I recently watched the HBO version of the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, a work which was much better, actually, than the film Red Tails. There were a lot of “ouch” moments in the film for me, but one particularly painful moment for me came in a scene where a white commanding officer told a black recruit that he was “nothing,” and after he was finished, the recruit was forced to salute.
It made my stomach turn.
Oppression comes in many forms: it may be racial or sexual; it may occur between a parent and child or a husband and wife or between partners. In all cases, oppression appears to be a form of sophisticated and sanctioned bullying, designed to keep the oppressed “in his or her place.” And in assuring that “place,” someone is inevitably humiliated.
A woman, Marissa Alexander, was recently sentenced in Florida to 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot into the air as her husband threatened her with violence. Domestic violence is a form of oppression, and it is humiliating. As is the case with so many cases of oppression, the oppressor in the case of Alexander escaped charges in the incident; he is free while this mother is in jail for trying to protect herself and maintain a sense of dignity.
Oppressors have power because their oppression is supported by society; their society-sanctioned bullying is carried out so that they can maintain power, and that power is used not to uplift society but to belittle other individuals, but what people do not seem to understand that individuals can only take so much humiliation before they explode. People have a need, a desire, to be honored and to be treated with dignity, and when that doesn’t happen, after a while, something inside one’s spirit gives out.
In the HBO movie, the recruit who was early on humiliated was punished later for being a show-boat; he was a licensed pilot when he entered the Tuskegee program but was never honored as such. He was treated as a nothing, and so when he had an opportunity to “show his stuff” in a plane, he did so, and was punished by being put out of the program. It was too much. He begged for mercy, to be allowed to stay in the program. He said he’d do anything…but his begging was for naught. In despair, he snapped; he ran impulsively to a plane, got in, and took off on a suicide flight. If he was going to be out of the program, he would be “out” on his own terms. He would NOT go home humiliated, not again.
That humiliation builds and then explodes is no surprise. What is troubling, however, is that oppression continues as a force in life, causing far too much despair, far too much humiliation.
Rev. Jesse Jackson said that people only revolt when they are humiliated. Race riots, women finally fighting back against abusive spouses, children exploding because of overbearing parents …all seem to bear out Jackson’s statement. After a while, those who are oppressed say “enough,” and violence ensues.
That’s not a comforting thought…but what it is is a troubling reality.
I got the most interesting letter in the mail today. It was from a woman whom I do not know; she included in the envelope a piece written about President Obama by Ed Lasky entitled, “The Amateur: Barack Obama in the White House.” The article was, of course, in reference to Ed Klein‘s new book by the same title.
The woman typed, “I doubt that you will read this, but really, you should. Then you will understand we have reasons NOT to vote for this man, then and now, and it has absolutely NOTHING to do with race.”
In her letter, she excoriated the president for his policies; “with all due respect,” she wrote, “poverty, education costs, affordable housing and unemployment have all been made WORSE by President Obama.” She wrote that President Obama and the Democrats “forced Obamacare on this nation against the will of the people”…and accused me and others of voting for the president only because he is black…and those of us who did that, she said, “are racist.”
She angrily says people have “acquiesced to the gay marriage issue because you don’t want to lose all of the “free” stuff you get from the Democrats! You are willing to let this President and the liberals throw away the foundation of societal structure we’ve known for thousands of years (sic) to get more free stuff???? I am outraged!” she wrote.
I think she’s right: things have gotten worse since the president took office, but not only because of his policies. I think “the Congress of no” has had a lot to do with where we are and are not. The economy was in free fall when Mr. Obama came into office, because of the policies of President Bush. President Obama had the unsavory task of trying to get the lumps out of the gravy, so to speak, and his job was made all the more difficult by a Congress which has refused to work with him.
For the life of me, I cannot understand why people say that President Obama has been against big business. It seems to me, with all the bailing out of banks “too big to fail” that the president made their lives pretty comfortable, so much so that they have gone back to operating pretty much in the way that helped get us into this mess. The President has done some spending that jacked up the deficit – to save and to protect people who were out of work with no income at all. They needed to survive and there were no jobs. One might not like that fact, but it was and is the truth.
The President has scurried to help the “new poor,” as the middle class, as we have always known it, has continually diminished. While bank executives have gotten huge bonuses, people who used to be comfortable are now scrambling to survive – hence, the “Occupy Wall Street” movement. The chasm between the “haves” and the “have-nots” has only widened – that, too, under Mr. Obama’s presidency.
The woman who wrote me criticized black people for always voting for Democrats. She notes that Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society” has only managed to reduce poverty by 4 percent, after spending $16 trillion. That is quite definitely a sorry report …but has Ronald Reagan’s policy of “trickle down economics” helped the poor and “the least of these?” The spirit of the letter is that if we blacks would get our heads out of the sand and stop voting for Democrats, the country would be better off…but we are unable to see or understand that.
The truth is, people vote for the party they perceive to have their interests at heart. It does not appear, nor has it appeared to have been the case in a long time, that Republicans have the interest of black, brown and poor people…at heart. If you look at the recent Republican campaign for the GOP presidential nomination, none of the candidates seemed particularly interested in the plights of black, brown and poor people. Heck, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich basically said that black people want to be on welfare. Their presidencies, they promised, would create a world where black people had jobs. That would be nice – and it would be nice if the jobs were more than menial jobs, so those working could support their families, but alas, history has shown that Republicans have not appeared to be all that interested in creating an America with a more level playing field; Republicans have sort of blamed the victims of discrimination for their plight.
That’s like blaming a rape victim for being raped.
That’s not to say that there haven’t been some good things done by Republicans for black and brown people (not so much poor people…) The most obvious feather for the Republicans is Abraham Lincoln. President Eisenhower mandated that segregation in federal employment be ended,but come on, have Republicans really showed much heart or concern for any group other than white people? It wasn’t a Republican, but a Democrat, Harry Truman, who made the United States military desegregate. If the truth be told, both Republicans and Democrats alike have been pretty silent on the conditions that help keep black, brown and poor people in the status of second-class citizens. Neither a Republican nor a Democrat got legislation passed that outlawed lynching. Historically, in spite of laws mandating integration of schools, for example, or outlawing segregation of the military, people, Republican and Democrat, have found ways to get around the laws and keep things “as they have always been.”
It was probably Franklin Delano Roosevelt who started the love affair between African-Americans and the Democrats, with his New Deal. If that period of history is examined closely, we can see that it wasn’t all that “new” or a good “deal” for many blacks, but there were enough blacks helped that it gave the perception that Democrats care about them. All people, no matter color, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender, want and need to feel like their government cares about them.
I will vote for Mr. Obama not because he is black but because I have more faith that he cares about me, an African-American woman, and my children, and all black, brown and poor people than I have that faith about Mr. Romney. I do not think Mr. Romney is a bad man. He is obviously a brilliant and talented businessman. But at the end of the day, there are more than successful white businessmen who make up America. There are 46 million poor people. There are women and Hispanics and Muslims and black people…who need to be considered and cared for. There are people who cannot pay their rent or mortgages and do not want welfare or food stamps, but want a viable job with a working wage. There are people who need the government to step up for all of the people, not just some of the people, as has been the case with both Republican and Democratic presidents.
This is not about race. This is about human dignity.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson said that civil unrest has always erupted when people have felt humiliated. It’s not been poverty or even racism that has made tempers explode; it has been the perception that they has a people have been humiliated one time too many. Blacks, he said, have adjusted to being terrorized in this country…but even those who have adjusted, just to get by, have a breaking point.
I am voting for President Obama because I don’t want people to get to a breaking point. The lady who wrote me, ironically, worries about “riots in the streets” like there’s been in Greece. We are worried about the same thing, but for different reasons.
I am not sure President Obama or Mitt Romney can quell the unrest that is simmering in this country, but for me, I’ll put my money on the president.