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I've read several articles and posts asking for 'solutions' and suggestions on ways to address the issue of 'white privilege' in America. These are certainly important questions worthy of consideration and debate. I hesitate to express even small criticisms of characterizations of what white privilege means - most often with these definitions coming from white individuals, which isn't something I feel is damning or seriously inappropriate.
That said, I do feel it's much more important to listen to the expressions of non-white individuals who feel subject to negative aspects and consequences of disparities in treatment, opportunity, or other realities of our existence in society.
Of course, while correctly pointing to the sometimes condescending or subjugating attitudes of some white people toward black individuals, it should be remembered that there are also stereotypes made and perpetuated against white Americans. The difference, of course, is the consequences in a majority white society in which black people are regularly discriminated against, judged, repressed, or attacked in a disproportionate measure by many in that white majority. Still, we should refrain from assuming these patronizing and subservient attitudes are universal and inherent in all white individuals; just as it's imperative to refrain from stereotyping black individuals.
Many black Americans, myself included, grapple with the way racism is so ingrained in all of our everyday insecurities about ourselves and others; and how its almost impossible for black Americans today to put aside those insecurities when so many perceptions of us and so many actions and attitudes of us are still so negatively skewed in ways which allow whites opportunities to define black lives outside of the boundaries of opportunity, acceptance, and understanding that they afford their own.
I had the opportunity to illustrate this to a former white soldier who had experienced verbal abuse upon his return home. He regularly characterized blacks who had run afoul of the law as 'thugs' and 'criminals' and I asked him to put himself in their place by questioning whether he thought he had served honorably and was a good soldier.
When he replied in the affirmative, I pointed out that he was able to remove his uniform and avoid the stereotyping that had motivated the people castigating him for his service; but that blacks had no way of removing their 'uniform' or changing the color of their skin which compels so many to associate them with the worst our society has historically labeled our race with.
Point is, we need to avoid entering into interactions with each other assuming the worst of what we believe or assume about each other. It's, perhaps, naive and disarming, but that's the only way we'll be able to move beyond these barriers of perception; on either side of the racial divide. Easier said, then done, I know - but, we can all do our part to push past these artificial and contrived images of ourselves. Our national history has affirmed this possibility. There's no reason at all to second-guess ourselves or become overly cynical about our respective intentions now.
What I'd really like to express here is that it's not reasonable to expect black Americans to respond to acts of racism directed toward them - or to racism directed toward other black Americans which has been highlighted recently with the increased profile of disproportionate killings of black individuals at the hands of white law enforcement officers - solely with an analytical focus on solutions; solutions like engendering trust between police and our community. It just seems, to me, strange to expect that black Americans would be able to generate attitudes like trust, acceptance, understanding, or respect in white individuals harboring the worst of instincts, beliefs, or fears toward their black counterparts.
We are, after all, imbued with as much personal pride and self-respect as the next person. We don't necessarily regard ourselves as subservient to anyone else's prerogative or initiative in every interaction. We should expect that we would be treated equitably in our interactions with others, in our interactions with authorities. It's perfectly understandable that we would act defensively when we are not, and we all know that defensiveness isn't always rational or accommodating.
I watched and listened a good while back as the highest official in the country, a black man, responded to the Eric Garner decision against prosecution of the officer involved by raising concerns over 'trust.' Trust in our justice system; trust in police practices; is such a remote and unlikely possibility to me right now that I'm almost ready to just tune the those sentiments out from any public official or officer who purports to speak down to me about trust from their positions of authority and influence.
Yet, there was something refreshingly direct in President Obama's statement which, perhaps, wasn't made as clear in the snippets offered along with news reports of the non-indictment of the cop filmed committing what was ruled a homicide, a murder of Eric Garner, by the city coroner. There was something in his statement which finally connected with my own thoughts and determination. The president used the word, "accountability," to buttress his concern about Americans "being treated equally under the law."
"I'm absolutely committed as president of the United States to making sure that we have a country in which everyone believes in the core principle that we are equal under the law," President Obama said at the White House Tribal Nations Conference.
"We are not going to let up until we see a strengthening of the trust and a strengthening of the accountability that exists between our communities and our law enforcement," he continued.
That sentiment, so eloquently expressed, I believe, is directly on point. To me, there is nothing short of accountability from these police officers and police departments which will assuage my concern and commitment. I don't see any way that 'trust' will ever be achieved without a clear avenue for accountability, both within the institutions and from our courts. Standards, training, and even cameras on officers are essentially meaningless without accountability for the actions of these officers and officials of the law. In the case of Eric Garner, for instance, strangleholds were already against police policy, and it's clear that filming the killing did little to effect accountability and justice for the assailant.
Moreover, there really isn't any provision of law which mandates 'trust' - or even understanding, or respect for each other - as a condition of our rights to equal treatment under the law. Those are certainly fine aspirations, but our rights are inherent in the Constitution which (improbably, at the time of its inception) asserts that we are all created equal. That's where our rights are drawn from, not from any expectation that we love or respect each other before they are administered fairly.
The only way to ensure proper management of departments and policy is for individuals employed to 'protect and serve' to fear for their own liberty or job security if they violate provisions or laws in their duties. There's far too much comfort in these police departments and impunity in the actions of their officers, creating an authoritarian atmosphere where officers feel safe in using excessive force without repercussions or serious rebuke.
That effort is going to require individuals in positions of power who respect those rights and who are committed to enforcing them. There's really nothing less which will bring about the changes many want to see in the disposition of these rights. The law is where our protests and demands originate and reside; the rest of those aspirations should flow from that demonstrated understanding of equal treatment in any legal reprimand from police or adjudication in court. We begin with our demands and exercise every instigation of democracy (and civil disobedience) to achieve them.
I also believe we're long past the point where blacks need to prove their worth to anyone to expect equal justice under the law. We need to force the system to adhere to justice, to respect our rights, no quarter. That effort isn't always going to be rational, accommodating, or solution based. We're only human, and there are consequences which can arise from angering a people or backing them into a corner. I don't expect the black community to stand still or just genuflect in the face of oppression. If the white community is uncomfortable with that, perhaps it's time to consider how they're going to modify the ways they interact with the black community. If not, perhaps they'd better buckle up, it's going to be a bumpy ride.
Posted by bigtree | Sat Jul 9, 2016, 11:48 AM (0 replies)
I put together a small gif slideshow of 5 pics from a homecoming parade in a sleepy Charleston, W.Va. that my father participated in sometime at the later end of the 40's. It's a 'snapshot' in time, a window into a not-so-distant past. I think the mix of races in the crowd is fascinating.
My father's in one of the closer pics grinning at the camera. He retired from the Army when he got back from New Guinea after WW2 ended. He told me that on the way home after being shipped back to the base out West, he had to change train cars on the rest of the way back home to Pennsylvania from the integrated train to the 'colored' rail line when they reached the segregated towns.
This parade and the obviously interested crowd is also notable for the young folks who witnessed this fascinating and pretty unique (for the time) unit of black soldiers. I've always named the one photo with the single soldier strutting out in front 'Proud Soldier' for the one fellow's sense of pride and the apparent appreciation shown by the mix of residents of the town looking on . . .
We have a Fourth of July parade down our circular street every year. It's a bit of hometown magic - not large by any standard, but probably the nicest thing about this town.
Happy July 4th, everyone!
Posted by bigtree | Mon Jul 4, 2016, 12:33 PM (4 replies)
Well, that was it for Garrison Keillor as host of Prairie Home Companion. He had his last show yesterday, but I waited for the Sunday morning rebroadcast so I could sit outside one last time and listen to the sounds of his hometown chatter and song mingle once again with nature. I got lost one last time, drifting deep into my own thoughts, recalling narratives from my own life as I listened to Garrison's storytelling.
I guess I'm past the denial stage... I'll download the all-too-brief last telling of the News from Lake Wobegon later, I suppose, and listen to it with my wife at some quiet time. Maybe even play a couple of the sad goodbye songs from songstress Heather Massey, before and after.
But, man, what a bittersweet show. President Obama actually phoned in, to my delight, recalling how the show kept him company on long drives around the country. I suspect that was the case for many of us. Garrison's show was a fantastic companion, wherever you happened to be at the time.
"How does it feel?" fellow cast member Tim Russell asked Keillor.
"Well, it's the first last show I've ever done, so I don't know how it's supposed to feel," Keillor answered.
"How does it feel?"
Garrison suffered another seizure this year, so I am certainly wishing him well and hoping he can find some healing time away from work and closer to his family. I wrote about this moment a while back. Like the hopelessly vain, hopefully read writer that I am, I'm sharing it out again, one last time...
Wobegone Is Me
Posted by bigtree | Sun Jul 3, 2016, 12:32 PM (10 replies)
...is absolutely stunning. The illogic just berns.
Here, he's railing against the fact that the majority of supers have lined up behind Hillary. Sanders first admits he's behind in earned delegates, the appears to argue for some sort of proportional allocation of superdelegates...
Sanders Sunday w/Jake Tapper:
“If I have 46 percent, she has 54 percent. The point that I was making is there’s something absurd when I get 46 percent of the delegates that come from real contests — real elections, and 7 percent of the super delegates.”
Is he arguing for proportional representation of supers, or not? Tapper tries to pin him down:
“Should we assume that means that you believe the candidate who has the majority of pledged delegates by the end of this process should be the nominee?” the CNN host wondered.
No way Sanders was going for that, after all, what he just argued for basically conceded the primary to Hillary. Instead, he shifted to his amazingly hypocritical argument that the establishment supers he's all but called corrupt should back his candidacy, even though he's certain to trail Hillary in earned delegates and votes...
“I understand that it’s an uphill fight to go from 46 percent where we are today to 50 percent in the nine remaining contests, I got that,” Sanders admitted, adding that super delegates should take an “objective look at which candidate is stronger.”
Here's the thing, expecting party pols, basically the folks he's spent this campaign attacking as establishment insiders, to overturn the will of voters in our primary, isn't revolutionary, progressive, or any other heroic label he and his supporters choose for their campaign. It is an anathema to democracy, it's a kick in the teeth to the people his 'people's revolution' claims to represent and support.
It's based, unbelievably, on the view that polling should take precedence over actual votes. It's stunning in its cynical expectation that there's some sizable contingent of superdelegates willing to leapfrog democracy and advance the losing candidate.
I can't help think about what reaction the Sanders campaign would have if the results of the primary had been reversed. Not just things like their reaction if the more diverse regions and states had supported him over Hillary, but their reaction if Hillary had made a public campaign out of seeking party insiders to overturn those results.
You don't get a pass for an anti-democratic campaign just because you label yourselves as a movement. The only movement which should be given precedence is the movement of those who actually show up at the voting booth. That's where Sanders' revolution against our party has been tested, and that's where it's failed.
Not at rallies with Sanders preaching from the podium; not outside campaign events where partisans shout obscenities at rivals for supporting a different Democrat in this race; not on the internet where invectives and strident rhetoric is substituted for substantive debate; not out of hate and threats made over the phone; but in the voting booth.
I don't think it's too much to expect Sanders and his supporters to know the difference.
Posted by bigtree | Mon May 23, 2016, 03:07 PM (9 replies)
I'm in what I think is a unique position in my life (to many other younger folks), where I've been subject to a government which did not fully recognize or defend my rights or my citizenship as a black American.
Moreover, I've lived through a time where there was scant representation in our national government of black legislators, and the product of our government reflected that dearth of diversity. I still recall the mere handful of blacks I found in Congress when I first explored the Capitol as a young adult. I remember seeing the tall head of Rep. Ron Dellums, ever present on the House floor, and imagining that there were many more like him in the wings. It wasn't until 1990, though, that we actually saw a significant influx of minorities elected to Congress, enabled by the 1990 census Democrats fought to reform and manage (along with their fight for an extension of the Voting Rights Act which Bush I vetoed five times before trading his signature for votes for Clarance Thomas) which allowed court-ordered redistricting to double the number of districts with black majorities.
Now, in my 50's, I'm living through a time where there is not only a steady influx of blacks elected to the House, but also a smattering of legislators elected to the Senate. Of course, there's the two-term presidency of Barack Obama to measure the distance our nation has traveled from the passage of the Voting Rights Act, to the nomination and election of our first black occupant of the White House.
I raise these points to try and get folks to understand how much effort and struggle it took to get the leaders of our black constituencies in place in government - in positions where they could actually make a difference in the debates and deliberations which, only a few decades ago, excluded them from even being considered in allocations, benefits, protections, assistance, opportunity, and other vestiges of citizenship which had been denied to individuals in our communities.
If you could only see through my eyes just how absurd the notion of a political revolution against the Democratic establishment looks in the wake of a largely successful presidency which has only been limited in it's progressive accomplishments by an entrenched and obstructive republican majority.
I'm not a big fan of the process of government in our national legislature. It's an institutionally cumbersome process which too often dwells on the lowest common denominator. Still, you have to understand, I'm not feeling the glory and liberation of unsettling legislators who have overcome historical obstacles, as well as institutional ones (such as redistricting and gerrymandering) to gain a seat at the political table. From my perspective, we've barely just arrived, and some who profess to having 'progressive' interests want to show them the door.
I get that I'm exaggerating, but who has the luxury to be sanguine about supposed 'movements' which not only threaten legislators over daring to support another candidate for president, but denigrate the voters (South) who enable them into office with their votes? I don't have that luxury, and I reason that others in my community do not, either.
I know there are people who will come back to me about the primacy of issues over the color of a legislator. Sanders, himself, said pretty much that in an early interview. Although, he declared in another contradictory instance, that our party's problem was it's inability to appeal to white men. 'Wooing white males,' it was called in my day.
Moreover, Sanders has argued throughout the primary that progressive economics is a panacea for what ails the black community which is disproportionately disadvantaged by poverty, unemployment, and a crumbling infrastructure. Yet, there is much for our community to be wary of in that assessment of his. A rising economic tide certainly raises many boats, but it can just as certainly drown those unable to float on their own.
Democratic socialism isn't something which provides consideration for the unique problems faced by black Americans, many of which can be laid at the doorstep of discrimination. A higher minimum wage, for instance, is no good to someone denied employment or advancement.
Much has been written about Sanders' economics and its parallel to FDR's New Deal. Sen. Sanders and his supporters can confidently point to the legacy of Roosevelt in establishing a social safety net as they promote their candidate's own populist agenda - clearly influenced by a proud and thoughtful Socialist legacy - many facets of which, as he noted in a speech explaining his invented political moniker, are currently being practiced by successful, progressive economies around the world.
Yet, it should be remembered that FDR left a whole host of productive and worthy Americans out of his grand bargain... from wiki:
The New Deal programs put millions of Americans immediately back to work or at least helped them to survive. The programs were not specifically targeted to alleviate the much higher unemployment rate of blacks. Some aspects of the programs were even unfavorable to blacks. The Agricultural Adjustment Acts for example helped farmers which were predominantly white but reduced the need of farmers to hire tenant farmers or sharecroppers which were predominantely black... Some New Deal measures inadvertently discriminated against harmed blacks. Thousands of blacks were thrown out of work and replaced by whites on jobs where they were paid less than the NRA's wage minimums because some white employers considered the NRA's minimum wage "too much money for Negroes." By August 1933, blacks called the NRA the "Negro Removal Act."An NRA study found that the NIRA put 500,000 African Americans out of work...
And women were initially left out of the bargain as well...
At first the New Deal created programs primarily for men. It was assumed that the husband was the "breadwinner" (the provider) and if they had jobs, whole families would benefit. It was the social norm for women to give up jobs when they married; in many states there were laws that prevented both husband and wife holding regular jobs with the government. So too in the relief world, it was rare for both husband and wife to have a relief job on FERA or the WPA. This prevailing social norm of the breadwinner failed to take into account the numerous households headed by women, but it soon became clear that the government needed to help women as well.
FDR's Social Security Act had similar exclusivity for white men... from wiki:
____ Most women and minorities were excluded from its benefits of unemployment insurance and old age pensions. Employment definitions reflected typical white male categories and patterns.
It bears reminding that most legislative progress has been historically incremental (and progressively evolving), even with passage of sweeping initiatives. There's certainly much to be desired and demanded from our political process, but progressive change requires coalition-building, not tearing at the fabric of our party that many vulnerable and politically precarious Democratic communities are counting on to represent them. For many of these legislators (most minority legislators are in the House), they are, essentially, the voices of their communities or districts - voices unique to these communities and desperately needed.
We wage revolution against enemies, not allies. If we are to be successful in effecting progressive change, we'll need to build and repair bridges of support within our party as we continue to press for action. That's how change happens. There's no shortcut to be found by dividing our ranks. Let's make it happen.
Posted by bigtree | Mon May 16, 2016, 10:40 AM (44 replies)
Zeke Miller @ZekeJMiller
"WTF is it then?" indeed. More precisely, where's the revolution?
Of course, there never really was a real people's revolution, and, maybe labeling the Sanders campaign as one is a bit of opportunistic politics on either side. The entire notion of a decades-long D.C political figure waging a broad brush revolution against the political establishment he's still part and parcel of is an absurdity in the still-ebbing wake of a successful, two-term Democratic presidency.
In fact, the campaign of this newly declared Democrat - who kept the party at arms length throughout his legislative career until he decided he needed our coalition for 'media coverage' for his presidential run - has focused his revolution almost exclusively in this primary against any Democratic figure or institution who dares associate themselves with his rival. The entire campaign has devolved into an anti-Hillary endeavor which appears to be more about electing him at this stage than anything substantive.
What are we to make of the mere handful of Sen. Sanders' peers who have stepped forward to endorse his candidacy? The dearth in support from Congress is amplified by the spectacle of all but a couple of members of the 'Progressive Caucus' he founded when he was a congressman backing his opponent.
What are the American people to make of a campaign which promised a revolution of support, yet, halfway through the primary have seen a sizable majority of the voters who are a legacy of the Obama coalition rally to his rival? How does a campaign which is so far behind in votes and delegates earned get to claim that it's a 'movement?'
With a lot of damn hubris, is how. Here in this forum, the Sanders campaign is presented as some heroic deed; the final chance to save our party from itself. Yet, Sanders campaign and supporters have far overestimated the appetite of Democrats to eat their own in an aftermath of their divide and conquer campaign which has left an astounding number of Democratic and progressive icons by the wayside.
As the campaign, and eventually the candidate himself, put aside Sanders' expressed objections to personal attacks against his Democratic rival, they are left with very little comity available for a rival who's seen republican smears co-opted by Sanders defenders to suit their increasingly cynical campaign.
What a rising majority of our party's voters are actually saying by choosing Hillary Clinton, is they don't see a need to tear down the structure of our Democratic coalition, but have expressed their desire to continue and build upon the gains made in the past 7 years under Barack Obama.
The candidate who emerges victorious at the end of our primary is the person with the legitimate claim to any 'movement' of voters. No amount of the projection that's occurring here and elsewhere from Sanders supporters toward Hillary can diminish the hopes and desires of those who've rallied to her campaign.
The values and principles they hold are not defined by whatever the opposition is projecting on their rival. They are no less 'heroic' than anyone else investing their resources and dreams into this campaign which presents an especially historic prospect in the election of the first-ever woman nominee for president, as well as the potential advancement of the maverick candidate from Vermont. Supporters of Hillary should be proud of their candidate, and themselves, as well, for committing to the election of this historic choice.
Black and Latino voters should also take pride in their efforts in providing wide majorities of votes in several states which have buoyed Hillary's delegate and popular vote to over THREE times Barack Obama's biggest lead at this point in 2008. That's a 2.5 million + vote lead, so far, over Sanders.
Instead of just talking about a revolution, these voters are creating a movement of their own. It's no coincidence that these folks are under direct attack from the republican opposition. They also deserve more recognition than intended by the Sanders' camp's 'low information voter' slurs and the crushed meme of some regional difference in knowledge or support between voters in the North and South.
At some point, the party will need to respond to these voters' interests and concerns, rather than just process angry rhetoric from someone tilting against them who can't rally enough actual voters to his cause to even defeat his Democratic rival.
Posted by bigtree | Thu Mar 17, 2016, 10:17 AM (95 replies)
...when we eventually choose a nominee.
It's not a negotiation, it's a personal responsibility which I'd expect supporters of either candidate to live up to. You're either going to coalesce in the end with your rivals in this primary to defeat the republican nominee, or render yourself irrelevant (or an impediment) to that fight.
Just as importantly, the losers of our primary aren't in much of a position to make the demands I see popping up on this site in exchange for their votes. You don't get to demand fealty to a 'movement' which has failed to gain the support of the majority of voters in our Democratic primary.
In this primary election, Hillary Clinton is racking up a majority of votes from a good representation of the Obama coalition, which, itself represented the closest thing we've experienced in decades to a revolution of voters. The voters who achieve a majority in our primary election deserve to have see their interests take precedence as we move forward to the general election.
For everyone else, their participation will be a compromise, similar to countless of other primary elections where Democrats put aside their differences and united to defeat the republican challenge to all of our ambitions and goals. No one should need to bend over backwards persuade those who actually care about the issues they represent to join in that effort after we deliberate and produce a nominee.
Posted by bigtree | Wed Mar 16, 2016, 09:29 PM (22 replies)
“We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people." ― John F. Kennedy
One of the misimpressions of the contest between these two decades-long D.C. political fixtures, expressed by some Sanders supporters, is the characterization of their campaign which has consistently trailed in voter support (both in the polls and at the polls) as a 'movement,' and the Clinton campaign as something inferior, or 'establishment politics.'
The one thing which distinguishes the Clinton support is it's broad base of Democrats, most notably in its attraction to black voters, and Latino voters, as well, in record numbers sometimes exceeding the share Barack Obama received in many contests in 2008.
In fact, the Clinton support is a mirror of the Obama coalition; more exactly, a legacy of those historic candidacies which, by any measure, was the largest 'movement' of motivated, new voters our party has ever experienced. It's no wonder that these same voters are under direct and daily assault by the leading republican contenders.
I raise that point, because the turnout at the polls hasn't measured up to the standard Bernie Sanders, himself, has set for his definition of a political revolution. Not only is there less of a diverse coalition of support for Sanders than Clinton, there's no evidence of any legislative candidate movement to buttress his expectations of some watershed event in American politics...that is, outside of his election.
That's what the Sanders candidacy represents to me, a 'movement' to elect him. Moreover, it has regressed, in my opinion, into an anti-Hillary campaign, with any and all political figures and institutions associating themselves with her candidacy labeled as 'establishment' and targeted as the embodiment of all political evil; never mind that the Sanders campaign would welcome their endorsement in a heartbeat.
The absurdity is that a President Sanders is running to head the 'establishment,' and is more than probably going to recruit most of the political class from previous administrations to manage government. It's just not that apparent to me that this decades-long national legislator has any more clue how to enact his proposals from outside the dreaded Democratic establishment he's running against, than he did as a Senator.
He's opportunistically kept the party at an arms-length when it suited him politically; and embraced our Democratic mantle when it suited his political ambition to be president; essentially an Opportunistic Democrat without any dependable allegiance to judge where he'll set his political sails in the presidency.
Unless I'm missing something, other candidates have run this close to their rival in a Democratic primary before. The campaign is reduced recently to declaring a 2% point win in MI as 'historic' when Sanders merely achieved 4 more delegates than Clinton in that race.
Meanwhile, down South, Hillary was racking up a whopping 66% point win in MS, driven in large part by Obama 'movement' voters. Tell them someone says their aspirations in this election are somehow different from the Sanders folks. Someone should have the audacity to tell them directly they think these voters' 'values' are somehow less than 'revolutionary' in working to advance this accomplished and dedicated woman to a potentially historic presidency.
I think they'd say that someone has forgotten who we're really fighting against in this election.
Posted by bigtree | Sat Mar 12, 2016, 02:31 PM (21 replies)
I've been told by some here that discussing race in this campaign is 'divisive.' I reject the notion that I, or anyone else impacted by race should be silent, just to satisfy someone's discomfort with the subject. It's actually cathartic for me to discuss race in this campaign in a constructive way. The alternative is to do what I've done in my youth, which is to bury those feelings and cede our political conversations to those who feel comfortable in disparaging blacks, intentionally or out of ignorance.
One of the results of the presidential pursuit of Barack Obama has been the awakening of a new (and reinvigorated) generation of black voters. That's not something which I believe should be parsed out in our conversations, but, rather a development which deserves highlighting and nurturing.
Like it or not, there are going to be differences expressed about the value of such votes, and also, the inevitable efforts to dismiss or denigrate these important and consequential votes for our party. Those votes and voters should be pursued and defended by our party with just as much vigor and determination as any grassroots, political 'revolution' of support for our party and candidates is celebrated.
However, unfortunately, we're not talking about something which occurs in a benign vacuum of indifference. The effort for representation and recognition of blacks in our political system has been going on since Reconstruction, and continued through the dark days of Jim Crow and state-sponsored discrimination and obstruction of this vital community's political voices.
Indeed, the representation of blacks (by elected black politicians) is a relatively new development, in my own lifetime. (Repeating a narrative of mine), when I was a young adult, there were just a couple black legislators in Congress. I still recall the mere handful of blacks I found in Congress when I first explored the Capitol. I remember seeing the tall head of Rep. Ron Dellums, ever present on the House floor, and imagining that there were many more like him in the wings. It wasn't until 1990, though, that we actually saw a significant influx of minorities elected to Congress, enabled by the 1990 census Democrats fought to reform and manage (along with their fight for an extension of the Voting Rights Act which Bush I vetoed five times before trading his signature on the bill for votes for Clarance Thomas) which allowed court-ordered redistricting to double the number of districts with black majorities.
The gains blacks have made in our political institutions have not kept pace with even the incremental gains which have occurred in the workplace, for example. We may well have an abundance of black CEOs, military officers, business owners, doctors, lawyers and other professionals. However, Americans have yet to support and establish blacks in our political institutions with a regularity we could celebrate as 'colorblindness.' And, to be fair, not even many blacks would likely agree that we've moved past a point where race should be highlighted (if not overtly emphasized), in our political deliberations and considerations.
Moreover, there has been a fear of black advancement throughout our early American history - fear that blacks would rise up and dish out the same injustice & violence many in the white-dominated had perpetrated against the race of people since slavery and through the years of segregation and state-sanctioned discrimination. Yet, despite our tragic history, though, blacks have shown great forbearance and benignity in the face of it all.
The federal advancement of group rights was an important element in securing individual rights for blacks, before and after the abolition of slavery. Government's role has been expanded, mostly in response to needs which had gone unfulfilled by the states; either by lack of will or limited resources. After the passage of the 14th and 15th amendments, the federal government had to assert itself to defend these rights -- albeit with much reluctance and not without much prodding and instigation -- by passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. That effort, and others by the federal government were a direct acknowledgment of the burdens and obstacles facing an emerging class of blacks.
Indeed, the efforts in the '60's to bolster and nurture black Americans into the social, economic, and political mainstream of America has meshed perfectly with the needs of our expanding economy and the growing markets which have eagerly absorbed millions of black Americans who were advantaged by the educational opportunities and initiatives which were focused on lifting their communities out of the squalor of indifference and disrespect of the past.
It's not uncommon, as many folks so breathlessly want to express, to find blacks succeeding and operating at almost every level of opportunity, industry, or occupation. But, that advancement of black Americans did not occur in some vacuum of 'colorblindness,' nor, will the progress of black Americans in our political system be served by a revisionism which automatically suggests the playing field has been fair or accommodating to the interests of the individuals -- or, even, to the black communities which are assumed to have advanced along with those who manage to get elected.
Racism certainly isn't chic anymore; not like it was in the days where slurs, slights, and outright discrimination were allowed to flourish under the umbrella of segregation and Jim Crow. But, it has still been used by some, over the years since the dismantling of that institutionalized racism, to manipulate and control the level of access and acceptability of blacks in a white-dominated political system.
In this day and age, the persistent racism directed against President Obama has not allowed many in the black community to feel secure in this one advancement. That racial insecurity recalls the immediate wake of Reconstruction and the election of a handful of black lawyers, ministers, teachers, college presidents to the national legislature where there was a concerted campaign by their white peers and other detractors to challenge their seats and to construct discriminatory barriers to the election of other blacks which persisted for generations and generations. The 'birther' movement is no stranger to those who recall that 'Jim Crow' past.
President Obama's courage and vision in seeking and achieving the highest office in the land has been inspiring; not only for this generation, but for generations of Americans who will follow in the wake of his historic achievement and his outstanding service to the nation.
In fact, volume of remarkable and celebrated subjects who have enriched and enhanced our lives here in America over centuries of our nation's growth is vast and wide. Many of the giants in the black American experience have earned prominent positions in our recitation of that history of our development as a country and as individuals. However, there is an endless resource of black Americans in our nation's history whose accomplishments aren't as widely known and recognized.
I'm fortunate to have a long line of outstanding family members and friends of the family to recall with great pride in the recounting of their lives and the review of their accomplishments; many in the face of intense and personal racial adversity. In many ways, their stories are as heroic and inspiring as the ones we've heard of their more notable counterparts. Their life struggles and triumphs provide valuable insights into how a people so oppressed and under siege from institutionalized and personalized racism and bigotry were, nonetheless, able to persevere and excel. Upon close examination of their lives we find a class of Americans who strove and struggled to stake a meaningful claim to their citizenship; not to merely prosper, but to make a determined and selfless contribution to the welfare and progress of their neighbors.
That's the beauty and the tragedy of the entire fight for equal rights, equal access, and for the acceptance among us which can't be legislated into being. It can make you cry to realize that the heart of what most black folks really wanted for themselves in the midst of the oppression they were subject to was to be an integral part of America; to stand, work, worship, fight, bleed, heal, build, repair, grow right alongside their non-black counterparts.
It's a dwindling white majority in the workplace, and a dwindling dominance in other institutions which is, ironically, producing a familiar insecurity in some. Overall, black Americans' reaction to a dominating majority has been remarkably gracious, patient, and forgiving over the decades. Some of these dominionists could learn from that as they reconsider their role in a more inclusive society.
It can also floor you to see just how confident, capable, and determined many black folks were in that dark period in our history as they kept their heads well above the water; making leaps and bounds in their personal and professional lives, then, turning right around and giving it all back to their communities in the gift of their expertise and labor.
The attacks in this generation are not to be taken lightly, even though we may assume that the nation is past all of that. The attacks need to be openly and loudly defended against by Democrats and Republicans alike. They can't just be brushed aside as some sort of acceptable standard of discourse. For the most part, they've been responded to with dispatch and sincerity. For the other, there's a glaring silence -- and even a rhetorical encouragement by some in the political arena who are leveraging age-old stereotypes to serve their cynical campaigns for office.
Catherine Meeks, Ph.D., wrote in HuffPo today that, "The entire discussion is almost beyond comprehension for those of us who are not being blinded by bigotry and hatred."
"Magic Mulatto, Mrs. YoMama, Touching A Tar Baby, Your Boy, Orbameo, Watermelons on the White House Lawn, cartoons with the President Obama's head and a chimpanzee's body, references to monkeys who escaped the zoo being related to the First Lady, and the list goes on with the racial slurs that have been hurled at this President and his family," recalls Meeks. "Along with these is the recent attack of racial slurs against 11-year-old Malia, his youngest daughter."
"Whatever policy issues that anyone finds themselves at odds with him about should be spoken about, debated and fought over in whatever civilized manner that discourse can occur," she wrote. "But I am talking about this low level of racist discourse that has been going on since day one. A discourse that has exhibited no respect for the office of President in the first place as well as no respect for this man, his wife and children. But even larger than this is the lack of respect that is being shown toward every African American in this country," she said.
Who are we; we the people of color? We the African Americans? We Minorities, we Negroes, we Blacks? Our history in this country is rooted in slavery and oppression, but in the search for the roots we sometimes find that the more we draw closer to our black identity, the more we seem to pull away from the broader America. An insistence that our community must necessarily be at odds with white America, because of our tragic beginnings, threatens to render our successes impotent. But, what becomes of a quest for a national identity when many of blacks' contributions in developing and reforming this nation have not been acknowledged or reciprocated? Can we really put aside our identification with our unique heritage and regard ourselves as 'homogenized,' even as our particular needs are seemingly ignored? Even as the advancement of a person of color to the highest office in the land is openly disparaged by racism?
In this very forum, in this very primary, I was told by a poster that my blackness is essentially irrelevant. It was actually more vile than that..
" At this point, I'm tired of blacks expecting people to kiss their ass in return for their vote. Sorry, you're just not that important. You do not contribute enough to America to be worthy of such special treatment. In fact, the truth is we'd all just be better off without you. You are a burden we're all tired of bearing.
I'd humbly like to ask just how many folks here have been denigrated in this primary for the color of their skin? It's a withering and extremely challenging experience which I don't wish on anyone.
It's not something I can just shed out of some attempt at comity with those uncomfortable discussing these issues. Like it or not, I'm stuck with this skin, and I'm not going to hide away from defending it, much less from recognizing the blackness of others who contribute to our society and politics just because someone has a political pique over the subject.
Now, many here who have read my (long) posts on race before will recognize these thoughts from my earlier writings. It has been a cathartic experience to write about these issues of race and to share them here and elsewhere. I've experienced a lifetime of slights and outright abuse due to the color of my skin. It's my intention that some of these thoughts have some lasting influence on our conversations. I'll be damned if I'll be dissuaded from discussing this important subject because of familiar accusations of 'racebaiting' or divisiveness.' There is a lifetime of understanding which I want to convey. I don't expect everyone to understand or agree with me, but I do expect understanding of my need and my obligation to speak out when I feel it's necessary.
One of the things I learned from my youth is that there's absolutely no benefit in keeping these issues quiet. There's no great virtue in avoiding the subject of race. There's every opportunity to heal divisions through better understanding of each other.
I'd like to re-share some things I wrote about in 2008 which I hope will be enlightening as to my own intentions, and to the issues we face today.:
IN so many ways, I was a direct beneficiary of the civil rights movement. In 1968, I was living in D.C. and witness to the upheaval that the shooting of Martin Luther King produced in our middle-class neighborhood. D.C. was a smoldering mess of brick right after Dr. King was killed. It was chaos for everyone. Blacks there seemed to suffer the most from the violence. It was a fearful time for a young kid like me, although black myself. Knives, not guns, were the weapons of choice. Really tough times. Lots of robbery. Mostly blacks were the victims as well as the perpetrators.
I remember in that same period, a kid strutting down our street singing 'I'm black and I'm proud' at the top of his lungs. I was pretty young and naive, and I imagined he was saying, 'I'm black and I'm brown'. I thought to myself, Yeah, that's me. Black and brown.
My parents certainly knew the importance of civil rights, as their own livelihood and their own expectations of comity and acceptance were challenged by my African-American mother's pale skin - which was often mistaken for that of a Caucasian individual - and her marriage to my dark-skinned father. Their own work experience was advantaged by the new civil rights initiatives which were opening the workplace for blacks and providing opportunities which often were in the very civil rights field that they were counting on to lift them out of the oppression that their earlier lives had endured during segregation, Jim Crow, and the like.
Mom worked in the personnel division at Raritan Arsenal overseeing and managing a fresh population of light-skinned blacks who had managed to find higher employment in the clerical field.
Dad had taken on civil service positions ever since his stint in the Army in New Guinea where he was given a field promotion with the expectation that he would keep his all-black unit in line and still be accommodating of the expectations of the segregating majority. He went on to achieve a position in the federal government in the newly created Equal Opportunity Commission which was to facilitate the influx of the new generation of blacks into the federal workplace who were advantaged by the Civil Rights Act that had just passed. He moved up the ladder and retired some 30 years later in the position of Director of Civil Rights in the newly revamped EEOC.
Our progress was a progression in which the negative forces we were pushing back to allow us room and opportunity to grow and prosper fell steadily away as our generation grew and staked our claim to our newly-protected citizenship. In many ways, the struggle was glaring, but, to those who observed our progression out of the era of Jim Crow and other resistance and indifference, it was all opportunity with the worst behind us. Slights and other aggravating remnants of the earlier racism began to fall out of public fashion (at least up north, in the region which was our nation's capital).
My father moved us to the suburbs very shortly after the riots and looting and I was propelled into a world which was green, open, and almost pristine in comparison to the broken glass and the suffering facade of our once-quiet and serene community.
The folks who I met had the same sunny, polite manner that masked any resentment or discomfort they may have felt in the presence of this brown person in the middle of the sea of light skin. It was a culture shock for me. It was likely one, as well, for the kids and adults who mostly welcomed me into their community. I say 'mostly welcomed' because most of the folks were unfailingly polite. There was no visible tinge of overt racism in their embrace of me that summer when we arrived. There was also no visible expression of the upheaval that had characterized my former community - and many parts of the nation, as well.
I remember getting lost riding my new bike around the neighborhood in the first week in my new home. I had never been lost and I was in some sort of strange wilderness, in this pristine community and I had no recognizable bearing. After an hour or so of an exhausting effort to weave my way out of the maze of freshly-blacktopped streets, I broke down and just went up to the first house I had the nerve to approach and rang the bell. An older white lady came out and was just as sweet as she could be. She put aside what she was doing, loaded up my bike in the trunk of her car, and drove me directly to my house. Now, I didn't know exactly where I lived; I didn't even know the house number or the street address . . .but, somehow, this rescuing angel did. Turned out, her daughter, (Mrs. S) lived directly across from my new home. She knew exactly where this recent aberration to her community belonged.
That incident characterized the majority of my life as a black kid in an overwhelmingly white community. It represented the best of humanity; but, it also represented its hidden face, as well. We had gotten this property by the skin of my parent's wallets. Turns out that our welcome into this community wasn't preceded by a carpet of rose-petals from the residents.
Mrs. Green next door, before she died, told my mother that most of the neighborhood had been, literally, in the middle of the street, up in arms over the prospect of a black family moving in. The alleged ringleader of it all, according to Mrs, Green, had been, none other than our neighbor directly across the street; the daughter of this exceedingly kind lady who had scooped up this young transplant and deposited me at the door of my new home.
Go figure. My father came to regard these folks across the street as his best friends in the neighborhood over the years we lived there; yet, they had actually instigated against our arrival in the past. Who knew where their true affinity for their black neighbors lay?
Did it matter? We'll never know, I suppose.
Does it impact my own thinking and attitude toward that community, as I look back? Absolutely. You see, life growing up in that atmosphere of outward tolerance, was much different from what most folks would regard as acceptability and acceptance.
I remember Bill Clinton once correcting someone who suggested that we need to 'tolerate' our differences. We should 'celebrate' them instead, he had said. I was certainly tolerated in this community, but I had a difficult time gaining acceptance. I participated in most of the activities of the others, but I never really seemed to have the same social experience as the rest of my peers and friends. There were actually quite a number of parents of these kids who would not allow me to come into their homes; and the suburbs was all about the indoors. I got edged out of many of the events which should have been the hallmark of my youth. I didn't really get a grip on the camaraderie others seemed to revel in. It was a period of transformation of views. It was a period of misunderstanding of the, mostly contrived, differences between us. Folks were wary and cliquish. Things like finding a cub scout troop whose mentors would welcome you into their home for meetings. Things like being invited to parties or finding room in a group for the special trips they took to ski or to the beach. This was hard for a kid.
Thing is, though, most of the racism and discrimination was well undercover. Reasons and justifications needn't be openly discussed to deny a kid access to those elements of society that folks wanted to restrict for themselves. You just turn your back. Or, you just decide, as a group, to exclude. That characterized most of the problems I had as a result of the color of my skin. No open hollering racial epithets at me when I walked down the street, like the folks in Cumberland, Md. did when I visited there in 1979. No outright discrimination like I experienced as an adult looking for work and in the actual workplace. Just indifference and exclusion. Coded racism, undercover.
Much of the racism we experience in this 'modern' age -- so far from the overt and institutionalized expressions of our nation's racist and discriminatory past -- isn't overt or obvious; especially to those who haven't been at the receiving end of it all. That reality requires a special kind of vigilance among us which isn't readily understood or identified with by folks who don't see the perniciousness in small, seemingly benign and marginal slights and insults which once were so openly accepted and encouraged against our black population.
In many ways, I see the need to move past the reflexive defensiveness which often deepens the controversies or draws unwanted attention to something which is, perhaps, better left unremarked on. There has been remarkable progress past the old civil rights battles for acceptance and acceptability among our peers which is a product of an enlightened generation determined to put all of that behind us.
Yet, I can't countenance having our discourse go all the way back to the place where folks were comfortable and secure that their slurs and their stereotypical insults wouldn't be met with forceful condemnation by society as a whole, and met by individuals determined to elevate our interactions above these opportunistic appeals to those things we sometimes use to divide or alienate.
There seems to be a revival of that racism and bigotry which is being encouraged by the cynical politics practiced by the present batch of republican candidates. That attitude is certainly trickling down to folks in our communities who are encouraged by these pols to identify their own opposition to this presidency with these racist and bigoted appeals which have root in our nation's tragic past.
I'm not convinced, though, that enough folks out here are truly familiar with all of the nonsense which has been resurrected from the past in a cute attempt to replicate the divisive attitudes and expressions which characterized a more confrontational age. It's going to take some education from those of us whose life experiences aren't readily available in a google search; rendering our experiences mostly invisible and mostly unbelievable to a new generation. I hope for understanding. I fear, though, we'll be fighting many of the old battles out in the open again. That may well be for the best, in the long run.
In the time being, though, the sly appeals to the racism and toleration of the resurgence of some of the divisive rhetoric and attitudes of the past is a disturbing and disheartening trend which will require vigilance and a determined response. I hope to do my part to recall our nation's history and to challenge us to advance our better selves.
Posted by bigtree | Wed Mar 2, 2016, 10:22 AM (78 replies)
ABC News Politics @ABCPolitics 22h22 hours ago
@POTUS leads singalong during Ray Charles tribute at the White House: http://abcn.ws/1KQaLQm
Michelle LaVaughn @meagnacarta 13h13 hours ago
Blackest. Black. History. Month. Ever.
President Obama pays tribute to the late, great Ray Charles and joins Usher in leading a sing-along of "What'd I Say" at the final "In Performance at the White House" concert of the Obama administration. The musical performance begins at 3:00 into the above video. (PBS NewsHour)
Posted by bigtree | Sat Feb 27, 2016, 11:03 AM (9 replies)