhoods you live in, by the school you go to and the poverty or the richness of your surroundings. It is the product of a hundred unseen forces playing upon the infant, the child, and the man. Overt job discrimination is only one of the important hurdles which must be overcome before color can disappear as a determining factor in the lives and fortunes of men . . . The extent to which an individual is able to develop his aptitudes will largely depend upon the circumstances present in the family within which he grows up and the opportunities which he encounters at school and in the larger community.
African-Americans should have considered Johnson’s comments public warning that they were solely responsible for lifting themselves up by their bootstraps because neo-liberals, a population that included former allies, had abandoned the struggle for racial equality with a clear conscience, nonetheless.
Dr. James Thomas Jones III
© Manhood, Race and Culture, 2017