Read this and pass it on…

Smart, insightful, and heartbreaking at once:

The Recession’s Racial Divide
By Barbara Ehrenreich and Dedrick Muhammad

WHAT do you get when you combine the worst economic downturn since the Depression with the first black president? A surge of white racial resentment, loosely disguised as a populist revolt. An article on the Fox News Web site has put forth the theory that health reform is a stealth version of reparations for slavery: whites will foot the bill and, by some undisclosed mechanism, blacks will get all the care. President Obama, in such fantasies, is a dictator and, in one image circulated among the anti-tax, anti-health reform “tea parties,” he is depicted as a befeathered African witch doctor with little tusks coming out of his nostrils. When you’re going down, as the white middle class has been doing for several years now, it’s all too easy to imagine that it’s because someone else is climbing up over your back.

The whole column is worth reading…and passing on…especially in any circle frequented by so-called independents.

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100 Days: A View from Canada

I am very pleased to have a post from a good friend from the North. We talk politics, clothes, and pop culture, and I promised her that if she wrote about the President, I’d put together my thoughts about the First Lady. She finished first…

I didn’t watch the U.S. Presidential election coverage on November 4th, 2008. I couldn’t. In fact, I was on a complete, self-imposed, media blackout that day. As a Black woman, that may seem shocking. But, the dream of an African-American becoming President of the most powerful nation on earth was too overwhelming, too tantalizing, too impossible for me to take the risk of watching that dream not become a reality. After all, this election came on the heels of not one, but two elections that took place under, shall I say, “suspicious circumstances.” That, coupled with the vitriol and hatred being spewed by Obama’s detractors, made choosing not to watch the election coverage a no-brainer. Of course, on November 5th, 2008, I watched every online video of that historic moment that I could find!

Fast-forward to 100 days later, and I feel as though I am in a dream. I’m not African-American – an important distinction that I’ll elaborate upon in a minute – but the fact that Barack Hussein Obama, an African-American man, is President of the United States of America is incredible to me. The fact that, by any thinking person’s standards (so, yes, Rush, Ann, and all your “sheeple,” this does not include you), he is doing a great job with what is – as my colleague Nicole would say – a “hot mess,” leaves me in awe… even though I’m not at all surprised. The fact that leaders around the world appreciate and respect him (even my own country’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper who, if he turned out to be a borderline sociopath, I also would not be surprised) fills me with such hope for a better political and socio-economic future for our world.

And, as someone who makes a living from researching and analyzing the intricacies of race and racism, the fact that the whole world wants to claim Obama blows my mind. Everyone…from the Trinidadians

…to the Irish

The fact that countries the world over want to claim Obama is, to me, the most telling thing about the power of his presidency. Here’s why:

As I said above, I’m Black, and not African-American. (If asked, I would identify as Canadian. If pressed, as so frequently happens, I would identify as Caribbean-Canadian.) This needs explicit mentioning because too often “African-American” is used as a catch-all term for everyone who is Black, or who appears to be so. In my view, this is mostly due to the fact that the United States’ biggest global export is their culture: their norms, values, and terms of reference. This is problematic for many reasons, but mostly because it ignores the diversity within the African Diaspora, thereby denying the specific historical, political and socio-cultural experiences of people of African descent. It sends the message that all Black people look the same, think the same, live the same, act the same… in short, are the same. Newsflash, world: we aren’t (and never have been. This explains, for example, the existence of Black Republicans).

What ties Black people together is a shared history and experience of systemic racial discrimination and oppression.

This is why, when I saw that PowerPoint presentation of the racial history of African-Americans, set to Sam Cooke’s “Change Gon’ Come,”* I could relate to it, but not identify with it: I have no actual lived experience of those events–and neither do my parents and grandparents, because their experiences with oppression took place in the Caribbean, which is a different racialiazed context than the U.S. This idea of “relating to”, but not “identifying with” is key, because it goes a long way to explaining why so many people around the world endorsed Obama, and effectively claimed him for their own.

Since he doesn’t fit neatly into conventional categories of racial difference– born to a Black African man and a White American woman; raised by a White American mother and grandparents; spent his formative years in “exotic,” non-mainstream U.S. locales; identifies as African-American–Barack Obama, himself, becomes a catch-all: in this case, for everyone’s racial hopes and desires (or, fears and horrors, but that’s a conversation for a different post). People of colour relate to him because they know that he has faced racism, yet his success signifies an end to it. White people relate to him because he gives them hope that maybe – just maybe – they’ll finally get to stop worrying and feeling guilty about racism, because his success signifies an end to it. I get that. I really, really do. I also want, more than anything, to live in a world that’s free from racism, and other forms of discrimination and oppression.

But, the significant thing about the Obama presidency is not that it’s going to usher in this post-racial utopia that we’re all envisioning: it’s that it won’t.

It won’t, unless we decide to make it happen. It won’t, unless we are brave enough to start having those difficult and painful, yet honest, conversations about how we are all complicit in maintaining racism. It won’t, unless we acknowledge that racism is connected to, and supports, the other “-isms.” And, it won’t, unless we refuse to continue making excuses for, or otherwise covering up, racism when we witness and/or experience it, in all its myriad forms.

The real power of the Obama presidency is that we now have a common point of reference from which to begin.

*

Dominique is a Canadian researcher who focuses on equity and social justice in education. So, she knows that terms like “Black”, “White”, “African-American”, etc. are not neutral and shouldn’t be used uncritically. She’s hoping you’ll cut her some slack, though, because she was trying to keep her post short.

Monkey Business; or, Why the “New York Post” Cartoon is a Good Thing

Okay, it’s not actually a good thing. Depicting the author of President Obama’s stimulus package as a chimpanzee shot for assaulting a white woman is not a good thing. Regardless of who authored the bill, it’s HIS bill and it’s not okay to compare black people to monkeys, chimpanzees, apes, or gorillas. It wasn’t okay to do it to the Jews. Or the Irish. It’s just not okay. And it makes me wonder who was in the room when the decision was made. Seriously. Who thought this was a good idea? I mean this isn’t like saying something offensive on television without thinking. Someone sat down and drew that cartoon and someone else put it on the page. And yet a third person proofed the page! That’s at least three people. Come on!

And like The New Yorker, the The New York Post initially refused to acknowledge that freedom of the press does not mean that the press has pure motives. It’s not as if the cultural biases that infect us all magically disappear once one puts on the hat of journalist.

I’m not at all surprised at the denial and confusion. No one ever thinks they’ve committed a racist act. Even racists don’t call themselves racists with any earnestness. It’s also not surprising that for every person who gets it, there is at least one person who is offended by those who are offended.

But I’m telling you it’s a good thing. For far too long, far too many people have been able to wander around thinking that racism is a problem of the past, and the election of the first black president sent a vocal segment of society into denial: “See! Racism is over. If they just work hard, black people can do anything!”* The Myth of Meritocracy reigns. Pollyanna rules! Of course anyone paying attention knows that it will take more than the a month of a black president and his perfect black family to rid the world of bigotry.

In fact, their presence in the White House is causing the opposite effect in certain corners of the country. I think of it as a kind of Racial Turrets Syndrome (RTS) that plagues those who have studiously avoided any genuine conversation (or confrontation) about race. The more they’ve been in denial, the more apt they are to release CDs like “Barack the Magic Negro.” The only way for this to be cured is for it to come out. Sunlight really is the best disinfectant. These outbursts force us to have conversations about difficult subjects and serve as indicators of how far we have, and haven’t, come since we elected Mr. Obama. It allows us to have an open, if sometimes messy, debate about a topic many of us would like to avoid.

The trick is to actually have the conversation. Those who “get it” don’t get to feel smug (because trust me, even if you “get” this, you’ve missed something else) and must learn to explain without preaching, to put ourselves in the shoes of the other person and explain our point of view without demonizing the person who is on the other side of the conversation. Those who find themselves criticized need to take a deep breath and open their minds to the idea that even good people make comments or gestures that are offensive.

The other reason this is a good thing is because it might finally help people learn how to apologize. The New York Post has shown us the wrong way:

It was meant to mock an ineptly written federal stimulus bill.

Period.

But it has been taken as something else — as a depiction of President Obama, as a thinly veiled expression of racism.

This most certainly was not its intent; to those who were offended by the image, we apologize.

In the first place, apologies should not be offered defiantly. Secondly, intent is a given in our culture; even those who intend to offend get to say they meant no offense. The New York Post should have simply said the piece was careless and did not recognize the power of such imagery and then apologized for being sloppy and, yes, racist. It happens, and the sooner the offenders own it and learn from it, the better off everyone will be.

Now just because a thing is called racist does not make it so. I actually felt very sorry for the poor cable anchor who used the term “Colored People” when talking about the NAACP. “Colored People” is dated, but the organization is called The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People!” He apologized, but he didn’t need to–at least that’s what I think. Maybe you think something different. Perhaps the NAACP should change its name. It’s a thing we can chat about. See how that works?

*It’s worth noting that some of the people making this claim are black people.

At Last: Cutting the Gordian Knot

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray

–from ” The Negro National Anthem” by James Weldon Johnson

Today in class, during a conversation about Harry Potter and Reganomics, a student made a passing comment about President Obama and the economy. He said “President Obama” so casually, so offhandedly, that I got choked up and had to look down for a minute to regain my composure. Nonchalance about President Obama can bring me to tears.

Of course, at any given moment I’m in danger of losing it, for no particularly good reason. Obama doesn’t even need to be mentioned, on the television, or on the radio. In line at the grocery store I’ll see a young black man in a suit and get weepy, any commercial featuring a little black boy…waterworks, seeing a little white girl hugging her little black girl friend…and don’t let me see an old black man or woman.

I’m in serious danger of dehydration.

My feelings are not unique, but I’ve been curious about the depth of my reaction. After all, I’m young enough to see the Civil Rights Movement as history, young enough to use the phrase “free at last” playfully, and young enough to feel I can wear multiple identities at once. Although neither of my parents graduated from college, no one was surprised that I did and any surprise about my decision to pursue a doctorate was about the fact that few people could imagine me sitting still long enough to complete a dissertation.

I still never thought I’d see a black president, and the success of our country regularly reduces me to tears. Why?

For whatever gains were made because of the Civil Rights Movement, racism and ignorance still run rampant and, with one exception, every black person I know has at least one glaring, scarring moment where they were denied something basic because of their skin color. I’m not talking about rude service in a restaurant but about being denied jobs, housing, and adequate health care. I am talking about young black people who followed the rules their parents and grandparents set out for them—go to college, get a degree, get a good job, dress appropriately, treat others with respect. It doesn’t work they way we thought it would. Yes, we have more opportunities than our parents and our grandparents, but in many ways we have less.

Faced with racism in its myriad forms, my generation has developed a series of responses (humor, anger, rap), all of which are inadequate at any real level. These responses, coping mechanisms if you will, did little more than thicken my skin to help me keep moving. Yes, I learned to brush things off, but swallow too many bitter pills, and they form a knot in the pit of your spirit, a bitter knot comprised of righteous anger, pain, rejection, confusion, and dashed hopes.

The election of THIS black president has cut that cord loose. And so I’ve been crying a lot. It’s a big knot (I was six-years old the first time I was called a nigger, though it’s a memory that belongs more to my mother than it does to me), so it’s loosening takes time. But oh my does it feel good.

It goes too far to say it has been replaced by hope, but the absence of a certain kind of deep despair will suffice for now.

This is not to suggest that I believe all this “post racial” claptrap. As Frank Rich put it so well earlier this week in “White Like Me” :

For all our huge progress, we are not “post-racial,” whatever that means. The world doesn’t change in a day, and the racial frictions that emerged in both the Democratic primary campaign and the general election didn’t end on Nov. 4. As Obama himself said in his great speech on race, liberals couldn’t “purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap” simply by voting for him. And conservatives? The so-called party of Lincoln has spent much of the past month in spirited debate about whether a white candidate for the party’s chairmanship did the right thing by sending out a “humorous” recording of “Barack the Magic Negro” as a holiday gift.

But the times they are a changing, so much so that when Reverend Lowery ended his poetic, rousing benediction, I could laugh heartily through my tears:

when black will not be asked to get back,
when brown can stick around,
when yellow will be mellow,
when the red man can get ahead, man,
And when white will embrace what is right.

Amen?


Amen!