Obama and the Issue of Race

I cringe every time I hear someone say that “racism is worse” or that “the country is more divided than ever”  since Obama became president.
I cringe because it is not true. What is true is that Obama’s election brought the dormant racists out of hiding.
It seems that many white people think that racism is “gone” or is “ok” as long as we do not talk about it or deal with it. It is OK for there to be substandard living conditions for black people. It is OK for there to be excessive police violence wielded against black people. It is OK for the infant mortality rate among black people to be higher than any other ethnic group…It is OK.
America treats its big secret, its growing, metastasizing tumor, like anyone treats a secret. America, white America primarily but some blacks too, believe that talking about “it” is the big problem, not the “it” itself. Racism is like America’s ghetto, or like any poverty-ridden neighborhood in the midst of a posh vacation resort. If you cannot see it, you don’t have to talk about it or deal with it. It simply does not exist.
When Obama was elected, people said we were a “post racial” society. That was a foolhardy sentiment from the beginning. Just because some white people voted for a black man was not an indication that racial hatred and bigotry were gone. His being elected was supposed to be enough, evidence that racism was gone. He had to distance himself from his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, in order to prove that he was the president of all people. People were glad. Our dirty little secret was no more.
Except that it was. The reality of the secret, our deep-seeded racism, was there, agitated from hibernation because this black man was in the White House. How dare this happen in this land which was programmed, via the United States Constitution, to be a white man’s country? Some white people were glad and hopeful, but many were not. They were angry and insulted. There was a group of lawmakers who met the day of Obama’s first inauguration to strategize on how to make him a ‘one term president.” (http://www.boston.com/news/politics/gallery/073009_beer_summit_obama/). He might have gotten into office, but by God, they were going to make him suffer for it and if they had their way, they were going to make him so miserable that he would not even want to run for a second term. They would fight him and challenge him on every turn.
Post-racist, indeed.
Obama was dared, almost, to say anything about racism. When Trayvon Martin was murdered by George Zimmerman, and Obama stated a truth, that “if I had a son, he would look like Trayvon,” the “resenters” got busy, claiming his words were dividing the country. The fact that Zimmerman apparently profiled Martin, followed him in spite of being told not to, and then killed him didn’t matter. Obama had better not say anything that indicated that this tragedy happened largely because Zimmerman believed a black child was out of place.
When Harvard Professor Skip Gates was arrested at his own home by police and Obama made mention that the incident was …just wrong…he was again jumped on and accused of dividing the country. The president ended up calling for a “beer summit” where he, Gates and the officer sat down together and “talked.” It seemed like Obama was trying hard to show people who had no intention of accepting anything he said or did …that he was a regular guy …and had no animus against white people or police officers, no matter how wrong their actions might have been. (http://www.boston.com/news/politics/gallery/073009_beer_summit_obama/)
It seems that the only way some white people can survive within this racist system is to act like it doesn’t exist, to ignore it and not speak about it. Obama ended up backing away from most things racial …because he knew he would be skewered for it. In the meantime, too many white people, angry that he was in the White House as the President and not as the butler, angry that their attempts to destroy him politically had failed, seethed. They began to talk more about their resentment; they insulted and degraded Obama at every turn. Obama didn’t make them racist; this system did. The president could not change their hearts, though, hearts and spirits that had been nurtured for decades by a system which revered and protected white supremacy.
When Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, Donald Trump say that the country is more divided (racially) than ever, it makes one wonder what they would do? None of the current GOP candidates, save one, have said anything about the injustice of the Tamir Rice case. None of the candidates are admitting that our justice system is seriously racist and has been for a long time. Nobody is jumping on Donald Trump for his outrageous racism and racist comments. America’s racism is front and center in the GOP candidates, and, frankly, it is sickening.
This country is divided not because of Obama. This country is a mess racially because this country has avoided the issue of its rabid racism for generations. This country is divided because it has created and implemented policies and procedures which are at their root devised to protect the control white people have had over black people since black people were brought here from Africa. This country is divided because our very Constitution, and our country’s institutions, indicated that black people were not human, and were not ever to be considered “equal” to white people. Staying quiet about “the secret” does not make the secret any less abhorrent, powerful or damaging.
The divide which is ours …will remain. There are too few people who are willing to look this Leviathan in the face and do the work needed to destroy it. Perhaps Obama was willing to try doing that, but his enemies would never have allowed it.
Our core is rotten because of our racism, and the core was planted long before Barack Hussein Obama was even thought about.

A candid observation …

Trump, Wright, the Media and Hatred

When Barack Obama was running for president in 2008, the media played, over and over, two sound bites of the candidate’s pastor, Jeremiah Wright. In one he said, in the context of the sermon which he was preaching, “God bless America? No, no, no, God damn America…”, using the Biblical text from Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy is a book of laws.  In it, there are a slew of laws and the expectation that God’s people will be obedient. Throughout the book, the writers list requirements of God’s people, and infractions that will get people and nations in trouble. They, the people and/or their nation, will be “cursed” if they do not obey the Lord. The word “cursed” comes from the Latin “damnare” which means “to inflict a loss,” or “to condemn.” To be so damned, or cursed, usually means that a person or nation is a sinner, guilty of being disobedient. Those who are disobedient stand the possibility of being condemned by God; in the New Testament, that would mean some people get to heaven, others don’t. Jesus’ statement that “not everybody who says “Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven” seems to point to the reality that some of us are “condemned” or “damned” because we are not doing God’s will.

In these chapters of Deuteronomy, the writer says that people will be cursed for some very specific things: people who lead blind people astray, people who dishonor their parents,and people who engage in sexual improprieties are “cursed,”  but as mentioned,  God, Yahweh, wants all of the laws followed. Among the things that God apparently detests:

If a slave has taken refuge with you, do not hand him over to his master. Let him live among you wherever he likes and whatever town he chooses. Do not oppress him. (Deut. 23:15)

Do not charge your brother interest, whether on money or food or anything else that may earn interests. You may charge a foreigner interest but not a brother Israelite… (Deut. 23:19)

At the end of every seven years, you must cancel debts. (Deut. 15:1)

There should be no poor among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you if only you fully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today. (Deut. 15:4) (italics mine). Citing the ways in which the United States has oppressed people here and all over the world, Wright took to the Bible to remind us that we will be cursed for not doing God’s will.

Wright was referring to a very specific directive which came straight from the Hebrew scriptures; his  was a Biblical argument, not a hateful barrage of words.

Trump, however, who says, by the way, that he is a Christian, has been nothing but hateful in his rhetoric – speaking against Mexicans, Muslims, women, and anyone who dares cross him, and the media has been sluggish in highlighting that he is spewing hatred; this same media which skewered Wright is not playing the Donald Trump diatribes repeatedly over their airwaves.

What is that about?

The media is, instead, giving Trump more and more air time. It seems not to mettle them at all that Trump’s words are rousing the racists from their dens.Most of what Trump does is verbally attack people who dare say anything he feels like is an attack on him – and any time one says anything in opposition to Trump, he says it is an attack. Trump comes back with insults and put-downs. He gives very little specific policies that he would implement if elected president.

Isn’t that hate? Isn’t Trump a bully, perhaps hiding his insecurities with this hateful, racist bravado?

What Wright did was let people know that a nation which calls itself Christian but which is not doing God’s will, is in trouble. With its history of oppressing others, Wright preached, America is in trouble. It stands to be “cursed” by a God who demands justice and righteousness.

But Wright was “damned” by the media and much of America, while Trump gets a free pass.  This man who is so rich has spent barely a penny of his own money in getting his message out. The media seems to giggle when he issues yet another one of his hateful statements.

So, “hatred” is OK if a rich white man is the perpetrator? It really doesn’t matter that Trump has put down Mexicans, immigrants and women? (Interestingly, he has said very little publicly about black people.) White nationalist David Duke says that Trump speaks “a lot more radically than I do.” (http://www.rawstory.com/2015/12/white-nationalist-leader-david-duke-trump-sounds-even-more-radical-than-i-do/)

The ex-KKK leader also said that Trump understands “the real sentiment of America.” This, coming from a man whose personal and public positions on who is worthy of dignity and freedom and who is not, is troubling. The KKK’s history of hatred needs no help here. (http://www.rawstory.com/2015/08/ex-kkk-leader-david-duke-backs-donald-trump-he-understands-the-real-sentiment-of-america/)

Does anyone see the difference? Trump is getting a free pass to incite racists who have long been lying dormant, ready to strike. Trump’s words are giving them permission to rise up and be bold in their hatred of so much … And the media seems more than willing to be complicit in the plan.

Wright, on the other hand, pleaded for people of God who knew God’s word to stand up and fight for justice, to remind this nation of God’s blessings for obedience …and curses (damnation) for disobedience.

I hate to put Wright’s name in the same essay that has the names of Donald Trump and David Duke, but the difference in the way Trump and Wright have been treated by the media is stark. The media sought to destroy Barack Obama by playing soundbites that it knew would feed into the dormant racists and others. The sound of an “angry black man” was threatening.  Political strategists knew it and used it. It’s called politics.

But that same media is letting Trump say truly hateful things and continue to give him free air time to spread is hatred. The media is being masterful in manipulating a particular demographic. The media is playing the race card, the white supremacist card, and the fear card… They are not trying to destroy Trump. They like him. Wright bothered them and so he had to go.

I don’t like hockey much but I have heard from hockey junkies that the game is OK but the fights are exciting. I have heard them say that they go to see the fights because they are fun to watch.

It seems like, feels like, Trump and his base are a hockey team, fighting with anyone who dares cross him and them, not on policy issues but on personal, hateful, racist, sexist, and religious issues.

A candid observation …

What Is an American?

It was a Christian socialist, Baptist minister Ralph Bellamy, who wrote our country’s “Pledge of Allegiance.”

It was written in 1892:

I pledge allegiance to my flag and (to) the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

That was it.

He wanted to add the word “equality” but did not because “he knew that the state superintendents of education on his committee were against equality for women and African Americans. (http:www.oldtimeislands.org/pledge.htm)

The words “of the United States of America” were added in 1923,even as the word “my”was taken out,  and President Dwight Eisenhower added the words “under God” in 1954.

Richard Ellis, the author of To the Flag: The Unlikely  History of the Pledge of Allegiance,  writes that the pledge was written to address fears of the native (white) American populace at the time; he said it reflects xenophobia that was running through the country at the time. Writes Ellis: … the creation of the Pledge actually reflected “two widespread anxieties among native-born Americans” at the time: the fear of new immigrants (especially in the Northeast), and the complacency of post-Civil War Americans oblivious to the dangers facing the country. (http://talkingpointsmemo.com/cafe/strange-history-pledge-of-allegiance)

There apparently was a patriotic educational program being introduced in Chicago. The original salute, says Ellis and allegiance historians, resembled the salute Nazis used years later and a revision of the salute, changing our gesture of respect from a salute to the hand over the heart, was introduced into the Flag Code. Ellis argues that the Allegiance was written to “rekindle the patriotism and heroic duty of the Civil War years, and to Americanize the foreigner.”

With that history behind us, and the ragaing racism before us, coming unearthed in this current presidential campaign, it begs the question, “What is an American? What does American really stand for?”

It is amusing that the pledge was written by a Christian socialist of all things; it is troubling, on the other hand, that this country which was purported to be the “land for the free and the home of the brace” has really stood for its foundational white supremacy. Foreigners have been welcomed, it appears, only if they were the right color and/or ethnicity. A threat to what the early Americans considered to be the “real” America, i.e., a white man’s country, has always been met with anger and suspicion.

Television commentators have from the beginning of this GOP race given Donald Trump and his racist rants and opinions way too much coverage, while at the same time have underestimated the power of what he has said and represents. Donald Trump represents “the angry white man.” It’s not just the men who are angry; white women are right there, too, angry that too many outsiders have come into their country, changing the landscape and challenging their values, which include, first and foremost, white supremacy. The fact that gay rights has pushed homophobia aside, including gay rights, coupled with the fact that a Black man made it to the White House – twice – has their American sensibilities totally assaulted. They are not interested in America being a melting pot – not like that. Pluralism, it would seem to them, is OK as long as it is controlled by white supremacists who want to preserve and protect what they believe to be the fiber of America.

I am not sure that the base of the GOP, those who are loving Trump and Cruz …are interested in this being the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” They are not interested in the Christian doctrine of “loving one’s enemy,” as they consider people of color, Muslims, and gay people, for starters, their enemy. An American is not obliged to do what the Christian message says to do, it seems. I paused when I read that a group of Muslims protected a group of Christians in Kenya from  a terrorist. I wondered if a group of white Christians would do the same for a group of Muslims, and I found myself doubting it could happen, not if that group of Christians hailed themselves to be true Americans. The Christ takes second place to xenophobia …and that seems to be part of what an American must understand.

The thrust is on to “make America great again,” which is a euphemism that means people want to “take their country back.” I have no doubt that Trump or Cruz or whomever will work to bring the “balance” back that they like – where people of different religions and colors are kept under control. That, to them, is living out the Constitution, and their Christian values.

What is an American? In the classic sense …is an American a white Christian, with “Christian” narrowly defined? It seems so.

That is a troubling thought …and an equally troubling candid observation.

What is a Racist?

Donald Sterling swears in interviews that he is not a racist.

His estranged wife says the same, as does the young woman who was heard talking with him in those now infamous tapes where Sterling said he didn’t want her to bring blacks to “his” basketball games, among other things.

He said in an interview with Anderson Cooper that he made a mistake, that it was the first time in 35 years he’d said such things.

Why does that sound like a crock?

Everyone knows by now that Sterling refused to rent property to black and brown Americans, saying disparaging things about them. He said that Hispanics “smoke, drink and just hang around the property,” and that blacks “smell and attract vermin.” (http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/05/12/donald-sterling-apologizes-for-racist-comments-blames-woman-for-baiting-him/?tid=hp_mm)

What is amazing is that Sterling and others say Sterling is not a racist. If that is the case, what is a racist? Is everyone who says racist things racist, or are they just ignorant, insensitive and bigoted?

A definition of  bigotry is ” intolerance toward those who hold different opinions from oneself.”  Another definition of a bigot is one who is stubbornly intolerant against any belief that is different from his (her) own.

Racism, though, goes a little deeper. A definition of racism says that racism is the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races. That definition also says that racism is prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior. (https://www.google.com/search?q=definition+of+racism&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&channel=sb)

In other words, racism includes the belief that one race is superior to another …and a racist has the power to discriminate against a group or individual in a way that exercises power over that group or person. Racism includes the belief that one race is supreme…and that it has the right to oppress another group or individual based on the belief in that supremacy.

Can we say that we are all bigots on some level? Probably. But racism implies systemically provided and sanctioned power to oppress another group of people. From the beginning of this nation, even in the writing of our Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution, racism has been a bedfellow.

If Sterling isn’t a racist, I don’t know what a racist is. Kareem Abdul Jabbar said last week that more people believe in ghosts than believe in racism. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/04/kareem-abdul-jabbar_n_5263235.html) White people don’t want to “own up” to the fact that racist exists, that it is an American problem which goes largely unchecked and ignored. Americans seem to want to wish racism away. It is too ugly to face…

And yet it exists.

Donald Sterling is a racist. He believes in the supremacy of the white race, and he has the economic means and power to keep other races “in their place.”

He’s not the only one. He’s just one who got caught.

A candid observation …