Such Thing as Racially Coded Language?

I got into a rather lively debate with a (former) Twitter follower of mine.

She had seen the title of my post entitled “Newt Gingrich Owes African-Americans an Apology” and had taken issue. Her response to the tweet announcing the blog post was “no he doesn’t.” She said I was playing “the race card” and that “it doesn’t work.”

Later in the evening, she and I started an exchange. I said that Newt had played the race card by referring to President Obama as “the food stamp president.” Though statistics show that more whites than blacks receive food stamps, what many “hear” when they hear “food stamps” is “black people are getting food stamps” because they are lazy and do not want to work. It’s an underlying thought in this country, and, I argued, Newt knows that very well.

I said that Newt was playing to his base. I also, erroneously, said that he had earlier said that “poor black children” don’t have a work ethic,” and my friend quickly corrected me and said he had only said “poor children.” She was right and I admitted it as such.

But she was angry. She said I was racist and that I was calling HER racist for saying that Newt Gingrich was playing to his base. And she said that people like me are the ones who keep the races divided. She “unfollowed” me.

She is not the only one who would agree with me, and clearly, not every African-American would agree with me. Just this morning, CNN’s Soledad O’Brien and Roland Martin were talking about this very same thing with former GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain, who vehemently rejects the idea that there is such a thing as racially coded language.

But that’s all right. Back to my little encounter with my Twitter friend, I was sorry that she “unfollowed”  me because I enjoyed tweeting with her. She and I obviously have different ways of seeing things, but that’s good; one learns from talking with people who are different.

But what bothers me is that she really thinks that there is no such thing as racially coded language. She accused me of  “race baiting,” and if bringing up that Newt was playing the race card to appeal to his mostly white, South Carolina audience, then that’s what I was doing.

But it seems a bit naive to really believe that there is no such thing as racially coded language. It has always been done. President Reagan, the GOP iconic hero, did it when he used the phrase “welfare queen.” I am quite sure that the image that most people had, black and white, was that of a black woman with too many kids who refused to work but who kept having children so she could get more money from the government.

It is a despicable image, and an inaccurate one. Yes, there are people of all races who abuse the system, and yes, it is true that if one keeps getting hand-outs, he or she might be less inclined to look for work, but that doesn’t apply to everyone or even to the vast number of people who are on public assistance.

Rick Santorum, at least, was forthright in his comments which were not all that complimentary toward black people.  He said, outright, that he didn’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money. I want to give them the opportunity to go out and make their own money…” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/03/rick-santorum-entitlements-black-people_n_1181212.html)

It was a straight up statement; you didn’t have to guess about what he meant. He later tried to back out of it and said he didn’t say “black” people, but he did. He was standing on the long-held stated and believed myth, again, that “black people” are lazy, that “black people” are the ones who are using and abusing the welfare system. It was insulting, but the language was not racially coded.

Gingrich, on the other hand, did use coded language when he said that President Obama is the “food stamp president.” He was more honest when he said that the “African American community should demand pay checks and not food stamps.” It is still insulting; it is still a statement that upholds and supports a myth that black people are the ones driving the growth of “big government,” and that is just not true. You can read what Gingrich said at (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/05/newt-gingrich-paychecks-food-stamps_n_1188193.html).

I will probably never re-connect with my former Twitter friend – she won’t have it – but I cannot let this discussion slip into nothingness. She called me a racist for saying that Newt was and is playing the race card and for sticking to my guns. That’s rather like one who has been beaten being blamed for the beating. African-Americans, and many whites, have “been in the storm too long” not to recognize when they are being targeted for someone else’s gain.

Newt Gingrich is a master politician and a very smart man. Trust and  believe that he knew what he was doing when he said President Obama is the “food stamp president” to that roomful of white people in South Carolina. If saying that makes me a racist, then so be it. The truth is the truth.

A candid observation…

Do God and Business Mix?

I find myself wondering what happens to God if a businessman becomes president of the United States?

Herman Cain and Mitt Romney keep saying that a businessman needs to run the country. Romney, in his stint as governor of Massachusetts, has shown that even as a businessman,  he has some compassion for “the least of these.” People seem to matter to him, not just profit, at least from a distance.

Mr. Cain has no such record, but what I keep thinking is that the purpose of business is to make a profit, to use the people for the sake of making the profit. Some people will rise, some will fall, but business people really work for the preservation of “the bottom line.”

We, the United States, are in a financial mess, and we do need to fix it, and soon. But do business people factor God, and the will of God, into their daily operations and daily plans? Somehow, I do not think so.

When the Civil War began, Mayor Fernando Wood of New York City suggested that New York should  secede in solidarity with its southern brothers and sisters. South Carolina was talking secession, and Wood was ready to lead his northern city into the fray.

At the heart of Wood’s position was a concern not for the plight of the slaves of the South and their predicament, but, rather, the preservation of the financial and maritime industries of New York City.  Northern cities were becoming wealthy on the backs of slave labor; as cotton was picked, Southern landowners benefitted as did the textile industry.

In the North, immigrants suffered horrible working conditions as they worked the docks and in the textile industry.  Work was a precious commodity; immigrants resented free blacks as they competed for the same jobs, and when the Union issued a draft in 1863, these immigrants revolted. They were scrounging around, working in horrible conditions, and they were not about to support a war and fight in a war that was against slavery because they felt the slaves were not suffering any more than were they.

Meanwhile, the business people continued their concern with doing whatever they needed to do to bring in big dollars. The people who made it happen for them were not that big a concern. Business people also were able to keep their own children out of the army. “The least of these” were the sacrificial lambs.

Today, we have Romney saying that “corporations are people,” and Cain saying that a businessman needs to run the country. We have people saying that there are some businesses too big to fail, while “the least of these” are falling like flies all over the country. It’s not just the poor who are falling. It’s people who used to have good jobs, members of the quickly disappearing middle class, who are falling as well.

In many churches, the focus has shifted from prophecy to profit-making, from God to greed, with God being mentioned minimally at best, or in ways that support a gospel of prosperity. Where in the New Testament, or in the Hebrew scriptures, is such a disconnect with “the least of these” supported? Where does Yahweh, in the Hebrew scriptures, and Jesus in the New Testament show a Texas-sized concern for the proliferation of the rich at the expense of the poor and suffering?

Yes, it is true that the United States needs to get its deficit reduced, its spending redirected, its debt eliminated, but at what cost? Who is “allowed” to suffer? I am afraid that the basic businessman would find such a question absurd and maybe naïve.

A candid observation …

Good Ol’ Boys Clubs, Challenged

Herman Cain reacted angrily yesterday to the candid disclosure of an encounter he allegedly had with one Sharon Bialek some years ago.

Flanked by her attorney, Gloria Allred, Bialek shared the details of an encounter with a powerful man that to many women, probably sounded quite familiar.

If you missed it, she said she had heard Herman Cain speak at an event; she and he sat next to each other during the dinner portion of that event, and she was impressed with his presence and message. When she lost her job at the National Restaurant Association a short time later, her then-boyfriend suggested she meet with Mr. Cain, who was the president of the NRA at that time.

She said she called Mr. Cain and asked if they could meet, and when he said yes, her boyfriend made a reservation for her at a Washington hotel, the location of the NRA. When she got to the hotel, she found that her room was an extravagant suite, not a “normal” room at all. She said she thought her boyfriend had gotten the room to surprise her. Later that evening, she went to dinner with Mr. Cain, and explained her need for a job and how she wondered if he could help her.

It was after dinner that Ms. Bialek alleges that Mr. Cain put his hand on her leg and moved it toward her genitals, and took her hand and moved it toward his crotch.  Some time in the course of the evening, Mr. Cain had told her it was he who had upgraded her room (he asked her how she liked it). Ms. Bialek said she was surprised that he had done that, but even more surprised when he allegedly touched her in the car.

He stopped immediately, she says, when she protested, but the incident bothered her. Somewhere in the midst of all this, in the midst of her surprise, she asked him why he would do such a thing, and she says he said, “You want a job, don’t you?” She told her boyfriend about it, and one other person, but did not press charges of sexual harassment. Part of the reason was that she was embarrassed, part of the reason is that she wanted to protect her relationship with her boyfriend, and part of the reason was that she was unemployed at the time. The law is concerned with sexual harassment in the workplace.

Herman Cain has come out swinging, after a week of saying he will not discuss the “false allegations” that are being made about him, but as I listened to Ms. Bialek, I thought two things: 1) she has got to be telling the truth because she knows she will be attacked from every direction, and 2) what she described is so much a common story of women in the workplace.

The “good ol’ boys” have gotten away with a lot over the years, and few people have challenged them.  More than once, I have had women tell me of similar encounters they have had with men on their jobs, and they have said nothing because they’ve been threatened. “Tell someone and I’ll get you fired,” I had a couple of women share with me.

Some of the women who have faced this have been high-powered women, on the rise, wanting their ascent not to stop, and others have been in far less glamorous situations.  In addition to wanting to save their jobs, the women have been afraid to have their whole sexual history smeared all over the public arena.

Because of their fear, many women have kept their mouths shut, much like many rape victims have done. I have talked with women who have been sexually abused by family members, but stayed quiet because they were threatened, as well as women who have been sexually harassed in their places of work.

Too few women have stepped forward, and so the good ol’ boys clubs have gone on virtually untouched.

Interestingly, the sex scandal at Penn State is blowing up at the same time the Herman Cain situation is getting bigger and bigger. There again, it at least appears that the “boys” of the good ol’ boys clubs have taken care of each other. Why in the world would none of those high ranking college officials go to the police so that the alleged sexual abuse of young boys could have been stopped?

It’s the same mentality. Good ol’ boys sticking together. We saw it in the scandal that rocked the Roman Catholic Church; the priests protected each other. We’ve seen it in the workplace, in churches, everywhere.

Sharon Bialek is a brave one for coming forward. She urged other women to do the same. The only way the tight grip the good ol’ boys have on so much of society, in so many ways, can be broken up is for it to be challenged and exposed.  The good ol’ boys have kept a tight rein on what goes on and what is prohibited in this society and indeed, in the world. They have made it difficult for women, for minorities, for anyone, really, to move as easily in this society as do they. So many in our society are afraid to challenge them, but challenge them we must.

Hopefully, Bialek’s experiences will be able to pass the truth test, and hopefully, Bialek herself will be able to handle the onslaught of criticism and disparaging remarks that are sure to come her way. Rush Limbaugh has already started, and there will be more. Ms. Bialek pleaded with Mr. Cain to be honest with what he has done, and “then move on.” She came not as a disgruntled Liberal, but as a proud Republican.

This isn’t about politics for her. It’s about the character of a man who would be president.

How much better it would have been if Mr. Cain had, from the outset, owned up to the fact that he had been accused of sexual harassment, and that he was sorry for any pain he might have caused. That would have been honorable. Everyone makes mistakes, yes?

But to react as he has, and come out fighting as he is, makes me wonder if he has too much pride to own up to his mistakes.

The good ol’ boys clubs have run roughshod over so many people for so many years. It’s high time that they are challenged with a fury and intensity the likes of which we have not seen before.

That is a candid observation.

“Our Blacks?”

Ann Coulter has the ability to get underneath my skin. I admit it.

But she outdid herself this week as she talked about black Conservatives. She was defending Herman Cain, praising him and other blacks who are Conservatives, saying that “our” blacks, meaning black Conservatives, are better than “their” blacks, of course alluding to Liberals.

It sounded horribly crude, racist, ignorant, and vintage Coulter.

“We,” black people, are not owned by any group. The era of us being owned is over, and has been, since the 19th century. We are no longer pieces of property, to be bought, sold or discarded at will. Coulter’s language seems to be ignorant of this reality.

That more African-Americans have been adherents to the Democratic Party since the days of FDR does not mean we are brainwashed, either. African-Americans, as well as working, blue-collar men and women of all races, have tended to gravitate toward the party which has successfully advocated, or seem to have advocated, on their behalf.

The Republicans, again since the days of FDR, have tended not to be so interested in that kind of advocacy.

Make no mistake, African-Americans, as well as working Americans of all races, are not dumb. We recognize that there is “de facto” advocacy and “de jure” advocacy; we know that politicians, whatever their party, will say anything to get elected. They will identify their base, play to it, and then do what they want once elected.

But Coulter, and any other Republican who might be so insensitive to spout such an ignorant statement, is not in the position to 1) refer to any African-American as though he or she are property, and 2) make a judgment call on who is better.

After the election of Barack Obama, there was the hue and cry that racism in America was gone. Most of us knew that was not the truth, but every now and then, someone will say something or do something that brings the reality of our putrid racial reality front and center.

Ann Coulter managed to do that with her outrageously presumptuous, disrespectful statements this week.

Surely, even some Republican will step up and say publicly that she was out of line … because she was.

That would be a candid observation.

Lynching Doesn’t Apply to Cain

I find that I do not like the all-too-casual use of certain words.

During the presidency of Barack Obama, we have heard the words “Nazi,” “communist,” “fascist” and “socialist” used loosely to describe what him and his administration.

And now, this week, we hear the word “lynching” being applied to the debacle that Herman Cain finds himself in.

I am offended.

I was especially offended when Ann Coulter used the word. This woman seems to have no compassion for anything or anyone whom she deems as “Liberal.” But she has no right, as a privileged and bigoted white woman, to use the term “lynching.

What is going on with Herman Cain is politics, pure and simple. Politicians make it an art form to destroy each other on their quest for power. Unlike Coulter, I doubt that the “leak” of Cain’s supposed acts of sexual harassment came from Liberals. I would put money on the leak having come from some frantic Conservative who cannot believe Mr. Cain has moved up as quickly as he has.

But is this a lynching? Do people who use that word know what a lynching was? It was an act of American terrorism, pure and simple, performed primarily on black men by white people who could lynch with impunity, with no fear of reprisal from any level of government.

Fourteen year old Emmett Till was lynched – pulled from his bed in the home of a relative and taken out by white men, who beat him and gouged out one of his eyes before they threw himn in the Tallahatchie River, weighing his body down with a 70 pound cotton gin. Why? Because he reportedly whistled at a white woman.

Sam Hose was lynched, for killing the person for whom he worked in self defense. His owner hadn’t paid him in a year, but Hose wanted some of that owed money and time off in order to go see his ailing mother. His owner – Alfred Crandford – refused. The two got into an argument the next day. Crandford drew a gun on Hose and Hose threw an ax he had in his hand and hit Crandford, killing him. Crandford’s wife later said that Hose had raped her while her husband lay dying. A mob went after Hose and found him …and lynched him…taking the skin off his face after cutting off his ears, fingers and genitals. He was doused with kerosene and set afire, hanging from a tree, while about 2,000 white onlookers watched. Parts of his body, including parts of his heart, liver, kidneys and knuckles – were sold. People defended their action, saying it was necessary in order to protect white women.

So, when someone like Coulter says that Cain is being lynched, my spirit recoils. For Cain himself to even allow that terminology to be used speaks volumes. Cain is going through what any and all politicians risk when they enter the ring. The object of politics, or political campaigns, is to win. Opponents will look for, find and use whatever they can to destroy their opponent. It comes with the territory.

Mr. Cain has stayed away from “the race card” until now, and for him to allow use of this term, “lynching,” is troubling. Now he wants to stand on the fact that he is a black man in America. But guess what? This sexual harassment charge has nothing to do with race, and everything to do with him being a man. Men have been known to sexually harass women, or their actions have been known to be interpreted as such.

He would have come off better owning up to whatever he did, putting it all “out there,” and moving on.

That he didn’t, and resorted to using a word that represents so much pain, injustice and ugliness in American history, is a sad commentary indeed.

A candid observation …