“American Exceptionalism” Questioned

, U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania.
, U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I listened to Rick Santorum today bow out of the GOP race to capture the nomination for president of the United States, and was uncomfortable.

His speech was eloquent and sensitive to many wonderful Americans who helped make his campaign special for him. He spoke with genuine tenderness and love for “ordinary Americans” who had sacrificed much to work for his success.

But as he lapsed into speaking of America and what it stands for, speaking of “American exceptionalism” and the ideals of liberty and freedom on which this country was built, I began to be uncomfortable…because it is apparent to me that when Conservatives talk about “liberty” and “equality” for all, they don’t really mean “for all.”

Santorum mentioned Abraham Lincoln as the harbinger of the ideal of freedom, and I found myself wondering if Santorum realized, or knew, that Lincoln only issued the Emancipation Proclamation to save the Union, and that he in no way thought “negroes,” as black people were called then, were equal to whites, or should ever be considered to be so.

I thought about how Santorum, and indeed, many to most Conservatives, make little to no effort to appeal to African-Americans. I do not think I have ever heard a Republican speak out against discrimination in housing and employment; I have not heard any Conservative talk about plans to increase funds for public schools in urban areas, and I know I have never heard any Conservative talk about the problem of police brutality and the injustice that black, brown and poor people consistently endure at the hands of law enforcement.

Santorum’s early campaign statements showed that he believes that African-Americans are “getting other people’s’ money,” and he wanted to help them (us) stop doing that.

Actually, it was by listening to some of Santorum’s statements during his campaign that I really began to understand the Conservative beef about taxes. I picked up a real resentment amongst Conservatives that “their” tax dollars are going to help people who are lazy and who will not help themselves.

As he talked about how America built itself up from its bootstraps today, he failed to mention that it was by the blood, sweat and tears of slaves that America’s economy grew. African-Americans, denied freedom in these United States, went willingly into America’s wars to help garner freedom for other people in other countries, and when said wars were over, they found they were still “unfree” here at home. Returning African-American veterans still couldn’t get loans to buy homes, they still couldn’t depend on funds being sent to their neighborhoods so their children could get a decent education. They were still second-class citizens.

This is a nation that overtly supported racism and segregation – through its laws and policies – and still supports it, though more covertly. This is a nation where far too many people still believe that this is a “white man’s country,” and they do what they can do, legally, to keep it that way.

So, as Mr. Santorum talked about “American exceptionalism,” I cringed. I cringed because I know that the writers of the U.S. Constitution had no desire for there to be “liberty and justice for all;” they did not believe that everyone was or should be equal. They believed in democratic capitalism, which, it seems, demands that there be “haves” and “have nots.”  The fittest survive and thrive; that’s the nature of the beast.

I am not sad to see Mr. Santorum drop out of the race. I feel for him as a father with a sick child, but as an American who might have been president of this nation, I cannot feel bad. Any person who is president has to have the chutzpah to stand up for everybody, to demand the rights of everyone, and to look out for everyone. This is, after all, a pluralistic nation,”many people” living as “American.”

I never felt Mr. Santorum bought into that idea. I felt like his privilege had blinded him and made him just one more arrogant white man, seeking office, who didn’t care about “the least of these” if they happened to be the wrong color or ethnicity.

I could be wrong, but it was my own…candid observation.

 

The Problem With America and Race

America, “methinks thou dost protest too loudly.”

The quote, from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” has been resonating with me all week.

As the Trayvon Martin case continues to be covered, with an emphasis on the possibility of his death being a hate crime, many people have protested – loudly and vehemently – that it is nothing of the sort.

Trayvon’s shooting may or may not have been racially motivated, but as I have thought about race in America this week, the thought has recurred to me that America doesn’t understand why race IS always an issue for us.

It is because, in the most simple terms, an issue of trust. Black people, African-Americans, do not trust white America. African-Americans do not trust the actions of white America or the intentions of white America. The relationship between the two races is one of suspicion based on evidence-based actions of white America which have worked to the detriment of African-Americans.

If we take it out of racial terms for a minute, and just look at the two races as two entities in relationship, we can see that the relationship has been “broken” from the beginning, in spite of absolutely glorious documents establishing America as a democracy. From the beginning, white America made it clear – and exercised its power to enforce its clarity – that they believed African-Americans were  inferior and unworthy of receiving rights guaranteed to all Americans by this country’s Constitution.

America’s blacks and whites are like a married couple in trouble, where one has continually abused the trust of the other and the other has developed coping behaviors to deal with the constant disrespect shown. In spite of efforts, some honest and some paltry, to fix the relationship, the dishonesty in behavior and intentions on the part of the “cheating spouse” has continued, and so the relationship between the two parties has continued to disintegrate.

As in many relationships where one has been unfaithful (in this case, white America being unfaithful to the ideals of liberty and equality espoused by the Constitution), the one who has done the cheating has the burden of doing whatever he or she can to regain the trust of the partner who has been cheated on. Counselors will tell cheating partners that if he or she wants the relationship, he or she will have to be willing to do whatever is necessary to mend the bonds of broken trust.

Many partners cannot handle the process of building or rebuilding trust. The partner who has been cheated on is OK for time, but the slightest deviation in word or action on the part of the cheating partner will bring back painful memories, the process of rebuilding has to begin all over again.

Only those relationships where the cheating partner is willing to take the crying, the complaining, the fear, the anger, and the resentment at having been disrespected until  a healing takes place, survive.

When it comes to white and black America, the relationship has never healed, and in fact, white America has too often continued to abuse the relationship between the two races by practicing discrimination and enacting policies that continue to belie a sincere desire to heal the relationship.

Dr. Martin Luther King spoke of the “disillusionment of Negroes” in his book Why We Can’t Wait, written in the mid 1960s. African-Americans, he wrote, struggled and fought for desegregation of public schools, because the quality of education in white schools, as opposed to black schools, was so disparate. “Separate but equal” was an unreality, and all African-Americans wanted, he explained, was a level playing field in the area of education so that African-American children would have the same possibilities for latching onto the American dream as did white children.

Much of white America, however, resented the historic Brown vs. Education ruling by the United States Supreme Court, and at the time of the writing of Why We Can’t Wait, ten years after the decision, many schools had not been integrated because white educators and legislators were still finding loopholes in the laws requiring integration. Integration was supposed to happen “with all deliberate speed,” the High Court had ruled, but its words were ignored…and no court, no legislature, did anything about it.

King wrote that “the Supreme Court retreated from its own position by giving approval to the Pupil Placement Law…which permitted the states themselves to determine where school children might be placed by virtue of family background, special ability and other subjective criteria.” (italics mine)

Though there was verbal non-support of discrimination in housing and employment during the Kennedy administration, Dr. King wrote, the fact of the matter was that government, state and local, continued to allow discrimination under the mantra of “states’ rights.” King correctly observed that though the Emancipation Proclamation had been a signed at that time 100 years before the time in which he wrote, there had been little true freedom for African-Americans.

What is there to trust in this relationship between the American government and its African-American citizens?

The pattern of the government saying one thing, yet supporting and permitting just the opposite, then, eroded the capacity of African-Americans to trust this same government. Perhaps the heart of America and its general disdain toward African-Americans can be found in the fact that the federal government never passed an anti-lynching bill. In the area of justice shown toward African-Americans, the country’s record was dismal, and continues to be. Not only black, but brown and poor people have little chance of experiencing the full majesty of America’s justice system.

And yet, white America expects African-Americans to “be happy and content.” The breach of trust is never spoken of or acknowledged, and the patterns of discrimination continue, in spite of our Constitution.

Though people like GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum carry the belief that “black people are spending other people’s money,” the fact is that the majority of African-Americans have pushed through the system, the laws and the governments which have done all they can to keep them in  second-class citizen status. In spite of discrimination in hiring, housing, lending, education and justice, African-Americans have pushed through and made their own way in a country which has tried at every step to block that way.

But it is unfortunate, the relationship between blacks and whites. The trust is not there, and no attempt is being made to build or establish the trust. Those who have been “cheated on” in a relationship supposedly built on trust can recall, I am sure, their discomfort with their partner after “the breach.” The desire to continue on has been there, but has been made all the more difficult by this breach …and if the offending partner has not only not apologized but has continued to repeat the offending behavior, repair of that relationship is almost certainly not going to happen.

Perhaps if there were a national counseling initiative, a “truth and reconciliation” effort like that done in South Africa, the lack of trust might be addressed and workable solutions found…but as things stand, the relationship between blacks and whites is toxic and volatile. There is no way, as we have heard during the debacle called the Trayvon Martin case, that black people are going to “trust the system” and  be willing to “let the system work.”

Our experience has been that “the system” does not and has not intention of, working for us, not without behemoth effort and push back from a system that seems to be filled with people who resent African-Americans even being in this nation.  African-Americans have tasted the cup of injustice, over and over again, and its bitter taste remains in our spirits.

If there is no trust, there can be no relationship, not between two individuals, not between nations…and not between two races, these two races, called black and white.

A candid observation …

Where are the GOP Candidates?

Did I miss it?

A true American tragedy has happened. A young, unarmed teen has been shot dead, and the shooter has not been arrested. The parents are anguished, the nation, black, white, and brown, is outraged, and I haven’t heard the GOP presidential candidates, with the exception of Newt Gingrich, say a word about it.

There has not been a word from GOP frontrunners Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum about it.

Gingrich, while defending the “stand your ground” law that Florida follows, has said that the case is a tragedy and has said that a full investigation is warranted. He has even said that the “stand your ground” law “may not apply in this case.”

So, are we to assume that the other three candidates, Santorum, Romney and Paul, do not care about this case, about what appears to be a true American tragedy? Have they no room in their hearts to at least express concern and care for young Trayvon’s parents?

Santorum raised the biggest stink about contraception. He has been vocal about the “attack on religious freedom,” but is he really so out of touch as to not see the vestiges of  injustice in this case?  Mr. Romney has spent literally millions of dollars to attack his GOP opponents; is there not a thread of outrage in him that would encourage him to attack or at least address a justice system that has allowed a gross injustice to occur?

This type of injustice as concerns African-American men, is not new. It is part of America’s reality. Any president, or one who wants to be president, is surely aware of that…and ought to have the chutzpah to speak out against it. After all, if Romney or Santorum were to be elected, he would have to be president of all of the people, not just of their base.

Am I wrong?

Thank goodness for the groundswell of outrage all over the country.  From what has been presented to us, there are serious questions about what happened. What seems sure, though, is that Trayvon Martin should not be dead,and George Zimmerman ought to be answering for his behavior.

Thank goodness, too, that we are seeing the capacity of Santorum and Romney to be willing to be president of all of the people, and their capacity to take a stand on a difficult issue: racism and the justice system in America.

These two men are not presidential. The president of the United States has to be the president of all of us. He (or she) has to have the courage to stand up and against what appears to be wrong. At the least, he or she has to be able to relate to Americans who are hurting, like Trayvon’s parents.

President Obama, who has walked carefully over the minefield called race and racism in America, has spoken out, saying that if he had a son, “he would look like Trayvon,” but he said he wanted to respect the investigation of the case,  both national and local. That was the right thing to do, the right thing to say. That as presidential.

However,neither  Santorum, Romney nor Paul has shown compassion or backbone, not in this instance.

It’s a significant revelation. It is a telling revelation. It is a troubling revelation.

A candid observation …

Racism is as American as Apple Pie

Something hit me the other day.

Racism is as American as is apple pie.

That “apple pie” phrase has always had power when it has come to describing what America is about, hasn’t it? Baseball is American. Hot dogs are American. Democracy is American …and racism is American.

Our racism bubbles under everything we do, under everything we say and under everywhere we go.  From the beginning, racism was an American issue.  Brilliant men who wrote the United States Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, owned slaves while espousing liberty. Some of them owned slaves themselves.

Even when some of our heroes, like Abraham Lincoln, did heroic things addressing the issue of slavery, many of them still carried racist values, believing that white people were inherently superior to black people and that not even emancipation from slavery meant that one believed blacks were or could ever be equal with or to whites.

America, it seems, was intent on having a “master race,” even before Germany. America’s beliefs as concerned keeping the white race pure was so powerful that it “caught the fascination of Adolph Hitler and the Nazi movement,” writes Edwin Black in his War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race.”  Of course, the eugenics movement did not just target black people; anyone who was considered “inferior” stood the chance of being targeted from removal from American society. Thus, Black writes, one could be black, but also “Jews, Mexicans, Native Americans, epileptics, alcoholics, the mentally ill…and anyone else who did not resemble the blonde and blue-eyed Nordic ideal”  could be targeted.

But our racism, our peculiar and unique chasm between whites and blacks, is so distinctly American. Our racism is bubbling now, as it always does, as the nation reels from the report of the tragic shooting of Trayvon Martin, but it has always bubbled. I cringe at the subtle and not-so-subtle racist jabs at President and Mrs. Obama. They have been there from the time the president took office. Mean-spirited jabs are called “jokes,” with those who are saying or spreading those things vehemently denying they are racist.

The racist belief that all black people, or too many black people, are lazy, continues to feed a society, too many of whom believe the hype, and causing otherwise intelligent people, like Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich, to say the most insulting things about black people and the (lack of a) work ethic of black people.

Racism keeps urban schools in the state they are in, with school boards, politicians, and individuals alike finding reasons not to provide adequate funding for public schools that are not fit for human habitation, for needed books and computers. The prevailing thought, points out Jonathan

Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth President of th...
Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth President of the United States. Latviešu: Abrahams Linkolns, sešpadsmitais ASV prezidents. Српски / Srpski: Абрахам Линколн, шеснаести председник Сједињених Америчких Држава. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

in his Savage Inequalities is that poor (primarily black) children cannot learn, so there is no need to throw money into building better schools for them or paying a little more for better teachers for them.

Racism allows injustice against African-Americans, especially African-American males, to continue to exist, with the same  politicians and individuals who do not want to “throw money” into building better schools for poor black children thinking nothing of throwing literally hundreds of thousands of dollars into building bigger and better prisons – for profit.

Racism has been behind the “war on drugs” as author Michelle Alexander points out in The New Jim Crow, making it commonplace to arrest and incarcerate black and brown people for addiction to crack cocaine, while virtually ignoring the explosion of prescription drug abuse by wealthy white people.

Racism bubbles beneath us; it is like an infected, festering sore. While overt discrimination is for the most part gone, the covert discrimination, the belief that black people are “objects” to be dealt with and ignored, still exists. In the Trayvon Martin case, accused shooter George Zimmerman reportedly said, “they” always “get away with it.” The “they” would mean young, black men, one might suppose. Zimmerman said young Trayvon looked “suspicious.” The fact is, for many white people, no matter how an African-American is dressed, he looks suspicious.

So, yes, we have some wonderful things that are “as American as apple pie: hot dogs, football, democracy and Superman, the NFL, the Superbowl, the World Series.” Those things make us smile.

But racism has its own place in the list of all things American. And from the look and feel  of things, it’s not likely to lose its place in line any time soon.

A candid observation…

White Men Behaving Badly

I have watched and listened to the real-life drama unfolding as a discussion about contraception has morphed into first, an accusation against President Obama, that he is waging a war on religion, and now, into a war on women and women’s rights.

And what I am seeing is white men behaving badly in an all-out effort to “take back” America.

At first, the cry heard from Republicans to “take our country back” seemed squarely aimed at President Barack Obama. Though nobody wants to admit it openly, there is a fair amount of resentment from many Republicans that President Obama, a black man, is in the White House. South African playwright and writer Athol Fugard said the same in a recent interview with Charlie Rose on March 1, 2012: “Much of what President Obama is going through is because he is a black man in the White House,” Fugard said.

The resentment against President Obama was predictable, but this war on women, and a crude one at that, is a bit of a surprise.  Rush Limbaugh’s attacks on Georgetown University Law School student Sharon Fluke are no less than sickening and repulsive. To call this young woman a “slut” and a “prostitute” is childish, but one wonders, listening to him, if many Republicans are angry that women, as well as blacks, have gotten just a little bit too much freedom in this country?

Much of this got started, or the hot embers were ignited by, GOP candidate Rick Santorum. He began the tirade that there was and is an attack on religion and religious freedoms being waged by the Obama administration. With deep passion he has argued that secularism is on the rise, the fault of this president and his administration.

To make it possible for women to get contraception is a part of a war on religion and religious freedom, Santorum has said. The waves from his passionate sharing of his beliefs has grown into a tsunami that is revealing just how deep is bigotry against anyone who is not white and male, and, ironically, Protestant (though Santorum is a Catholic) in this country.

In a 2008 speech, Santorum said that “this was a Protestant country and the Protestant ethic, mainstream, mainline Protestantism – and of course we look at the shape of mainline Protestantism in this country and it is a shambles. It is gone from the world of Christianity as I see it.” (italics mine.)

Santorum moved from attacking the president and his “phony theology” to observations on women and their place in society.  In an interview with John King on February 8 of this year, Santorum said that he had “concerns” about women in combat, saying that in such a situation “it could be a very compromising situation where people naturally may do things that may not be in the interest of the mission because of other types of emotions that are involved.”

His apparent disapproval of the freedom of women to “choose” came through loud and clear when he said in 2006 that he didn’t think contraception works, and said “I think it’s harmful to women. I think it’s harmful to our society to have a society that says sex outside of marriage is something that should be encouraged or tolerated.”

Only, apparently, if that sex is engaged in by women…

Santorum is gaining support in his bid for the Republican nomination for president, and there has been no outcry for the voice of Rush Limbaugh to be stilled; this is America, after all, and we have freedoms.

But what is becoming increasingly clear is that a great number of Americans are apparently very resentful that too many people have too much freedom!  Politicians of the past have said in the open, and now I suppose they say it in private, “this is a white man’s country.”  Indeed, when the words of the Constitution were fashioned, saying that all men were created equal, there was no thought or understanding that that phrase included or was intended to include blacks, women, or even all men. The phrase was specifically describing the freedom of white, Protestant, property-owning, men.

It appears that what Conservatives want to conserve is their idea of what America was always intended to be.  They understand that freedom, or premium freedom, was never meant to be for the masses. “We the people” are confused.

What is used as justification of their views, and even of their treatment of some people, is the U.S. Constitution and, alas, God. Those who do not believe as they do are condemned as “secularists.”  Santorum blasted a 1960 speech by fellow Catholic  and then presidential hopeful John F. Kennedy, who said he believed in total separation of church and state.

Kennedy was trying to assuage a nervous  American society about what they might expect if a Catholic got into the White House. Would the pope have the ultimate power? Kennedy’s speech, it seemed, sought to calm their nerves.

But Santorum, trying to conserve an America that was formed by people seeking freedom but which systematically denied freedom to blacks, women, and so many others, blasted Kennedy’s speech and appealed to a yet again nervous America which believes that the wrong person is in the White House and that women have gotten beside themselves, out of line with the divine will.

The word “Christianity” is being thrown around like a hot potato, appealing to the fears of some under the guise of religious righteousness. Being crass and rude to a young woman cannot be in the will of God, who in the Hebrew scriptures decried how badly people treated each other and yet thought they could appease God by pious religious services.  “I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies” God says in the book of Amos (5:21)

It feels like this God would not like what is being done to people, or said about human beings with rights, including women and blacks. Freedom of speech notwithstanding, it seems that God would not approve of Rush Limbaugh’s crude and tasteless comments about a young woman who is seeking to help protect the rights of all women.

In this election cycle, white men are behaving badly, using the Constitution and God to justify their actions and their words. It is very, very sad to watch.

A candid observation …