Tony Brown

The Color of Freedom Is Green

VTR Date: June 20, 1987

Guest: Brown, Tony


Host: Richard D. Heffner
Guest: Tony Brown
Title: “The Color of Freedom Is Green”
VTR: 6/20/87

Heffner: I’m Richard Heffner, your host on THE OPEN MIND. Some day, perhaps when I’m not afraid that you in the audience might literally be convulsed with laughter at the way I looked and sounded thirty-one years ago, I may show a recording, a kinescope as we called them in those early days of television, of one of my first OPEN MIND programs. One in which I literally had to describe an unfamiliar Martin Luther King’s accomplishments by way of introducing him to my 1956 viewers. Of course, that was before Dr. King so brilliantly distinguished himself, and this nation, with his leadership of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. So much has changed in Black and White America since then. And the degree to which Blacks achieve much higher economic status now to seems to some to have surfaced as an ever-more formidable and pressing question, the color of freedom having become green, that of the dollar.

Now one who feels this quite strongly is my guest today, Tony Brown, whose long-running television series, Tony Brown’s Journal I see each week here in New York on Channel 13 just before I watch us. Usually a most extraordinarily cohesive and impressively mature expression of strong feelings by his Black studio audience. Now my guest’s Buy Freedom Crusade surely reflects his attitude towards the color of freedom. But I want to start today by first asking him something about his own intellectual odyssey from nearly twenty years ago when what became Tony Brown’s Journal was said by John O’Connor in the New York Times to have had it’s share of questionable, or at least highly debatable contributions. “In attacking White racism, this program has sometimes merely offered the other side of the same racist coin and that side is no less ugly”. Concluded Mr. O’Connor, “If Black racism, no less objectionable and absurd than any other form of racism is offered as a tool in the struggle for dignity and pride, the program also deserves to be seriously questioned”. So I ask Mr. Brown whether O’Connor was right in what he wrote at that time and now.

Brown: No, I don’t think he was right. I think it’s important to look back at the time, I think this was around 1971 or 72…

Heffner: Yes.

Brown: … that he wrote that article. And, quite frankly, we were the only voice of Black people on television, certainly on national television. And many White believed that any expression of Black anger or frustration … and Black America is very, very frustrated … is an expression of racism. That as long as Black people are saying that “We will sing another song or tell another joke”, everything is fine. I know the exact show that drew that criticism from Mr. O’Connor and his ire was directed at a Black historian who said the entire history of White people is a failure. And Mr. O’Connor took quite deep exception to that statement. So I don’t agree with Mr. O’Connor’s analysis or conclusion that the man was racist. He was a historian and I can find you some White historians who will tell you the exact opposite and say the entire history of Black people is an absolute failure and go about documenting it in their own way.

Heffner: Perhaps the word racist is so vague a word and so meaningless a word that we should dispose of it, but let’s take it in terms of what most people we know mean by it. Are you on the side of those who say this is still a racist country?

Brown: It is a racist country.

Heffner: And what do you mean by that?

Brown: Well, I mean the indigenous attitude, the institutional ethos in America is one of White arrogance. The assumption, implicitly and explicitly, is that White people are right because they have power. And I don’t like the logic that says one is correct because they are in control. I think one can be in control and not be correct, and I think Hitler and other demagogues are classic examples of that. Pm not saying the White America is demagogic, I’m simply saying that the evidence of their power is not evidence of their brilliance nor their morality. That there is room for questioning in a society in which a Jackie Robinson, if he had lived, still wouldn’t be a manager of baseball. A country in which Al Campanis has simply said, in public, what many Whites say privately. A country in which Earl Butts, our former Cabinet member, got simply caught and we have this whole litany of Whites who say in public what many Whites think in private and then they’re castigated and used as excuses for the fact that they are not like other people. The institutions in America are racist. And America is a racist society.

Heffner: Tell me how you expect that we’ll come out of this.

Brown: Well there’s only one way to come out of it. And quite frankly, the institutions in American were born in a racist climate. What Black America believes somehow is that the only way to change racism is that for every White person in America to become an integrationist. Therefore every White person should want a Black neighbor, every White person should want their daughter or son to go to school with a Black person and I suppose the logic means that they would have to share everything they have with Blacks in order for Blacks to have what Whites have. Number one I don’t think all White people are racists, as individuals. Secondly, I think that if Black people were doing what Black people should do, it wouldn’t matter whether prejudice and discrimination were rampant. Black people do not have an exclusivity on prejudice and discrimination. Many other groups are not liked in this country. The Jews have come a tremendous distance. They have not solved anti-Semitism, but they certainly have put it in its place. The Cubans have not been deterred by anti-Cubanism. The Asians … the new waves of immigrants coming to this country … are not stopped because people don’t like them. So therefore, in my mind, whether or not you are liked or disliked is not the variable of your adaptation. It’s what you do about whether or not you’re liked or disliked, that puts you where you should be.

Heffner: Well now, this morning, as I told you before we started, I watched Tony Brown’s Journal and I was enormously impressed with what you did … because you’re a superb moderator, you really are excellent in drawing people out … with what you said, what your guests’ said and what your audience said. Now are we going to do what you suggest. And certainly that suggestion was very strongly made that you had to feel pride and to do something. Is there sufficient indication to you, over the past decade or generation, that the Black community is on its way to helping itself?

Brown: Some people in the Black community. And if I may say this, it very important not ever to say what the Black community’s doing or not doing, what Black leadership is doing or not doing because there are some individuals who are and some individuals, obviously, who aren’t. But there is a sufficient consciousness now in the Black community that was born out of the frustration of the new Conservative Era, the last eight or ten years in America. And that consciousness is saying: if we don’t do it, it will never get done. And I go back to what we were just discussing. Okay, suppose America is a racist society, and I believe it is. In spite of it being racist, if Black people would organize themselves in such a way as other ethnic groups organized themselves, we would at least neutralize racism. The reason racism is so odious is that we don’t have the power or the instruments of power to stop it from harming us. Many other groups, although they’re not liked, although they also suffer from discrimination and prejudice, have the instruments to prevent it from harming their ability to achieve in this society. And finally to answer your question directly, there are some of us who have the consciousness … Rosa Parks on December the first, 19 would not surrender her seat to a White man on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. On that date the consciousness of the entire Black community in America was raised to another level. We are the only group in this country, with the exception … well the native American is the only native American, every other group in America has immigrated here from somewhere else. Of all those groups, every other group brought with it, its cultural identity, its heritage, the pride in that heritage. Even if they were persecuted, the legacy remained intact … where ours was broken by slavery and therefore, we, unlike the other groups, have to capture this sense of pride in ourselves. And upon that sense of pride, as every other group does, build some sense of some achievements in the areas of economic, politics, education and so forth.

Heffner: But, of course, the other groups did not have the extraordinary disadvantage of having their cultural patterns totally disrupted and having every institution in the nation to which they came, legal, social, otherwise … educational, set against them.

Brown: That’s what I mean by institutional racism.

Heffner: I know. I know. You know I belong to another generation that had hoped in the forties and the fifties and the sixties that what was going to result was the goodwill that found black and Whites embracing each other.

Brown: But people in power in America did not get in power by goodwill. They are in power because they understand the instruments and the uses of power. Power seeks itself. Goodwill and wishing … see, the primary problem in the Black community is the assumption that because racism is wrong, people who benefit from it will stop using it. That’s a naive notion. As tong as one is getting advantages from a system, they are very unlikely go against that system. Oh, a few words here or there. The fundamental responsibility of freedom is my responsibility. Not yours to free me. Therefore, racism is wrong, it’s immoral, it’s unfair, it’s unethical. We could continue. However, I’m the victim therefore it’s my responsibility to change it. We must distinguish, those of us who are Black, between the predicament and the problem. A predicament is a statement of fact. Racism is a fact. Therefore it’s not the problem, it’s the predicament. The problem is what are we going to do about solving racism? Therefore, when we pay an inordinate attention to racism, we pay no attention to the problem, which is what are we going to do about racism?

Brown: And I say we should begin to organize instruments of power. Therefore we will stop the other power that is preventing us from having what we’ve having. How in the world, I ask you, can Black America have what White America has, when we spend ninety-five percent of our two hundred billion dollars each year with people who are not Black. Suppose every White person in America loved every Black person in America. And we continue as we are now to boycott our own business people and give ninety-five percent of our wealth to White people. How could we possibly have what they have? If every White person in America loved every Black person in America, the math is not therefore our equality.

Heffner: I’m sure the question must come up in the minds of some viewers then, would you suggest that every Black person boycott every White store and spend his or her money only where there are Black entrepreneurs?

Brown: I don’t think the alternative to what we’re suggesting is a boycott. Number one, Black people spending two hundred billion dollars with only three hundred thousand businesses, eighty-five percent of which earn probably less than twenty-five thousand dollars net income could not possibly boycott White America.

Heffner: But would you move in that direction?

Brown: No, I would not. Because that’s not intelligent. To react against Whites is as bad as the current black consumer reaction of reacting against Blacks. Blacks are now boycotting their own business sector. Therefore why boycott the White business sector, why not be intelligent about business? Why not take a dollar, as we suggest in Buy Freedom, spend fifty percent with a Black business that has a consciousness to help the Black community. Not any Black business. Many Black businesses don’t want to help black people and don’t want to be involved. So let them earn money anyway they can. But the Black businesses who say, “ want … if you buy from me, 1111 provide jobs. If you buy from me, I’ll help the Black colleges. If you buy from me, 1111 give you good prices, I’ll be courteous”. Therefore, strengthen our community. That’s fifty percent of our dollar. Take the other fifty cents and spend it with a non-Black business that has a fair hiring practice, therefore provides employment for our community and supports the institutions in our community which gives rise to those who are able to consume the goods and services sold by these corporations. That way we will bring back to our community a million jobs. Therefore we can stabilize ourselves with the use of our consumer income.

Heffner: Mr. Brown, how successful has this Buy Freedom approach been?

Brown: It’s been very successful and let me explain what success is. If you were selling … there are approximately two hundred and forty million people in America … if you sold one million records, you’d be one of the richest and most famous recording artists in the country. But if you sold one mil records that would mean the two hundred and thirty-nine million people did not buy your record. And it really wouldn’t matter, would it? So what I’m discussing is not whether or not everybody, every one of the thirty million Blacks agrees with what we’re doing or not. There is a target audience or market that we have that does agree and among those one million Blacks, out of thirty million, we’re having tremendous success. And if one million of us continue to do what we’re doing with the use of our income, we will change the conditions for the entire thirty million.

Brown: But if I were to sit here and try to answer you in terms of “Well, all Black people are with me and some of them don’t like me”, that’s really missing the issue. This is a marketing strategy as anyone else who is selling anything has to develop.

Heffner: Well, let’s go back to the issue in another area, that of politics. What suggestion do you then have, let’s say in terms of the candidacy of Jesse Jackson?

Brown: Well, I will tell you what I told Jesse Jackson a few days ago. I would hope that Mr. Jackson will think about a strategy. If Mr. Jackson believes that White America is going to elect him, I don’t agree with him. If Mr. Jackson is going to be a broker for the Black community, and use his tremendous popularity, his wit, his brains, his contacts to make conditions better for Blacks, he not only will help Black people, he will probably be the most powerful politician, Black or White, in the country. And how does Mr. Jackson do this? I think two hundred and seventy—one of two hundred and seventy—seven necessary votes from the Electoral College which really elects a President come from nine states. In the nine states that have the majority of Electoral College votes, Blacks have registered voters anywhere from eleven to nineteen percent, with the exception of California. If Mr. Jackson were to concentrate his campaign, as a Black candidate, knowing he cannot win the Presidency and strengthen and consolidate the Black vote in the nine states that will ultimately decide between the White man who’s the Democratic nominee and the White man who the Republican nominee, Mr. Jackson can throw a switch at the Democratic Convention and decide which party will win the election.

Heffner: Suppose, and we’re in the world of hypothesis, suppose someone else pulls the switch and Jesse Jackson is the candidate. Would you be pleased by that as a citizen, as a voter?

Brown: Oh, I am pleased when the people speak. I think if Mr. Jackson can find a way to get nominated, it will not be a political success, it will be a miracle.

Heffner: I am really asking you whether he’s your candidate for President, not for politician.

Brown: I am … I am a political independent. I am not a Democrat and I am not a Republican. I choose the candidate based on what the candidate will do for my community. And that includes the Democratic nominee and the Republican nominee. I think one of the big faults is too many Blacks are locked into the Democratic party. I don’t think it’s healthy. I don’t think you can be a one party community in a two party system. I think we need to broaden our … and that’s why [ that the Black vote should become the decisive vote, and then let us ask which party will do most for our community. And then let us give it to that party. If the Republican party is going to do more for us than the Democratic party, we don’t owe the Democratic party anything. Why not vote for the Republican nominee? If he will deliver. Or if it’s the Democratic nominee. Let’s not be locked into politics.

Heffner: So that in politics, too, you apply the same kind of analysis, what will deliver, as the color of freedom is green.

Brown: The variable is not Black or White. We Kid ourselves.

Heffner: It’s green.

Brown: The variable is whether or not you and I will mutually support one another or whether we will not. I think the mistake we’ve made in this country, the people of good will have made, is that they have reacted against segregation. Not established a desegregated society, but they have, instead, supplanted segregation with assimilation. Which means that Black people should not have anything. Therefore, without power, without instruments or institutions that are viable, Blacks cannot survive because this is not a melting pot. Groups succeed in this country because individuals succeed as members of successful groups. The Mormons have two states, Idaho and Utah. Everybody has their own institutions and if you have institutions, the Cubans have Miami and much of Southern Florida. If you have institutions then you are going to succeed as a group. I don’t think Black or White is the essence of whether or not we succeed or fail.

Heffner: You mentioned melting pot a moment ago. And I think that most of us were brought up with the notion that this is a melting pot, that’s the nature of American society. And you’re saying forget it, skip it, it hasn’t been and isn’t now.

Brown: I’m saying I’ve never seen a Black person who became White.

Heffner: Is that what you mean by melting pot?

Brown: That’s what I mean. I mean the melting pot myth is more precisely what it is. This is a culturally diverse pluralistic society. Who succeeds in this society? People can come here from Viet Nam in 1979, not speaking one word of English, graduate number one in every academic institution we have, dominate science societies. People have come here in waves, from all over the world and they have succeeded because primarily they did not come here to be assimilated. They came here to take advantage of the greatest opportunities in the greatest country in the world. And by doing it as a unit, they succeeded. If each of them would have fanned out and gotten lost in the crowd, they never would have made it as individuals. And that’s what African Americans have to understand. That every other group has done this and we must do precisely what they have done and what the current wave of Asian immigrants are currently doing.

Heffner: Every time I watch Tony Brown’s Journal and I hear that point made, and I hear the strong, positive response on the part of your audience, I also wonder if these very, very much middle class Blacks are going to follow that advice. Because in a sense you’re asking them to give up an ideal.

Brown: Well, I’m not asking them to give up an ideal or I don’t think anyone else is. The ideal didn’t work.

Heffner: Well I understand that’s what you’re saying.

Brown: It’s like your Mother or your Father telling you … like the girl that I wanted to marry when I was twelve, who I loved, who rejected me. It was hard, but it was real. And as a result of accepting reality, I’m a better person. Black people are in a dilemma. We literally and figuratively are in the dark. We have two choices. We can either curse the darkness or turn on the light. You can only turn on the light with truth. Truth … all Whites are not racist.

Brown: We’re not the only group in this country that’s disliked or discriminated. Every other group with the exception of our group, has overcome prejudice and discrimination with group unity. And we must understand that. We must understand that our children have not been any better educated since we’ve bused them away to another group of people. We must understand that our condition in this country, relatively, is as bad as it was when we began this so-called movement to run away from our own neighborhoods, to close our own schools, to create unemployment for our own people. And 1 ask you, if anybody can answer me, why is it that Blacks spend ninety-five percent of their money with everybody but other Black people? Why is it that every other ethnic and racial group turn their money over in their own neighborhoods from five to twelve times?

Heffner: Well, I’ve thought I’ve heard the answer on your program so often. The Black feelings about Blackness. That they are inadequate feelings, they are feelings of inadequacy and I always think of Thurgood Marshall’s brief in the Board of Education case in 1954 which pointed out that Black children play with White dolls and do everything that they’re brought up to do. On this morning’s program, as I watched it, of course much was made of God and his disciples as all White. What happens to a people if another color is made the norm and I wonder in that regard whether your request, whether your quest can carry the day. And I suspect it must.

Brown: Well, I don’t think it’s my quest. It’s an evolution historically. Blacks don’t have anywhere else to turn. You look very carefully at the Black experience…what we thought was going to be integration, that Whites were going to bring Blacks into White centers of power and share power, was a naive notion, it never happened. We had to do that because we didn’t know any better because we, quite frankly, had been tricked. See, segregation with the “White-only” signs and the “Colored-only” signs and you could drink out of this water fountain, you couldn’t drink out of that one, was a psychological head-game that was put on us. And we quite frankly didn’t fight for equality. We fought fork acceptance. So when they took down … in May of 1954 the Brown decision said we could go in the room where the White people were, we went in the room, but it was empty. And forty years later you find Blacks who’ve gone to the most exclusive colleges, to the Harvards and the Yales and the Wellesleys, they’re now running around the Black community organizing networking conferences, trying to find one another. Not because they don’t like Whites, but because they can’t survive without other Blacks. So we’ve gone through this twenty or thirty year odyssey, like being in the wilderness.

Heffner: Do you think that the people in power in this country, the White community with the political and the economic power, that they recognize what you feel, that integration never could be, at least that it doesn’t exist.

Brown: First of all, it was naive for Black people to believe they, singularly, could decide whether or not there would be integration. If I ask a lady to dance, it’s not just my decision, it’s our decision.

Heffner: Yes, but the White community was urging integration.

Brown: No, the White community has never accepted integration. The White community has mouthed integration, it’s never accepted it. There have been isolated places and there are White people who try.

Brown: But overall, White America doesn’t want to be integrated. And I am convinced it’s not because the majority of Whites are racist. It’s because the majority of Whites have convinced themselves that any association with Blacks will reduce the quality of their lives. Therefore, my conclusion or my solution is the only way we will ever have racial peace in America is for Blacks to earn one dollar for every one dollar that Whites earn. If I want you to accept me, I first of all must become your equal. I can only become your equal if I use wealth to create power. And power to create freedom in all forms. If I am continually asking you for equality based on your largesse, based on your giving me an affirmative action program or a quota, I will never be your equal. I will always be someone who is asking you to give me something. We aren’t going to solve the problem by people saying, “I want it solved”. We’re going to solve it with pragmatic solutions.

Heffner: Now is this kind of, is it fair to call it separatism?

Brown: No, I don’t think it’s separatism. I think separatism applied to Blacks is racist. And that’s an example of institutional racism. We never call anyone group separatist for having ethnic identity. The very moment Blacks talk about Black pride, we say it’s anti-white. We never say St. Patrick’s Day is segregationist or separatist. We never say that Polaski Day is separatist. We don’t apply that concept to any group but Blacks. So there’s nothing separatist about me being of African descent and that’s what I am. I am what I am. I am an African American. Therefore I take pride in myself. And I live and like people of my own group. I don’t dislike people from other groups because I like my own, but I certainly don’t dislike my own … people of my own group.

Heffner: A hypothetical question in one minute. Where do you think Dr. King would stand today in this regard?

Brown: I think Dr. King would be rejected. I think when Dr. King died, there was a new wave of Blacks who really didn’t share his philosophy. I think Dr. King contributed enormously to our growth in this country as Black people and White people. but I think he would have been a very frustrated man in today’s American with the Howard Beachs and the Forsythe, Georgias and the Al Campanises, and it seems like no matter what happens, they won’t go away. It’s an eternal burden on this country’s soul.

Heffner: Do you think that means that violence is coming back into the picture?

Brown: No. I think there are … we don’t necessarily have to look for a revisitation of violence, but America’s going to have to understand that we’re going to have to encourage Black people to help themselves or we probably will have violence.

Heffner: Tony Brown, after watching you each week, I’m so glad to have met you and I appreciate your coming here today on THE OPEN MIND.

Brown: It’s my pleasure.

Heffner: Thanks. And thanks, too, to you in the audience. I hope you’ll join us again next time. And if you care to share your thoughts about today’s program, please write to THE OPEN MIND, P. 0. Box 7977, FDR Station, New York, NY 01050. For transcripts send $2.00 in check or money order. Meanwhile, as an old friend used to say, “Good night and good luck”. Continuing production of this series has generously been made possible by grants from: the Rosalind P. Walter Foundation; the M. Weiner Foundation of New Jersey; the Mediators and Richard and Gloria Manney; The Richard Lounsbery Foundation; Mr. Lawrence A. Wien; and the New York Times Company Foundation.