MAXWELL:  Our sacred cows stray in the way of honest debate

5/18/2008 – Printed in the PERSPECTIVE section of The St Petersburg Times Newspaper

If Americans ever needed rational thinking and free inquiry to solve our serious problems, that time is now. Even so, we refuse to wean ourselves of a practice that prevents us from finding truth and solutions: We slavishly worship sacred cows, those untouchable ideas, ideologies, individuals, movements and places that are closed to discussion except for praise.
Israel, for example holds a special place in the American imagination as a political and religious entity, making public debate and the publication of critical matters related to the Jewish state next to impossible. Since Israel’s founding 60 years ago, and especially since the Six-Day War in 1967, the welfare of the Jewish nation has been the cornerstone of U.S. Middle Eastern policy.
Although our unwavering diplomatic and economic support of Israel is the primary source of tension in the Middle East, the overwhelming majority of Americans dare not discuss the sacred cow behind our blind commitment to Israel: the “Israel Lobby.”
This group works its magic by depicting Israel as an innocent victim just a step away from oblivion at the hands of vicious Arabs if it does not receive unconditional American aid. Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt are being viciously attacked for exposing this sacred cow in their landmark book, The Israel Lobby. Many Jews argue, with a straight face, that the idea of the lobby’s influence is a myth perpetrated by anti-Semites and self-loathing Jews.
Not surprisingly, mainstream presidential candidates, past and now, never bring up the lobby. To do so would mean the end of any White House ambitions. The Israel Lobby as sacred cow wins out every time.
Like Jews, American blacks nurture a crowded stable of sacred cows.
Currently, blacks are attacking comedian Bill Cosby for attempting to slay two particular old bovines: blaming white racism for black problems in contemporary America and airing black dirty laundry in public.
The attacks began in earnest in May 2004, at the 50th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education, when Cosby delivered his controversial “Pound Cake Speech.” In the speech, he committed anathema by chiding blacks for being the eternal victim, for not taking individual responsibility, especially for their children.
“The lower economic and lower middle economic people are not holding up their end of the deal,” he said. “In the neighborhood that most of us grew up in, parenting is not going on. … I’m talking about people who cry when their son is standing there in an orange suit. Where were you when he was 2? Where were you when he was 12? And where were you when he was 18, and how come you don’t know he had a pistol? Brown vs. Board of Education is no longer the white man’s problem.”
Cosby is not the first, black, white or otherwise, to come under attack for dissing black sacred cows. Others include author Zora Neale Hurston, educator and inventor Booker T. Washington, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, sociologist William Julius Wilson and classics professor Mary Lefkowitz, who made the mistake of challenging the tenets of Afrocentrism.
Then there is the personal tragedy of S.B. Fuller, founder of the Fuller Products Co. Until the company’s bankruptcy in 1968, Fuller had been one of the richest blacks in the United States. A nationwide black boycott of his products was mainly responsible for his bankruptcy. His crime was that he preached entrepreneurship as the only real way for blacks to deliver themselves from dire straits.
His views expressed in a 1963 magazine interview doomed him: “Negroes are not discriminated against because of the color of their skin. They are discriminated against because they have not anything to offer that people want to buy. The minute that they can develop themselves so they excel in whatever they do – then they are going to find that they don’t have any real problems.”
Remember Ice Cube’s 2002 film Barbershop? It outraged many blacks because of irreverent observations of icons such as Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. You do not mess with the legacies of King and Parks, period.
Currently, Sen. Barack Obama is the black sacred cow of choice. Criticize him at the risk of being ostracized. Just ask commentator Tavis Smiley, who failed to realize that blacks do not make negative comments about a fellow black who is The First. In this instance, Obama is The First black to have a realistic chance of winning the presidency.
People who are sacred cows rarely hear the unalloyed truth about themselves because their critics are afraid to speak freely. What a pity. And what a dangerous position to be in.