The Obamas and Race

It seems that many white people believe that if we don’t talk about race, things are OK. Their mantra is that whenever anyone talks about race, he or she is “playing the race card.” Their solution to all things racial is that we should just be quiet, and it’ll go away eventually. Talking about it, they say, “stirs people up” and drives a wedge between people. What they seem to want is for things to remain the same, which in reality means that white people remain in power and black people remain subservient, and that black people ignore the daily reminders that racism is alive. They want black people to be quiet and not talk about the inequities, the injustice and the indignities suffered and endured on a daily basis.

President Obama has been reluctant to talk about race because the few times he has, there has been a backlash. People, white people, have been  horrified and angered  that he would bring “it” up, and have immediately accused him of playing “the card.” When he made the observation that if he had a son, he would look like Trayvon, following Trayvon’s murder, and the critics went up in smoke. When Harvard professor and scholar Robert Louis Gates was arrested in his own home, President Obama reacted, saying, “On July 22, President Barack Obama said about the incident, “I don’t know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that. But I think it’s fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry; number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home, and, number three, what I think we know separate and apart from this incident is that there’s a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Louis_Gates_arrest_controversy) Again, the criticism was swift and hard, and the president ended up having a beer summit at the White House for the arresting officer, himself and Professor Gates.

Those who have held contempt for the president being…the president …have been teething at the bit, it seems, waiting for the president to seem “too black.” He is, they have said, the president of all Americans. That is true …but what they decided that being president of all Americans meant he had better not speak up about racial injustice, which is alive and rampant in this nation.

So, it is not surprising that the critics have been quick to criticize First Lady Michelle Obama after her graduation speech at Tuskegee University this past weekend. In her remarks, she noted that the racism and racist acts and comments thrown at her and President Obama have bothered her. Her remarks, delivered at a historically back college and university (HBCU) were appropriate and on the mark; black people graduating from colleges do not get to escape the ugliness of racism. Anyone graduating had better know that, and the First Lady’s comments were meant to drive that truth home. (see complete speech here: https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/05/09/remarks-first-lady-tuskegee-university-commencement-address)

Some white people, too many in my opinion, just do not and will not get it. They do not understand that the every day struggles black people go through – still – are emotionally, psychologically and spiritually draining. They do not or will not understand that black people – men, boys, girls and women – are still “at risk” just for being black. They do not or will not understand that black parents still have to have “the talk” with their sons to alert them that police officers are not necessarily their friends and that they should act in a way that will assure they will not be arrested, beaten, and/or killed. Young black people are not shamming or making things up when they say “black lives matter.” They say this in a nation where black lives really do not matter except to help make a profit. Our founding documents assured that black lives did not matter and sought to make it so that they would never matter. While white people complain about the mention of slavery, it was slavery and its aftermath, including Jim Crow laws, that made us know that we did not matter. According to the United States Constitution, our lives were never to matter.

America was founded because people were tired of being oppressed by the British. The American Revolution is an event we Americans celebrate and honor …yet as black people have rebelled over the years, seeking dignity and the full rights of citizenship, there has been nothing but criticism.

Black people are not seen as people or human beings (one cannot be 3/5 of a person and be fully human), but rather as objects. People have no attachment, no emotional attachment, to objects. To far too many people, black people are objects, dehumanized, criminalized and marginalized. It is partly because of that that police officers can shoot black people so quickly …and it is because of that that too many of us black people shoot and kill each other. American racism and white supremacy has convinced black people that their truth is the truth and far too many black people see themselves as objects as well.

In spite of that, black people have continued to push through the walls of racism and hatred and bigotry, and people need to understand: we get to talk about it. We need to talk about it. It is clear that black people have not let white supremacy and racism hold us back; we have moved forward and upward, not because of white supremacy but in spite of white supremacy. It is a tribute to the strength of the human spirit, that that has been and is the case.

Nevertheless, it is painful to be black in America. The myth of “black badness” has been spread all over the world; foreigners come here believing that black people are bad and lazy. not worthy of being free. That narrative began after Reconstruction, when the myth of the Negro criminal was being constructed so that black people could be and were arrested for the slightest offense and made to work for white people until their sentences were worked off. For far too many, the sentence was never worked off, and the result was that black people remained enslaved in spite of the Emancipation Proclamation.

No person who is black in America can sidestep the reality of being black here. To talk about it really could be a good thing; if people (white and black) who say they don’t want to hear about racism would in fact listen and decide to learn what black people have endured here, perhaps they would see the reasons why the young people shout, “black lives matter” and “no justice, no peace.” Many view the latter phrase as a threat of violence; it is more a plea to be heard and for justice to finally be meted out to black people as it is for whites.

The critics today have said the Obamas talk too much about race. I must disagree. I wish they had been able to talk about it more…Poet Audre Lorde wrote, “your silence will not protect you.”  It will not, white America. The history of white supremacy, white violence, white discrimination and white injustice is real. We should all know it, not run from it and pretend it does not exist. It does, and it is ugly.

A candid observation …

Only Some Quotas are Bad

In this nation, the word “quota” is …a bad word. That word has meant to many that governments and institutions give special treatment, hand-outs, preference – to black people as they have applied to schools and colleges. Affirmative Action was implemented to guide educational institutions on ways to get minorities within their walls.

From the beginning, opponents called “foul.” Affirmative Action, they said, was nothing more and nothing less than “reverse discrimination.” It was unfair to qualified whites, they said, to “bend the admission requirements” for less-qualified minorities. If black people couldn’t get into  school, it was because they simply were not smart enough. Never mind that rules were bent and have always been bent for children of alumni of schools; kids with horrible grades have been let into the most prestigious schools because an influential mama or daddy was pushing the admissions committee and offering to write a generous check in return for the school abiding by their wishes.

Nobody talks about that preferential treatment.

But ..setting quota goals to let minorities in has been bitterly fought on the basis of its inherent unfairness. Lawsuits by angry whites have been filed – and won – as whites have insisted that leveling the playing field so that more minorities can get an education is a sin, an affront against the Constitution and the rights of Americans

White Americans.

So, I have gotten used to dealing with my emotions when I’ve heard of these lawsuits being filed and the courts siding with the aggrieved white applicant. Quotas are bad …

EXCEPT when it comes to how blacks on the street are treated. Officer Adhyl Polanco, a member of the New York Police Department, moved here from the Dominican Republic when he was 10 years old. He grew up in a rough section of New York, and grew used to hearing the sound of gunfire, but he also became enamored with police when they would visit his school. He decided he wanted to …one of them.

He joined the force in 2005, and had the inside view of what happens in his police department. Much of what he saw and was commanded to do bothered him, but he had a deciding moment when he was told, along with other officers, that the police needed to meet a specific quota. The policy is called 20-5-1, which means officers are required to write out or issue 20 summons per month, make one arrest, and perform 5 “stop and frisk” stops.

Polanco was aghast.

His displeasure was deepened when, he said, he was told one evening to cuff a young man who was walking down a street with friends. “They were not doing anything,” Polanco said,. He said he asked his commanding officer, who made the request, why he was arresting them, and he said his CO said, “you don’t ask questions. Just cuff him,” When a person from the group asked the officer why he was cuffing the young man, the CO said, “cuff him, too.”

Polanco had young children and shuddered at the thought of them being so harassed. He had also been accosted by fellow officers when he’d been out of uniform, walking down the street with other friends, some of them likewise, cops who were not on duty at the time.

“I’ve had officers throw me against a wall,” Polanco said, “and when I’ve told them who I am, and they’ve found my ID and have seen that I was telling the truth, they’ve just walked away. They haven’t said “I’m sorry” or anything.”

Polanco said the pressure is on all officers to meet the quota set by the police department. “They want numbers,” Polanco said, “and if it looks like they are not going to meet the quota, they get creative.”

Polanco noted that “as soon as a person who is stopped asks, “why are you arresting me?” or says, “I didn’t do nothing (sic), he or she is going to be arrested for d-con -(disorderly conduct). “They’re going to be put in jail and will have to pay a fee…”

(The interview with Polanco can be heard at http://www.democracynow.org/2013/11/6/nypd_officer_risks_his_job_to)

Quotas.

So …fight like hell to keep the number of blacks in schools down …and work like hell to get the number of blacks in jail …up.

Letting kids in school is a bad thing; getting blacks off the streets, even when they have done nothing wrong, is a good thing. Letting them in school hurts the system and violates the Constitution, but putting as many of them as possible in jail helps the system. Never mind their right as Americans against unreasonable search and seizure.

Do I have this right?

I think so. And it

And it is a troubling … candid observation …