Cliff Kincaid and his colleagues have accused Frank Marshall Davis (1905-1987) of being a Stalinist, a lifetime member of the Communist Party, and “Obama’s Communist Mentor.” Kincaid heads “Accuracy In Media” (A.I.M.), an organization dedicated to “fairness, balance and accuracy in news reporting.” Kincaid and his colleagues are all honorable men.
Having asked Kincaid to substantiate some of his accusations, and having received no reply, one can only conclude that Kincaid must be preoccupied with more important questions, because Kincaid is an honorable man.
Although the ironically named “Accuracy In Media” has yet to substantiate that Davis actually mentored Obama (a claim specifically rejected by the Obama campaign), such a relationship could have provided a bi-racial teenager with the key to success in mainstream America. To minimize criticism and maximize their potential, bi-racial African-Americans must walk a narrow identity path between group expectations. Davis was uniquely qualified to show the way. He may have significantly facilitated Obama’s vision of an inclusive society.
Davis may have advised Obama that to succeed in mainstream America, African-Americans must consider worst-case scenarios without wearing a chip on their shoulders, even though this normally requires judgment borne through actual experience. They must learn to give others (such as Cliff Kincaid) the benefit of the doubt. Success within mainstream America requires that abusive behavior should be attributed to bias only when there is no other plausible explanation.
Growing up in explicitly racist America, Davis learned never to immediately trust anybody white, but professional and personal familiarity nevertheless produced many warm interracial relationships. While one could plausibly argue that such stereotype activation is inherently racist, the recent expansion of “racist” to include such thought processes (as opposed to differential treatment) renders virtually everyone similarly culpable.
Although his experience with Jim Crow may have “incurably” limited his expectations of contemporary America, he shared Dr. King’s dream of a color-blind society. He unequivocally rejected racism, and worked tirelessly in support of equal rights for all Americans. He recognized that although victims of racism may have a reason to hate their oppressors, such reasons do not become rights – a distinction often lost on his critics. Collective responsibility is a double-edged sword.
Davis’s crusty radicalism may have perfectly counterbalanced Hawaii’s laid-back lifestyle for an African-American teenager destined for greatness. He provided coherent insight on African-American history, politics, and culture vis-à-vis mainstream America. Davis recognized the folly of cultural nationalism, including Black Separatist movements, long before meeting Obama. Obama’s grandfather may not have recognized the true value of his gift.
Although he may have used CPUSA periodicals as a publishing tool in the 1930’s and 1940’s, along with contemporaries Richard Wright and Langston Hughes, he rejected communist ideology in general and specifically attacked Stalin. He supported a fully integrated mixed economy, because neither laissez–faire capitalism nor collectivism provide the greatest benefit for the greatest number. He also had a libertarian streak that may have made Ron Paul proud.
Davis retired from activism by the 1970’s. His civil rights agenda had become the law of the land. He wrote little. Even if he had remained prolific, the burgeoning black publishing world obviated CPUSA periodical support for African-American writers. Further, the barbarity of communist regimes discredited the CPUSA and Marxist ideology. Newly divorced, he entered his golden years with glee.
As an honorable man, Kincaid must be unaware that by the 1970’s, the twin forces of Hawaiian and hippie cultures had mellowed Davis to the point that “Stalinist” charges are especially absurd. By the early 1970’s, Davis had become a virtual teddy bear, a permanent fixture of the Koa Cottages in the “Waikiki Jungle,” noted for its counterculture residents. Davis was known as a kindly old man, usually sitting on his porch a few steps from Kuhio Avenue, waving at all that passed. Although he had little money, he was always willing to share with those in deeper need.
As an honorable man, Cliff Kincaid must also be unaware that his portrayal of a raving Stalinist could not be further from the truth. Davis deeply loved the United States, despite his occasional flirtation with radical ideology. He recognized, perhaps belatedly, that the United States offers a unique combination of economic opportunity and personal freedom, thus providing sufficient strength and moral authority to champion human rights worldwide. If he HAD been so lucky, Barack Obama could not have found a finer mentor anywhere.