When Black Lives Matter, Iran Loses
• Racism & Segregation Harmed U.S. Image in Cold War

• Racial Inequality Today Discredits US in War on Terror

Arash Norouzi

The Mossadegh Project | June 25, 2015                     

“...the issue of racial prejudice and arrogance is at the very core of what is wrong with the world today... [and] the United States will not be able to exercise the leadership for freedom which the world needs until she cleanses herself of sin at home.” — Percival Leroy Prattis, March 31, 1951

The national conversation over race in America is a long and exhausting one, with endless tangents distracting from the heart of the matter.

One such instance from the not-so-distant segregation era, an exchange between two unique trailblazing journalists, a white female and a black male, is worth reviewing.

Cold War, Chilling Effect

Columnist Doris Fleeson (1901-1970) As the first woman to have her own nationally syndicated political column, Doris Fleeson (1901-1970) was a pioneering media figure. Percival Leroy Prattis (1895-1980), editor of The Pittsburgh Courier, was the first African-American journalist to join the Congressional press corps in Washington, DC.

Percival Leroy Prattis (1895-1980) Minorities in a field dominated by white males, both were patriotic Americans who fully supported the U.S. in its global competition with the Soviet menace. Fleeson had also been an outspoken critic of Sen. Joe McCarthy, infamous for his Communist witch hunts at the time. Prattis had fought for his country in World War I.

Yet during a March 1951 panel discussion on an NBC radio broadcast, Fleeson directly challenged Prattis on the black media’s coverage of racial oppression in the United States: Shouldn’t Negro journalists help out in the Cold War propaganda effort against Russia by not constantly pointing out how awfully America treats its own black citizens? (Read his brilliant response at the end of this article).

Immoral Moralizing

This line of reasoning may have originated during the Cold War, but similar rhetoric still occasionally surfaces with respect to America’s current foreign enemies. Foreign despots, too, such as the leaders in Iran, drag out the same logic when their oppressed citizenry gets uppity. Everyone it seems, likes to indulge in a little finger-wagging—it’s such a convenient diversion from their own mounting domestic crises.

“Injustice to Negroes embarrasses our State Department immensely. Foreign governments, Fascist and Communist alike, say to America: Practice democracy in your own land before you preach it to us.” — Joel Augustus Rogers, The Courier, April 10, 1948

If the United States wishes to stand as an example for the world, then it would be well advised to respect human rights and civil liberties of all peoples, within and outside their own borders, equally and unequivocally. Credibility, not hypocrisy, will serve U.S. interests best.

That means not supporting abusive, undemocratic regimes in countries like Saudi Arabia or Egypt, for example, while shedding crocodile tears over the human rights mess in the Islamic Republic of Iran (which it inadevertently spawned). It means not tolerating the systematic profiling of blacks and other minorities by the police. Not hanging the incendiary Confederate flag at state Capitol buildings. Not eavesdropping on lawful U.S. citizens. Not selectively applying the term “terrorist” depending on whether or not the violent criminal in question is white.

When Black Lives Matter, Iran Loses

The ‘Gift’ That Keeps On Giving

Iran has exploited the U.S. race problem since the early days of the revolution, but perhaps never so much as it has recently. From Ferguson, Missouri to Staten Island, New York to McKinney, Texas to Baltimore, Maryland to Charleston, South Carolina, racial unrest in America has arguably not been this electrified since the turbulent 1960’s. And with each additional domestic atrocity, the tyrants in Iran score points against the “Great Satan” without even lifting a finger. Every new racial crisis presents another shaming opportunity, a fresh supply of material for their anti-American propaganda.

“Treatment of the darker races, and of the American Negro in particular, is one of Russia’s strongest weapons. In fact it’s a regular gift to the enemy. While America has to be spending untold billions to arm the so-called free world, Russia has but to remind the darker world how it is being treated to have it, while not exactly siding with Russia now, to be highly skeptical of what the “free” world says.” — Joel Augustus Rogers, The Courier, June 23, 1951

When a villainous country like Iran commits yet another of its ridiculous sham arrests of a harmless journalist, people dancing to a pop song, or someone who did a drawing they didn’t like, they are generously serving the propaganda of their bitterest foes. Iran makes it so much easier for the United States and Israel to demonize them, when seemingly every move it makes conforms perfectly to their narrative.

Likewise, when the United States frowns at Iran’s human rights record, many ‘humans’ in Iran might look askance at the motivations of a country which launches illegal wars and deadly drone strikes in neighboring Muslim countries, spies on its own citizens, suffers from more random gun violence than any other nation in the world, and allows unarmed black men to be strangled or shot to death in the street by police — on camera, in broad daylight.

“Whatever the nature and however far the extent of our participation in world affairs, discrimination—particularly that directed against the Negro—is the heaviest millstone around the neck of American foreign policy.” — Leo Cherne, U.S. economist (1947)

The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei The office of the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, has been having a field day with all the shocking U.S. headlines. After the 2014 race riots in Ferguson, Missouri, Khamenei’s Twitter account jumped on the “Black Lives Matter” bandwagon with zeal.

To date, @khamenei_ir has posted judgmental anti-U.S. tweets with the #Ferguson hashtag seventy-four times. #BlackLivesMatter seventeen times. #FreddieGray six times. Even Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Rekia Boyd and Eric Garner get nods from the bearded old cleric.

[Updated January 15, 2018]

Given this tapestry of sneering anti-American tweets, the dimwitted could argue that those who lament the state of race relations in the United States, spreading protest slogans like “I Can’t Breathe”, “Hands, Up, Don’t Shoot”, and “Black Lives Matter” are doing the PR work of Iran’s hated mullahs.

Perhaps a more constructive interpretation would be: the perpetuation of white supremacism (or even mere passive acquiesence to it) helps “the terrorists” in Iran and elsewhere advance in the great global race for moral high ground!

As in the Cold War, some Americans might then suggest that since their greatest nemesis derives so much satisfaction from their never-ending racial woes, perhaps we shouldn’t focus too much attention on these matters.

Or, instead of continually sticking its head in the sand, society could just work on finally, thoroughly, addressing the problem.


By P. L. Prattis

The Negro Press Should Do Its Utmost
to Destroy Racial Evils in America

[March 31, 1951]

RECENTLY, I participated in a broadcast over the facilities of the National Broadcasting Company for the National Negro Publishers Association. Other participants were Mrs. Doris Fleeson of The Washington Evening Star, William Gibson of the Baltimore Afro-American, and Marquis Childs of The Washington Post. During the fifteen-minute broadcast, the participants battled the ball all over the parking lot.

Perhaps the most significant question raised during the broadcast happened to be directed at this writer by Mrs. Fleeson. The substance of the question asked by Mrs. Fleeson was somewhat as follows:

If the Negro Press discovers that the propaganda effect of what it publishes about the Negro problem in the United States embarrasses the United States in its international relations, should not the Negro Press forego pressing the narrow racial issue in order not to jeopardize our national and international relations?

Or, more bluntly, is it not selfish and inconsiderate of the Negro, at a time when his country is having so much trouble, to keep on yapping about race prejudice in the United States when this yapping may be used by enemies (the Soviet Union) of the United States to weaken her world position?

*    *    *

I TOLD Mrs. Fleeson that I did not think the Negro Press should stay its hand for the reason suggested by her. The question was not disposed of during the broadcast period, nor, unfortunately, did Mrs. Fleeson and I have the opportunity to discuss it further after the broadcast.

I take the position that this is the time that the Negro Press should do its utmost to destroy racial evils in the United States, regardless of the propaganda use which Russia, or any other nation, might make of the contents of the Negro Press.

I take this position because I believe, and know, that the issue of racial prejudice and arrogance is at the very core of what is wrong with the world today, and because I believe further that the United States will not be able to exercise the leadership for freedom which the world needs until she cleanses herself of sin at home.

We are contending, against Russia, for the support of the peoples of the world. Most of these people, in Asia and Africa, are colored peoples. If we could get them all solidly on our side, we would have no need to fear Russia. But we can’t get them because they don’t trust us.

*    *    *

THEY DON’T trust us because they know we are the land of white supremacy, because they know that we have joined with England and other nations in Europe, to arrogantly show our disdain of the peoples of Asia and Africa who are colored, and because they know that the evidence of the present treatment of the Negro in the United States proves that Americans, by and large, have had no great change of heart.

When a former assistant to the President of the United States asserts that, in order to maintain segregation of the races, the public schools will be closed and education (ironically) turned over to the Christian church, such a statement does more harm in a day than all the Negro Press might publish in a year.

When Southerners in the Congress introduce measures to provide by law for segregation in the armed forces, they serve notice that the heart of a substantial element in the United States has not changed.

The Negro Press is trying to help, not hurt, the United States. It wants so many Americans to become ashamed of America’s ways, racially, that they will act to wash her sins away. If the influence of the Negro Press could lead to the actual practice of Christ’s teachings of brotherhood in this land, the Negro Press would have been instrumental in creating an all-powerful moral force in behalf of America.

*    *    *

THE PEOPLES of the world would know that they had no further cause to fear and distrust the United States. They would know that we had finally and truthfully taken our position on the side of the weak and oppressed, even though colored.

There is a vain and arrogant leadership among us which believes that the power of arms is going to enable us to prevail. This leadership wants to ignore the moral issues and the issues based on human nature. You can’t ignore these issues.

Real power, in a nation or in nations, springs from the might of the people which always, in the long run, asserts itself. The people throw their might where their interest seems to lie. The peoples of the world will get behind us when we have demonstrated that we have genuine feeling and respect for them.

The Negro Press is seeking to create this kind of feeling and respect in this country, regardless of race, creed or color. It is therefore acting, not selfishly, but for the common welfare. What seems good for only the Negro is for the good of all Americans.

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Related links:

The Vietnam War | IRAN | What Lessons Did America Learn?

That Time in 1964 the FBI Threatened to Destroy “Evil” Martin Luther King, Jr.

Human Rights vs. Expediency: Which Will Win Out in the End?

MOSSADEGH t-shirts — “If I sit silently, I have sinned”

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