White Men Behaving Badly

It feels like we are all watching a reality show about wealthy white boys in college getting into mischief and pushing the envelope on all levels, without really worrying about the consequences.

The appearance of Attorney General Jeff Sessions in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee was troubling on many levels, but the biggest issue for me is that Sessions and others in the administration appear to be twisting the truth – if it can be called even that – boldly and arrogantly without any fear, it seems of being called on it.

The outrage that the current administration voiced during the campaign about Hillary Clinton being investigated by the FBI is strangely absent now, save the president’s complaints that he is being treated unfairly. The Congress is silent and pliant and is letting this administration get away with lying and with attacking the basic tenets and rights of American citizens.

They are being silent as the administration moves toward an authoritarian regime, in violation of all that the United States Constitution calls for. Sen. Mitch McConnell is immersed, it seems, in his desire to undo any and everything that was done by the previous administration, which accounts for him continually saying that, as concerns health care, the Republicans are keeping a promise made “to the American people.”

I guess he is not aware that “the American people” have changed their minds for the most part in terms of opposing the Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare,” and that “the American people” are rebelling against proposed changes to health care legislation. I guess he cannot hear “the American people” crying out, saying, “leave our health care alone.”

These white men – old, for the most part, ensconced in America’s history of racism, sexism and yes, capitalism and materialism – are tone deaf to the people whom they are supposed to be representing. They seem not to care that their drive to protect the wealthy means that their own constituents will suffer greatly. It feels like the GOP leaders are pushing their weight around, throwing into the faces of many that they are, in fact, privileged, and can do pretty much what they want.

The most troubling aspect of all of this is that none, or few, of the GOP have the courage to stand up against the oligarchs who are systematically seizing control of our democracy and thrashing it around like a puppy playing with a stuffed animal. They are silent and obsequious, more interested in honoring “the Donald” than they are in protecting the United States.

Not even the fact that the United States has been cyber-attacked by Russia is or has been enough to shake them from their desire to “fit in” with the jocks. They seem not to care that the administration is making friends with dictators and fellow oligarchs and insulting our allies. They are selling their souls and, by extension,  betraying “the American people.”

It is puzzling and frightening, what is going on, and talking about it is not productive. Cable news programs are as impotent as is the Congress. The administration is leading everyone around by the nose, teasing here and taunting there, daring someone to truly challenge them.

I never thought I’d see the day when I could not depend on the government of America to protect its citizens. Contrary to the administration’s claims, it is not making America safer. No, instead it is releasing all of the venom which has been at the core of America since its inception – the racism, xenophobia, sexism and religious snobbery and prejudice which too many Americans have. This administration seems to be in exact opposition to everything the Founding Fathers stood for, at least on a theoretical basis. They didn’t want blacks to be equal to whites, and they didn’t think women had a place on the equality spectrum, either, but they sure did not want an oligarchy or monarchy, or so they claimed.

Anti-Obama people “wanted their country back. Well, they’re getting it …and then some. The white men at the top are having a party at the expense of “the American people.” They are behaving badly, and nobody has yet figured out how to stop them.

A candid observation.

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 …

“The American People” are …who?

English: Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth Presid...
English: 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)

OK. So I am confused. The Constitution of the United States, that sacred document to which we all refer to understand what our country is all about, says that government is to be “of the people.” President Lincoln, in the Gettysburg Address, referred to that constitutional sentiment when he said that government in this nation was to be “of the people, by the people and for the people.”

But who are “the people?” As the Congress leads yet another effort to destroy “Obamacare,”  House Speaker John Boehner gets out and says that “the American people” don’t want this Affordable Care Act. And I would suppose that Rep. Eric Cantor, who has been a leader and a voice in the move to cut domestic spending, would say “the American people” the latest proposed cuts, which would slash $40 billion from food stamps, want the same.

My question is,  who are “the American people?”

Every time I hear any politician say “the American people” I wonder the same thing. “The American people,” if the Congress be believed, don’t care if the government shuts down, because opposing the Affordable Care Act is that much of a cause to fight against. So, the people who would lose their jobs, affecting their ability to survive, are not “the American people?”

Is the Republican Congress that when they say “the American people,” while simultaneously cutting back on programs that help the poor survive, that they are cutting out a huge portion of America’s population? Do they care? The argument is that people being cut need to find jobs, but is the Republican Congress aware that people are working, some two jobs, and still do not make a living wage? Aren’t they “the American people,” too?

In a New York Times article, some members of Congress were said to have supported the measure slashing funding for food stamps because “the food stamp program, which costs $80 billion a year, had grown out of control.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/20/us/politics/house-passes-bill-cutting-40-billion-from-food-stamps.html) Um…isn’t part of the reason for that is because thousands of “the American people” were thrown into economic despair because of the Great Recession, which was caused by the machinations of corporations who became more wealthy on the backs of …”the American people?”

Aren’t people with pre-existing conditions, people who are unemployed, people with children who have serious medical issues and who are under the age of 27 with no insurance …are not they part of the quilt which makes up the body of “the American people?”

Mr. Boehner, and others …can you please explain who “the American people” are? Can we finally deconstruct this phrase so that we, “the American people,” can understand who you’re talking about?

Because it just seems that a huge swath of “the American people” have been left out of the club.

A candid observation …

One Group Forward, Another Group Back

The United States Supreme Court did the right thing, I believe, in striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), clearing the way for members of the LGBT community to get the rights they deserve as American citizens. As more and more states lose their resistance to allowing same-sex marriage, the rights of these couples will finally be treated with dignity and will be entitled to federal benefits  that heterosexual married couples now enjoy. Some religious folks are decrying the decision, insisting that the Bible says marriage is supposed to be between one man and one woman but the decision of the Supreme Court really did make justice possible for one group of people who have been too long discriminated against.

But while the LGBT community enjoyed a victory, African-Americans suffered a serious setback. In effectively striking down the guts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the Supreme Court invalidated the work over the years by activists to make sure the right of African-Americans to vote was protected. The high court left the door and the way open for dishonesty and hate-based-on-race to have its way …again. The blood, sweat and tears – literally – of activists, black, white, Christian, Jewish – was dishonored by a court whose chief justice, John Roberts, said, “our country has changed.”

It brought me to tears.

Voting is about power, and from the outset, some people in some states, historically, knew that all too well. To allow the growing population of African-Americans in the South to vote would upset and challenge the balance of the white power structure. To guard against that,  ridiculous, immoral, unethical and disingenuous “tests” were set up to weed African-Americans out. People were asked to tell how many jelly beans were in a jar; they were given literacy tests by many who were themselves illiterate. They were given tests on the United States Constitution. Some blacks would stand in line to register to vote for hours only to get to the registration point and either be turned away because they “failed” one of these tests or to find that voting registration was closed for the day.

The court specifically struck down Section 4 of the Act, which required specifically named states to get pre-clearance from the Justice Department before they made changes to requirements and procedures for voting, to change polling places, or redrawing electoral districts. Congress in 2006 renewed the act, extending the preclearance requirement for 25 years. Now, however, the states that were named have been released from the requirement that they be monitored and get preclearance (Section 5). Federal attorneys can go to individual states and see what they are doing, but clearly, states will have more freedom to do as they wish, hoping that they are not “caught.”

Politics is about power, not about people. In spite of our founding documents saying that government is “by the people, of the people and for the people,” the reality is that those words, that stated belief, is not really true. Far too many American people suffer from a democracy and democratic principles that do not extend to them. While the Congress gets up in arms about democracy needing to work and/or be established in foreign countries, democracy in America is in intensive care.

The Supreme Court this week pushed one group, the LGBT community, move forward while simultaneously pushing another group, African-Americans, back. The court showed notable sensitivity to the group, and familiar and painful insensitivity to another.

The struggle continues. It just never ends. Racism, and the inequality it metes out, is America’s cancer. It resists all efforts to get it out of the life-blood of American society.

A candid observation…

An Uneasy Peace in America

Ever since President Barack Obama became president of the United States, there has been an uneasy spirit, an uneasy peace that is brazenly obvious.

Although in 2008 there were tears of joy and the cry of America being “post-racial,” many people, both black and white, knew differently.  America has always refused to look her racism squarely in the eye; she has been content to live within comfortable walls of myth as opposed to agreeing to stand in the hot sun of reality.

America is a nation that was formed with a racial divide.

Author James Baldwin wrote, in Nobody Knows my Name,” that America “has spent a large part of its time and energy looking away from one of the principal facts of its life. This failure to look reality in the face diminishes a nation as it diminishes a person…” He says that we as a nation are obligated to look at ourselves as we are, not as we wish to be, and he said that “If we are not capable of this examination, we may yet become one of the most distinguished and monumental failures in the history of nations.” (p. 116)

The peace between blacks and whites is …uneasy and inauthentic.  We have not looked racism in the fact and challenged it. We have not done the work to become whole.

The most exasperating thing about our situation is that everybody knows it exists. Before this last presidential election, I was having a discussion with a white friend of mine about the political ads on television and radio that we both wished would go away, and, out of nowhere, she said, “…there is so much prejudice in white people. People are so prejudiced against Obama but nobody wants to say it out loud.”

It felt like she needed to say that, to do a “mea culpa” on behalf of people with whom she had close and frequent contact. What it made me feel was …uneasy, because the uneasy peace that exists between blacks and whites in this country feels very volatile and very threatening.

It is not as though the very most virulent racist feelings are confined to a particular region of the United States. Yes, the South has the history of being most blatantly racist, but there has been no love lost for black people in any part of this nation. John Hancock lived in Boston, and owned slaves. James Madison, a signer of the United States Constitution and a president of this nation, wrote that slaves were both property and human – but human only for the purpose of giving states more representation in elections. They were property in general, and did not, could not, receive the rights of being American citizens.

There has been resentment between the races, then, from the beginning of this nation’s life. Blacks have been under the heels of a race that has deigned itself as superior and blacks as inferior. Whites have enjoyed freedom by virtue of their race, and blacks, because of their race, have had to fight for every ounce of “freedom” they have gained. Blacks have resented whites for thwarting their efforts for freedom and whites have resented blacks for wanting more and more freedom, somehow nurturing the belief that blacks are “moochers” who feel like they are “entitled” to what whites freely enjoy.

There is no peace between the races. The issues have been pushed under the carpet and whites and blacks as well work very hard to keep the issues right there.

But truth always comes up and out. The resentment of blacks and whites periodically rises to the surface. There has been no real effort for reconciliation between the races because blacks and whites have been more interested in keeping the disease and its issues hidden. That’s why we have seen and heard so many unkind and racially tinged insults against President Obama. That’s why the Trayvon Martin case is so volatile. That’s why the incidence of hate crimes is on the rise. Though slavery as a formal entity does not exist, blacks are still disproportionately detained in prisons (read Michelle Alexander‘s The New Jim Crow and Douglas 

Official photographic portrait of US President...
Official photographic portrait of US President Barack Obama (born 4 August 1961; assumed office 20 January 2009) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

‘s Slavery by Another Name) as a way of keeping them in their place. Blacks and whites are as far away as we ever were, made worse by the fact that we will not “look reality in the face.” It is as though we have strep throat but will not acknowledge it or get an antibiotic to kill the bacteria, and as a result, our nation is suffering from a system rheumatic heart disease.

An uneasy peace is no peace at all. Peace comes only after the work of peace is done…and we in America have not done that. It is scary and troubling, but our nation, while it is off trying to help other nations in the world embrace democracy and freedom, has not attended her own broken democracy.  There is an uneasy peace, and it is truly scary.

A candid observation…