The issue is race
Barack Obama gives the impression that racism is not a major problem in the US, yet this video clearly shows that it is, so he is obviously very out of touch with his society. Since this video was taped a few years ago, the racial problems in the US have worsened, which makes it even more frightening. In fact, racism will not disappear on this planet until there is a concerted effort to tackle it head on, rather than to deny its existence. Hort
Talking About Not Talking About Race
Why even the most well-meaning whites and blacks can’t hear each other
By Patricia J. Williams
Published Aug 10, 2008
On a short flight to New York recently, I was sitting behind two white, well-dressed twentysomethings chattering loudly and uninhibitedly about going to clubs and travel plans and the possibility of living in New Jersey. Then came the question: “So who are you voting for?”
“I was for Hillary, but now … I’m kind of undecided,” volunteered the first woman.
“Are you a Democrat?” asked the second.
“Yeah. But I think I might go with McCain. It’s just that, well, I don’t know. You know.” Her voice dropped. I leaned forward to hear better. “You kind of hate to say it aloud, but … ” Here her voice dropped again, to a murmur lost in the roar of the jet engines, and I missed whatever came next.
Let’s start with this concession: I have no idea what that young woman actually said. In a perfect world, I suppose that would be the end of the story and I would go back to minding my own business. In the context of contemporary political discourse, however, it did cross my mind that if this conversation were presented on one of those “finish the sentence” cultural-literacy tests, then pretty much every American, of whatever creed, color, or class, would have exactly the same guess as to how the woman completed her thought. I think there’s some consensus, in other words, about the one thing in America we really “hate to say” aloud. Yet by refraining from saying audibly that-which-must-not-be-spoken, was the young woman’s political choice rendered rational, neutral, pure? Conversely, if I were to spell it out here, would I be the one accused of “playing the race card”?
This is a complicated monkey wrench in our supposedly post-race society. On the one hand, everyone knows that race matters to a greater or lesser degree; on the other, few of us want to admit it. Indeed, race is the one topic that’s probably even more taboo in polite company than sex. Yet in the absence of fact or frank conversation, grown people get buried in the kind of whispered fear, fantasy, and ignorant mistake that a 5-year-old makes when explaining how icky it was when Daddy got Mommy pregnant using the garden hose and a large bowl of avocados. Is this misinformation really so different from when Fox News and Karl Rove fill in the blanks of those awkward silences with images of the perpetually pantyless Paris Hilton rocking the foundations of our civilization on the same stage as Barack Hussein Osama, oops, I mean Obama. This is racial pornography that exploits the barely suppressed caverns of imagined horrors that have haunted us since D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation.
Obama predicted this phenomenon and attempted to expose it to the anodyne of common sense: “They’re going to try to make you afraid of me. ‘He’s young and inexperienced and he’s got a funny name. And did I mention he’s black?’ ” The not-altogether-surprising backlash from McCain’s campaign is a deflection, an expression of deep discomfort. The reflexive accusation that Obama was playing the race card has a certain resemblance to the juvenile retort one gets when the science teacher tries to explain the human reproductive system: “Ooooh! He said a dirty word!” In this way, the opportunity for thoughtful public analysis sinks, once again, below the sound of the audible. Yet the fear of race rolls on, pantomimed in palpably influential and consequential ways.
At the same time, the civil-rights movement has given us a moral conscience that was not as prevalent when The Birth of a Nation was made. Today, it’s fair to say that the overwhelming majority of white Americans “hate to say it aloud” because they also hate to think of themselves as racists. But blacks and whites tend to differ in their very definition of racism. Some years ago, researchers conducting a study for the Diversity Project, at UC Berkeley’s Institute for the Study of Social Change, asked black and white college students about their perceptions of racism on a given campus. White students tended to say there was none, but blacks and Native Americans said it was everywhere. In fact, the study documented an interesting phenomenon: As Diversity Project sociologist Troy Duster put it, “White students see diversity as a potential source of ‘individual enhancement,’ ” while African-American students were more likely to see the goal as “institutional change.” When the white students were asked to give illustrations that substantiated their positions, they spoke of their own experiences and of personal intentions. “Last night, I had dinner with a black friend,” they might offer. Or, “I have a black roommate, and we get along”; “I play basketball with a couple of black guys”; “I’ve never used a racist epithet”; “I treat everyone the same.The black students cited instances of relative privilege, things that were more structural, institutional, atmospheric. “The campus police are always stopping us”; “I get followed around in stores”; “Most of the white students don’t have to think twice about how much it costs to take prep classes for the LSAT or to spend spring break skiing in Aspen or partying in Cancún.”
It’s a familiar, even ubiquitous, miscommunication over the last ten years of the so-called culture wars: A black person speaks of racism or white privilege. The nearest halfway-privileged white person protests, “But I work for liberal causes. You’re lumping me with racists just because I’m white!”
The black person answers, “I’m not saying that you, personally, are a racist. I’m saying we live in a world where it’s easier to be white than it is to be black.”
“But I’m not part of that,” comes the reply.
“We’re all part of it,” insists the black person.
The tendency to turn the commitment to racial liberalism into sheer denial is strong. “I don’t see race” becomes “I don’t see racism.” But while some of us are listening to the soothing tones of National Public Radio, a much larger audience—and larger by millions—is listening to Rush Limbaugh singing those subterranean fears of “Barack, the magic Negro,” or to radio shock jocks cackling about “jigaboos,” or to Pat Buchanan fretting that Obama is a radical, unpatriotic, extremist “elitist” to whom the liberal media hands a pass as a “special-ed,” “affirmative-action” candidate. Not that any of them mean it in a racist way. Hey, lighten up. Don’t you have a sense of humor?
Then there are the real-life, on-the-ground, disastrous statistical disparities that burden the lived experience of the majority of blacks, people of color, and the poor in this country: from the still-unrepaired wake of Hurricane Katrina, to the greater infant-mortality rate and lesser life span, to near double-digit rates of unemployment, to cuny professor Harry Levine’s study of stop-and-frisk statistics in New York City (blacks are eight times more likely than whites to be stopped for marijuana possession, for instance), to disproportionately high national rates of foreclosures and homelessness among blacks, Native Americans, and Latinos, to the almost complete resegregation of schools across the land, to a war on drugs so shockingly racialized and so aggressively executed that our rates of incarceration place us first in the world.
There is an interesting kind of cognitive dissonance at work in the American psyche. We rejoice in the warm symbolism of interracial bliss, particularly in the idealized and thoroughly mythic sphere of celebrity existence: Tiger Woods’s Pan-racialism, Brangelina’s adoptions, Steven Spielberg’s handsome brown son. We tell ourselves we love the idea of diasporic enfoldment: bi-, tri-, and multiracial Kids ’R’ Us. At the same time, there’s terrible ambivalence on the ground. Does one really want “the race card” living next door, or being your boss? Do you really want your child marrying outside his race? I’ve had conversations with white friends who are rattled when a black classmate has bested their child in class rank but still can’t let go of the feeling that the mere presence of blacks in the school must be bringing down the test scores. Similarly, it’s interesting to review the evolution of media commentary, from TV to the blogosphere, trying to fit the thoroughly unfamiliar Obama into familiar boxes. For a while, he was depicted as not having any “racial baggage.” Then, in the blink of an eye, he was transformed into Exactly the Same Person As the Reverend Wright—who then could be demonized with all the well-practiced repertoire of insults reserved for Louis Farrakhan and armed revolutionaries.
Obama’s comeback, his eloquent speech about race, showed that he wasn’t exactly the same person, not by any means. So in yet another twist, he is now so uppity he needs bringing down, defamed as too famous, categorized as uncategorizable, displaced as unplaceable. Since, in actuality, more is on the record about every step of Obama’s life than possibly any candidate on the planet, this particular brand of demonization has been accomplished by the insinuations of erasure: If you took away his “pretty words,” he’d be nothing. If you took away his race, he’d be nothing. If only he didn’t have a brain, he’d be nothing, nothing, nothing. It’s a circular, nonsensical mantra—magical thinking, wrapped in the fiction of “but really, I never see race.” This kind of denial masquerading as color-blind idealism cannot be our compass at this exciting and potentially transformative moment.
Obama’s ‘Race Neutral’ Strategy Unravels of its Own Contradictions
The world views of Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Sen. Barack Obama were incompatible from the start, just as the mythical American Manifest Destiny world view is directly at odds with the facts as perceived by Blacks in the United States. Wright finally forced Obama to choose sides in theconflict of racial/historical visions, and in doing so, performed a service on behalf of clarity. Obama lashed out in a startlingly personal manner, calling Wright a "caricature" of himself and linking the minister to forces that give "comfort to those who prey on hate." Rev. Wright exposed the flimsy tissues of so-called "race neutrality" in a nation founded on racial oppression
Things fall apart; some things, like an ill-tied shoelace, sooner than others. Barack Obama's strategy to win the White House was to run a "race-neutral" campaign in a society that is anything but neutral on race. The very premise - that race neutrality is possible in a nation built on white supremacy - demanded the systematic practice of the most profound race-factual denial, which is ultimately indistinguishable from rank dishonesty. From the moment Obama told the 2004 Democratic National Convention that "there is no white America, there is no Black America," it was inevitable that the candidate would one day declare the vast body of Black opinion illegitimate.
That day came on Tuesday, April 29, when a battered and (truly) bitter Barack Obama made his final, irrevocable break with his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, whose televised Black Liberation Theology tour de force the preceding Friday, Sunday and Monday had laid bare the contradictions of Obama's hopeless racial "neutrality." It was the masterful preacher and seasoned political creature Wright - not the racists who had endlessly looped chopped snippets of the reverend's past sermons together in an attempt to make him appear crazed - who forced Obama to choose in the push and pull of Black and white American worldviews. Obama was made to register his preference for the white racist version of truth over Rev. Wright's, whose rejection of Euro-American mythology reflects prevailing African American perceptions, past and present.
"Rev. Jeremiah Wright laid bare the contradictions of Obama's hopeless racial ‘neutrality.'"
Obama was less than eloquent. "All it was is a bunch of rants that aren't grounded in truth," said Sen.Obama, low-rating Rev. Wright's remarks at the National Press Club, in Washington, the morning before. Rev. Wright had become a "caricature" of himself, said the wounded candidate - another way of calling the minister a clown. Under questioning from reporters in Winston Salem, North Carolina, Obama swore up and down that he had never before, in 16 years as a member of Wright's Trinity United Church of Christ congregation, observed his pastor behave in such a way. The declaration rang patently false, as even a red-state Republican white evangelical observer would have recognized Wright's Press Club performance as that of veteran pulpit-master with a vast repertoire of church-pleasing moves and grooves to draw upon, all of them honed over decades for the entertainment of his parishioners - including Obama. But the senator was intent on giving the impression that Rev. Wright was - unbeknownst to Obama - a Jekyll and Hyde character, whose statements "were not only divisive and destructive, but I believe that they end up giving comfort to those who prey on hate."
An amazingly Bush-like turn of phrase! The man who married Barack and Michelle and baptized their children is now rhetorically linked to Osama bin Laden or the Ku Klux Klan. Clearly, this is what panic looks and sounds like when Obama's flimsy tissues of "race neutrality" are stripped away. He berates Rev. Wright and other Black voices for self-centeredness in failing to strike a balance between African American grievances and whatever ails white people. "When you start focusing so much on the historically oppressed," said Obama, "we lose sight of the plight of others." Obama is desperate to convince these "others" that he rejects anything that smacks of an Afro-centric worldview, as represented by Rev. Wright. "What became clear to me was that he was presenting a world view that contradicts what I am and what I stand for."
Rev. Wright succeeded in drawing a line in the sand, whether that was his intention or not, daring Obama to take his stand on one side or the other. Race "neutrality" - an impossibility in the actually existing United States - went out the window as Obama in extremis positioned himself at the political/historical fault line alongside the defenders of the Alamo and American Manifest Destiny. As dictated by the logic of power, Obama furiously maneuvered toward "white space," shamelessly taking cover in a kind of populist white patriotism that has always branded Black grievances as selfish, even dangerous distractions from the larger national mission. Rev. Wright's "rantings" amounted to "a complete disregard for what the American people are going through," said Obama. "What mattered to him was him commanding center stage."
"Obama's flimsy tissues of ‘race neutrality' are stripped away."
Obama had belabored the same theme in his Philadelphia speech on race, a few weeks earlier - a widely applauded piece of oratory that was at root an exercise in moral equivalence that equated white and Black grievances in the U.S., as if history and gross power discrepancies did not exist. Obama is as quick as any smug corporate commentator to dismiss as the ravings of extremists and those who "prey on hate" the very idea that U.S. imperialism is an historical and current fact. Chickens cannot possibly come home to roost in terroristic revenge as a response to American crimes against humanity, since "good" nations by definition are incapable of such crimes. It is beyond the pale to contemplate that the United States has Dr. Deaths on its covert payrolls dealing in ghastly biological warfare - the AIDS genesis theory.
In order for his race-neutral strategy to appear sane, Obama must constantly paint a picture of an America that does not exist. This cannot be accomplished without mangling the truth, assaulting the truth-tellers, and misrepresenting America's past and present. Since Obama's candidacy is predicated on minimizing the pervasiveness of racism in American life, it is necessary that he cast doubt on the legitimacy of those with race-based grievances. Otherwise, he would be morally compelled to abandon his neutrality and side with the oppressed minority. Thus, he announces in Selma, Alabama that Blacks "have already come 90 percent of the way" to equality - a non-truth by virtually any measurement. He says the "incompetence was color-blind" in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, thereby deracializing all that occurred in New Orleans from the moment the winds died down to this very second. He claims that 1980s Ronald Reagan voters had understandable grievances due to "the excesses of the 1960s and 1970s," in the process cleansing the Reagan victory of any racist content.
Race neutrality requires that Barack Obama become a cleanup boy for racists, historically and in the present day. At the same time, Obama is driven to loath most those people and facts that might lead to divisiveness. America's worst enemies are not the racists, but those who point out the facts of racism, as Obama explained in mid-March in Philadelphia: "Reverend Wright's comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems - two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all."
Rev. Wright and his ilk, by this reasoning, are Public Enemy Number One, standing in the way of the racial harmony that is the natural order of things in Obama's mythical America. "Obama must constantly paint a picture of an America that does not exist." Ironically, in practice, race-neutrality also requires that Obama disarm himself in the face of racist attacks. "If I lose," he told reporters with a straight face, "it would not be because of race. It would be because of mistakes I made along the campaign trail." Perhaps it is fitting that, having absolved American racists of all manner of crimes against others, Obama also holds them blameless for their assaults on himself. That's his prerogative, as long as he's the only one being assaulted. But Obama was also dogged over the long weekend by the ghost of Sean Bell, whose death in a 50-shot New York City police fusillade was held blameless by a white judge. Many African Americans anxiously awaited Obama's reaction to the three police officers' acquittals on all charges. "We're a nation of laws, so we respect the verdict that came down," said Obama, when asked about the case by reporters in Indiana. "Resorting to violence to express displeasure over a verdict is something that is completely unacceptable and is counterproductive." That was it.
Hillary Clinton, aware that the Sean Bell verdict was an outrage to Black America, issued a prepared statement: "This tragedy has deeply saddened New Yorkers - and all Americans. My thoughts are with Nicole and her children and the rest of Sean's family during this difficult time. The court has given its verdict, and now we await the conclusion of a Department of Justice civil rights investigation. We must also embrace this opportunity to take steps - in our communities, in our law enforcement agencies, and in our government - to make sure this does not happen again."
It is difficult not to conclude that Obama distanced himself from the facts of the acquittal - except to counsel against violence and urge folks to "respect" the verdict, whatever that means - while Clinton had the sense to prepare a statement that sounded sensitive to Black anger and on top of developments in the story. The Sean Bell police and judicial atrocity revealed with horrific clarity that Black life continues to be systematically devalued by police in the United States, even when the officers involved are of African descent, as were two of the three shooters in the Bell case. The New York verdict shows that Black lives are devalued by all actors in American society, including Black actors: the essence of institutional racism. "Black life continues to be systematically devalued by police in the United States, even when the officers involved are of African descent." Institutional racism is alien to Barack Obama's version of the nation, a fantasy place where racial oppression has never been so endemic to the political culture as to overshadow the "promise" of America. In Obama's public vision, his Democratic caucus victory in 98 percent white Iowa, which began the cascade of Obama wins, proves that the U.S. is ready for profound racial "change." Left unnoted is the fact that Iowa incarcerates African Americans at 13 times the frequency that it locks up whites, the worst record in the nation.
For people like Rev. Jeremiah Wright, mass Black incarceration and slavery are seamlessly linked, part of the continuity of racial oppression in the U.S. Most African Americans see the world the way Rev. Wright does - that's why he's among the top five rated preacher-speakers in Black America. This Black American world view, excruciatingly aware of the nation's origins in genocide and slavery, is wholly incompatible with the American mythology championed by Barack Obama. When the two meet, they are mutually repellant. The relationship between Rev. Wright and Sen. Obama has undergone "great damage," says Obama, understatedly. But the break was inevitable and is no tragedy, because it reveals the incompatibility of Obama's adapted world view with the body of knowledge amassed by African Americans since before the landing of the Mayflower. The truth is always a revelation.