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 …

Is Fancy Marketing Keeping America Overweight?

I often shake my head at the contradictions between what we as Americans hold as dear and what we market.

Being overweight in America is frowned upon; obesity is scorned. And yet, we are inundated with images of foods that are not good for us. Nothing looks better than a great big Big Mac, or French Fries. Sometimes, the jungles from the commercials follow me around like a shadow, because the tunes are catchy,designed to become anchored in our subconscious. Images on television are masterful at getting consumers to salivate at even the thought of something greasy, fatty, and salty.

The fast food industry has wreaked havoc in our busy lives. It is far easier, after a long and busy day, to go to a fast food restaurant, sit on our derrieres as we order our food at drive through. We don’t even have to exercise by walking to the counter if we don’t want to. While we hear that fatty food and greasy foods are not good for us, we see images on television of happy families eating pieces of fried chicken as they smile lovingly at each other.

And portion control? Forget it! We have gotten used to enormous portions of the worst things possible. We prefer restaurants where we can boast of how much we get on our orders.  In a prosperous culture, we behave badly; we have become gluttonous, wanting more and more, or maybe even needing more and more, in order to be satisfied.

The saddest reality about all of this is that good, healthy food is so expensive, and so the people who have the least resources use what little money they have on food that is killing them. The rates of heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension in African-American communities are way too high, and yet, with the paucity of good supermarkets in those neighborhoods, and the lack of money to buy healthy food, fast food is often the only food many urban residents, children and adults, have ready access to.

We have become conditioned to wanting fatty, greasy, salty food. I have found that when I say I’m hungry, what I’m saying is that my body is craving something salty or greasy.  I give in sometimes when I feel like that, but I find it interesting that my “hunger” is rarely for an apple or a handful of walnuts.

My pull is fatty greasy salty food, but some give in to desire for big-time carbohydrates, things like bread, cake, cookies. It is so easy to sit in front of a television and eat an entire package of Oreos, or way too many Hostess Twinkies. And commercial ads make sure we don’t forget how good those goodies are!

A pair of In-N-Out cheeseburgers.
Image via Wikipedia

It is a known fact that what people see, they want. When people saw Farrah Fawcett‘s haircut, they wanted it. Whenever they see something that Michelle Obama or Kate Middleton wear that they like, they want it. We want hamburgers and fries because we see them in these masterful ads. What if the ads changed, and showed, instead, more people reaching for a juicy apple or a handful of cherries, in the artful ways that advertising geniuses do in order to lure consumers to their products?

The country would be healthier; health care costs might drastically drop. We could have smaller government and less government spending, don’t you think?

This morning on the Today Show I saw a little kid who was celebrating his birthday, I think his 8th. He held a sign that said “I love French fries.” He had on ear muffs that were “French fries” over each ear.

He was cute, but he was very young…and overweight.

We have to do better.

A candid observation …

Disrespect Shown President and his Wife is Regrettable

Is it just me or does it appear that this family, specifically this First Lady, has been “joked” about more than any other First Lady, and in the most degrading way?

The most recent affront to the First Lady of this country came just last week, when the Kansas House Speaker, Republican Mike O’Neal, emailed a cartoon which referred to Mrs. Obama as “Mrs. Yomama.” It compared the First Lady to the Grinch, a Dr. Seuss character, because in the photo, Mrs. Obama’s hair was windblown.

The text of the cartoon read, “I’m sure you’ll join me in wishing Mrs. YoMama a wonderful, long, Hawaii Christmas vacation – at our expense, of course.”

O’Neal later apologized, but it rang hollow. The disrespect shown to this President and his family, much with racist undertones, has been despicable.  This event came just a couple of weeks after a Wisconsin Republican, Jim Sensenbrenner, commented on the size of Mrs. Obama’s behind, saying that she was a hypocrite for waging a war against obesity.

What the comments show, some of which the originators say are supposed to be “jokes,” is the underlying racism which leads to this horribly disrespectful attitude toward our president and his family.  I am not sure how Mrs. Laura Bush or Mrs. Barbara Bush were joked about or commented upon when their husbands were in office. I don’t remember any jokes about them, but the larger fact is, there seemed to be  sacred, protective veil around them which kept them insulated against such indignity.  No matter their foils, imperfections or foibles, they were off limits.

Not so with Michelle Obama. From the beginning both she and the President have been the focus of some of the most demeaning, stereotypical images that seem to come from a racist American core that is full of virulence, hatred, fear, and resentment. These references and images also speak to an overlying arrogance that suggests that it is OK to disrespect this President and First Lady; after all, they are just (the “n”) word.

Is this blatant disrespect of President and Mrs. Obama as alive and as common as it is because they are African American? One cannot help but think so. Why didn’t anyone spew “jokes” about the physical characteristics of either of the Bush wives? Why didn’t we hear legislators joke about Nancy Reagan (although, to be fair, they did talk about Nancy Reagan’s presence in the White House; still, they were not disrespectful!), or about Betty Ford?

Racism, the American kind, is all over the world, because Americans have spread it.  People in Europe have been “taught,” if you will, or “coached” in how to think about African Americans from white Americans themselves. It is galling to think that legislators are not stopping to think how their disrespect of the most powerful man in the world and his family is affecting the way people all over the world will think of them and refer to them as well.

To those who write and say such disparaging things, calling those statements “jokes,” understand something: there is nothing funny about what you are doing and saying. You are feeding the shame of America, which is its racism.

Our president and his family deserve the same respect that has been afforded all other presidents. Anything less than that is unacceptable, and legislators who engage in helping to spread or feed racist attitudes and feelings are agents of infection in a country where the infection has been rampant for far too long.

A candid observation…

© Candid Observations 2012