Forty years ago, exactly, Hate won the day — defined this nation by our lowest common denominator of tribalism and notions of racial superiority and silenced a voice that had captured the imagination of both white and black and those in between.
In memory of that, and the echoes we hear around us in our current growth process, here are your weekend reads — the first is on Dr. King’s legacy, the next is the ENTIRE sermon given by Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Jr. and well worth your review as we debate whether Obama should have quit his church and moved along. Alice Walker gives us an essay about race that enlarges our perspective, and Jaime O’Neill writes regarding his own racial experiences.
I was once run out of a neighborhood because of race; frankly, it didn’t occur to me at the time that I was taking a stand but, sure enough …
I was a young house-mouse with a four year old and a six-month old baby; the neighborhood was a tiny housing area between a small town in the California inner valley and the local Air Force base. My husband worked in retail in Merced, and the houses were cookie-cutter affairs about ten miles away, stuffed with military families. I was a long way from cool, breezy Berkeley and coping with both loneliness and the kind of summer heat that cooked me from the inside out. Fortunately, I had a nice green front lawn to sit on with the babies, and we were the first house on the block, next to a small park on the corner.
There weren’t many little kids in the neighborhood, but every day along came a swarm of little black kids, four of them from one family. They were chatty and cheerful and my son was in the trike stage — tree-climbing and muscle flexing was his thing. He liked them, they liked him — the little girls would fuss over the baby, getting her to smile. All was well.
Except it wasn’t. I apparently hadn’t gotten the memo that one didn’t speak to or encourage these children.
One day, as they walked along toward the park with their sister, a teen, I called Hello — she froze in her tracks. Our conversation was brief, she made it so, moving her siblings along. Odd, I thought at the time — and it couldn’t have been a race issue, I reasoned, as one of the people who regularly joined me on my lawn to chat was a local Latino gentleman who asked me to call him Grandfather and told me romantic and tragic stories of his early life in Southern Mexico. But one day the children’s mother came down the street to fetch them, and when I introduced myself she never looked up to meet my eyes — her gaze never left her feet. I let her go, recognizing her fear and sensing it was a mercy to conclude our conversation. I didn’t fully appreciate that fear until a few days later.
That was when my little guy came into the house screaming, his back split open and running blood. He’d been playing with his friends and come too close to the teenager next door, who was a sullen sort, perpetually working on his car. The young man had picked him out of the group, called him a ‘nigger lover’ and hit him a blow with a humongous wrench. He still has a two-inch scar to prove it.
The teen and I went nose to nose — but he waved his wrench at me as well. A day later, his father, an Air Force Sergeant, stood on my lawn to apologize, but said there was nothing he could do — the kid was ‘like that.’ He seemed distressed about all this, and rather a gentle man but his tell-tale Southern accent spoke volumes.
The neighborhood got very quiet … even ominous … after that, and the young man next door began to invite others of his mind-set over to stand and stare menacingly when any of us came out the door; one day they set up a table in the driveway to clean their guns. Since my little ones were, indeed, little, I chose to move rather than crusade; a worried friend lent me the money.
In short — Hate won that day, as well.
Since then, I’ve had many occasions to cross that racial divide and enjoy multi-racial, multi-cultural life experience and relationships … I’ve learned that it isn’t effortless to walk in another’s shoes and understand their wounds — and unhappily, I’ve faced the skin-head mentality that seeks to separate black from white by meanness and slander, met fools and the children of fools. Martin referenced them when he said: “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
That incident in the sleepy California valley was 30+ years ago — but it could happen, here in Klan country, just as easily today — and has. This is no longer tolerable in a world still awaiting entry into the 21st century. This is ignorant, bullying ‘cracker consciousness’ that wasn’t OK 30 years ago and definitely isn’t acceptable now. That much of this behavior has gone underground, no longer overt and tolerated, but playing out more subtly as evidenced in our presidential campaign, our courthouses and prisons, speaks to some small progress but surely not enough.
We need to grow up — ‘living together as brothers’ is still the task at hand, and it offers us joyous discovery if we are bold enough to face the hatred of the ignorant, and the hesitations of our heart. It’s time to write a new social contract based on our commonality — it’s time to leave the fools behind.
Here are good reads for your weekend, the last an obligatory Morford, who might have been peeking inside my head when he wrote it.
40 Years Later, (The Late) Martin Luther King Still Silenced
Jeff Cohen, Common Dreams
Friday, April 4, 2008
Soon after Martin Luther King’s birthday became a federal holiday in 1986, I began prodding mainstream media to cover the dramatic story of King’s last year as he campaigned militantly against U.S. foreign and economic policy. Most of his last speeches were recorded. But year after year, corporate networks have refused to air the tapes.
Last night NBC Nightly anchor Brian Williams enthused over new color footage of King that adorned its coverage of the 40th anniversary of the assassination. The report focused on the last phase of King’s life. But the same old blinders were in place.
NBC showed young working class whites in Chicago taunting King. But there was no mention of how elite media had taunted King in his last year. In 1967 and ’68, mainstream media saw Rev. King a bit like they now see Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
Back then they denounced King’s critical comments; today they simply silence them.
While noting in passing that King spoke out against the Vietnam War, mainstream reports today rarely acknowledge that he went way beyond Vietnam to decry U.S. militarism in general: “I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos,” said King in 1967 speeches on foreign policy, “without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.”
In response to these speeches, Newsweek said King was “over his head” and wanted a “race-conscious minority” to dictate U.S. foreign policy. Life magazine described the Nobel Peace Prize winner as a communist pawn who advocated “abject surrender in Vietnam.” The Washington Post couldn’t have been more patronizing: “King has diminished his usefulness to his cause, to his country, and to his people.”
When King’s moral voice moved beyond racial discrimination to international issues, the New York Times attacked his efforts to link the civil rights and antiwar movements.
King’s sermons on Vietnam could get as angry as those of Barack Obama’s ex-pastor: “God didn’t call America to engage in a senseless, unjust war . . .We’ve committed more war crimes almost than any nation in the world.”
In 1967, King was also criticizing the economic underpinnings of U.S. foreign policy, railing against “capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries.” Today, capitalists of the West reap huge profits from their domination of global media.
Thankfully, we now have the Internet and independent media outlets where King’s later speeches are available for the ages.
If King had survived to hear the war drums beating for the invasion and occupation of Iraq – amplified by TV networks and the New York Times front page and Washington Post editorial page — there’s little doubt where he’d stand. Or how loudly he’d be speaking out.
And there’s little doubt how big U.S. media would have reacted. On Fox News and talk radio, King would have been Dixie Chicked. . .or Rev. Wrighted. In corporate centrist outlets, he’d have been marginalized faster than you can say Noam Chomsky.
One suspects King would be marveling at the rise of Barack Obama and the multiracial movement behind him. But would he be happy with Obama and other Democratic leaders who heap boundless billions onto the biggest military budget in world history?
In 1967, King denounced a Democratic-controlled Congress for fattening the Pentagon budget while cutting anti-poverty programs, declaring: “A nation that continues year after year to spend money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” ++
Jeff Cohen is an associate professor of journalism at Ithaca College, and founding director of the Park Center for Independent Media. He founded the media watch group FAIR in 1986, and has written and lectured about King’s life and death for 35 years.
God Damn America
FreakyBoy, Sluggy Freelance
So, let’s talk about Jeremiah Wright’s sermon. It was written with this scripture in mind:
Luke 19:37-44 wrote:
- As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” As he came near and saw the city he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you had only recognised on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side, they will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognise the time of your visitation.”
I took the time to transcribe the sermon; it appears below, or you can listen for yourself [open link for audio].
- Confusing God and Government – April 13, 2003
If you were to ask the average Christian, “did Jesus cry?”, almost every Christian would quote for you that John 11:35 verse, which most Bible students call the shortest verse in the Bible: “Jesus wept”. It is the verse, you will remember, that is found in the middle of the story about the death of Lazarus, the Lord Jesus’ friend. Jesus loved Lazarus, his friend; Lazarus had died. Jesus was outside the village of Bethany – he had not yet reached the city limits – Martha had met him, and he and Martha had talked. Martha was mad, and she let the Lord know that she was mad. Jesus had reassured her with words she did not understand, “I am the resurrection and the life: whosoever believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live again: and whosoever liveth and believeth shall never die.” He had reassured her – she didn’t understand those words, but at least he had calmed her down for just a little bit. She left Jesus there, went back to the house and called her sister Mary and told her privately, “Jesus is here and he is calling for you.” And when Mary heard those words she got up quickly and went to where Jesus was just outside of Bethany. When those who were grieving with her saw her get up quickly and go out, they ran along with her – you find that story in John 11. They thought she was going to her brother’s grave site to grieve. When Jesus saw her crying, and Jesus saw those who were trying to console her crying, he started weeping. The text says “he was greatly disturbed in spirit and he was deeply moved.” He asked Mary and Martha, “where have you laid him?” and they said “Lord, come and see” and he cried: “Jesus wept.” You know, death will make you weep. When you lose someone that you love, you will weep. When you lose somebody that was close to you, the tears will come; I ain’t telling you about nothing that I read in a book somewhere, I’m telling you what I know from personal experience. I’m not telling you what I studied in pastoral counselling, I’m telling you what I have lived – for when the pain of death hits and the pain is deep, when the pain of death hits and the pain is personal, when the finality of death comes crashing in on you, and those words “never again” move from the region of possibility to the heart-wrenching realm of reality, that smile that made your day, never again will you see it. That laughter that lit up your world, never again will you hear it. That wisdom that anchored your soul, never again will you experience it in this life. When that happens to you, my beloved, you will weep. You will cry. Jesus wept; Jesus cried. And most Christians learn very early in their walk of faith that John 11:35 verse – what does it say?
Congregation: Jesus wept.
You know that’s the first Bible verse you memorise. You usually go around the table and have to say a Bible verse at dinner; “What’s your verse?” “Jesus wept.” But guess what? Guess what? Tonight’s text teaches us that that is not the only time that Jesus wept. On this day that we call Palm Sunday, when the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God and joyfully – as we just read – for all the deeds of powers that they had seen – on the Sunday that we call Palm Sunday, as Jesus rode on the colt – on the Sunday before Maundy Thursday, the Sunday before Good Friday, while some of the Pharisees in the crowd tried to stop the praise of the profession that was taking place – on the Sunday before he was put to death on a cross, stretched between two thieves, the Sunday that he said if these who are praising me hold their peace, then the rocks will cry out – on the Sunday before he sealed our salvation as he came near the city, the text we just read said, in the midst of the praise, Luke tells us that he wept over the city; he cried for his people who did not know the things that make for peace. He cried for his people because they were blinded by their culture, they were blinded by their condition, they were blinded by their circumstance, they were blinded by their oppression, they were blinding by being in a spot where they desired – deeply desired – revenge, and they could not see the things that make for peace. We keep forgetting, we keep forgetting, and we need to remember; Jerome Ross wrote about it like he reminded you of it, write it down so you don’t forget it. These people had, in Luke 19, an occupying army living in their country. Jesus in verse 43 calls them their enemies – say enemies; their enemies had all the political power. Remember, they had to send Jesus to a court presided over by the enemy; a provisional governor appointed by their enemies ran the civic and the political affairs of the capital. He had backing him up an occupying army with superior soldiers – they were commandos trained in urban combat and trained to kill on command. Remember, it was soldiers of the Third Marine regiment of Rome who had fun with Jesus, who was mistreated as a prisoner of war, an enemy of the occupying army stationed in Jerusalem to ensure the mopping up action of Operation It’s Really Freedom; these people were blinded by the culture of war. Do you know what it’s like to live under military rule 24/7, 365? These people were blinded by their circumstance of oppression; their enemies not only had all of the political power, with Governor Pontius Pilate – y’all call him “Pontus Pilot” – he’s Italian, Pontius Pilate – Pontus Pilot was running the provisional government; their enemies also had the military power. They not only had political power, they had the military power. It was Roman soldiers who kept Jesus up all night. It was the Italian army who led Jesus out to Calvary on Friday morning. It was the occupying military brigade who forced Simon of Cyrene to carry the cross for Jesus. These people were tired of their oppression, they wanted the enemy up out of their land (some of them did, some of them didn’t; not the businessmen, not those in bed with the enemy, let’s be clear, let’s be clear) but the average citizen wanted them out, but they also wanted revenge. They wanted their King to get this military monkey off their back – they wanted a “regime change”, if you will. And look what they called Jesus, look at it in verse 38, they called Jesus the “King”. Look at it, look at it, look at verse 38. They call him the King. “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.” They wanted their King – see, their King – they saw God the Lord getting ready to do something about this situation. Blinded by the pain of their situation, they could not see the things that made for peace, y’all. So Jesus cried.
Let me help you with something. Let me help you, let me help you. The military does not make for peace. The military only keeps the lid on for a little while. The military doesn’t make for peace, and the absence of armed resistance doesn’t mean the presence of genuine peace. Somebody needs to hear me tonight, you’re not hearing me. War does not make for peace. We said at the eleven o’clock service “Fighting for peace is like raping for Virginity”. War does not make for peace, war only makes for escalating violence, and a mindset to pay the enemy back by any means necessary. When your wife or your children have been crushed by the enemy, when your mother or your father have been mowed down by the military, peace is not on your mind. Payback is the only game in town. You just bide your time and you wait for your opportunity, but somebody is going to pay dearly for the permanent damage that has come into your life and wrecked your world as it rocked your world. Military might does not make for peace, war does not make for peace. Occupying somebody else’s country doesn’t make for peace. Killing those that fought to protect their own homes does not make for peace. Press conferences claiming victory do not make for peace. Regime change, substituting one tyrant for another tyrant with the biggest tyrant pulling the puppet strings of all the tyrants, that does not make for peace! Colonising a country does not make for peace! If you don’t believe me, look at Haiti, look at Puerto Rico, look at Angola, look at Zimbabwe, look at Kenya, look at Astra Boys in South Africa. Colonisation does not make for peace. Occupation does not make for peace, and subjugation only makes for temporary silence. It does not make for peace.
These people who wanted a new King were blinded by their circumstances, and it made Jesus cry because they missed the meaning of his ministry. Turn to your neighbour and say “missed the meaning of his ministry.” When Jesus says, when Jesus says “you did not recognise the time of your visitation from God” down in verse 44, Jesus is saying you did not recognise the time of my ministry. You did not see the meaning of my ministry. You are missing the real things that make for peace. You are – you are, you are confusing external appearances with external power. You are looking at the man and you are not looking at the one the man represents. You are looking at the miracle – that’s verse 37, when the deeds of power they are praising, that’s the miracle: sight to the blind – deeds of power; hearing to the deaf – deeds of power; speech to the mute – deeds of power; cleansing of the lepers – deeds of power; wholeness to the broken – deeds of – you are looking at the miracles and missing the meaning behind the miracles. A miracle is just a sign. A sign only points to something, or points the way to something. Don’t get fixated on the sign and miss completely what the sign is pointing to. The deeds of power point to a God who is greater than any physical limitation and a God who can overcome any limiting situation. The things that make for peace, only God can give. Y’all looking to the government for that which only God can give. No wonder he wept. He had good cause to cry. The people under oppression were confusing God and Government.
Say “confusing God and Government”. Now if you don’t mind, if you don’t mind, I’m going to hang out here, homilificate for just a little while, and then I’m going to let you go home. I’ve got to pause here, however, as a pastor because a lot of people still confuse, 2000 years later, they still confuse God with their Government. Now we can see clearly the confusion in the mind of a few Muslims – and please notice I did not say all Muslims, I said a few Muslims – who see a law a condoning killing, and killing any and all who do not believe what they believe. They call if “jihad”. We can see clearly the confusion in their minds, but we cannot see clearly what it is that we do: we call it “Crusade”, when we turn right around and say our God condones the killing of innocent civilians as a necessary means to an end. That we say God understands collateral damage, we say that God knows how to forgive friendly fire, we say that God will bless the Shock and Awe as we take over unilaterally another country – calling it a coalition because we’ve got three guys from Australia. Going against the United Nations, going against the majority of Christians, Muslims and Jews throughout the world, making a pre-emptive strike in the name of God. We cannot see how what we are doing is the same Al-Qaida is doing under a different colour flag, calling on the name of a different God to sanction and approve our murder and our mayhem!
Let me tell you something, let me tell you something, Jesus said something about that too. Oh yes he did. Jesus said “how can you see the speck in your brother’s eye and can’t see the log in your own eye?” Well, I submit to you we can’t see it first of all ’cause we don’t see nobody who don’t look like us, dress like us, talk like us, worship like us as brother – and Jesus calls them brother. We demonise them and that makes it all right to kill them because our God is against demons. Then we can’t see the speck most of all because we equate our Government with our God. We confuse Government and God. Let me tell you something; we believe in this country, and we teach our children that God sent us to this “Promised Land”. He sent us to take this country from the Arrowak, the Susquehanna, the Apache, the Comanche, the Cherokee, the Seminole, the Choctaw, the Hopi and the Arapaho. We confuse Government and God. We believe God sanctioned the rape and robbery of an entire continent. We believe God ordained African slavery. We believe God makes Europeans superior to Africans and superior to everybody else too. We confuse God and Government. We said in our founding document as a Government, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” – created, that means God – “and endowed with a certain inalienable right” – that means given by God, and then we define Africans in those same documents as three-fifths of a person. We believe God approved of African slavery. We believe God approved segregation. We believe God approved Apartheid, and a document says “all men are created more equal than other men” – and we’re talking about White men. We confuse God and Government. We believe that God approves of 6% of the people on the face of this Earth controlling all of the resources on the face of this Earth while the other 94% live in poverty and squalor, while we give trillions of dollars of tax breaks to the White rich. We believe God was a founding member of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Look at the lily-whiteness of the G-7 nations the next time you see a picture and you tell me if you see anything wrong with that picture. When you hold it up against a picture of the colour of the world’s population. We confuse God and Government. We believe God is on the side of the wealthy. We believe it is all right to send our military to fight – and if necessary, to die – in Iraq and anywhere else we decide is part of the “Axis of Evil” while George W. cuts the military benefits so when those boys and girls come back home, they can be as bad off as some of the Iraqis that we just “liberated.” We confuse God and Government.
We do. We believe, we believe, we believe we have a right to Iraqi oil. We believe we have a right Venezuelan oil. We believe we got a right to all the oil on the face of the Earth, and we’ve got the military to take it if necessary; or as George W. piously says, “as God so leads” him. We confuse God and Government. We believe it is all right to decimate the Afro-Colombian community by arming the paramilitary with United States tax dollars – our dollars – by hiring military whose real job is to protect the oil line owned by United States companies tied to the Presidency which was stolen by the oil interests. We’re confusing God and Government, and it gets worse – it gets worse. We got a paranoid group of patriots in power that now, in the interests of Homeland Stupidity – I mean Homeland Security, ‘scuse me – they are taking away the Constitutional right of Free Speech because it’s “harmful to the interests of national security” – and those interests equate God with Government. Our money says In God we Trust, and our military says we will kill under the orders of our Commander-in-Chief if you dare to believe otherwise. We are still confusing God and Government in the year 2003, just like confused Luke 19. Well, in case you are in that great number, and I understand from the polls that the number has gone up, still confused; if you are in that number of confused folk 2000 years after Christ, let me share three quick things with you just to help clear up your confusion. Turn to your neighbour and say, and listen you got to say it right, say it with attitude and with Ebonics, say “He fitting to help somebody tonight.” Turn to the other side and say “fitting to”.
Governments – number one – Governments lie.
This Government lied about their belief that all men were created equal. The truth was they believe all White men were created equal. The truth is they did not believe that even White women were created equal, in creation nor in civilisation. The Government had to pass an amendment to the Constitution to get White women the vote. Then the Government had to pass an “Equal Rights” amendment to get equal protection under the law for women. The Government still thinks a woman has no rights over her own body, and between Uncle Clarence – who sexually harassed Anita Hill – and the closeted clam court that is a throwback to the 19th century, hand-picked by Daddy Bush, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, hung between Clarence and that stacked court they’re about to undo Roe v. Wade, just like they’re about to undo affirmative action. The Government lied in its founding documents and the Government is still lying today. Governments lie. Turn to your neighbour and say “Governments lie”. The Government lied about Pearl Harbour. They knew the Japanese were going to attack. Governments lie! The Government lied about the Gulf of Tonkin – they wanted that resolution to get us into the Vietnam War. Governments lie! The Government lied about Nelson Mandela, and our CIA helped put him in prison and keep him there for 27 years. The South African Government lied on Nelson Mandela. Governments lie! Turn back to your neighbour and say again “Governments lie.” The Government lied about the Tuskegee experiment; they purposely infected African-American men with syphilis. Governments lie! The Government lied about bombing Cambodia, and Richard Nixon stood in front of the camera, “Let me make myself perfectly clear, we are not –” Governments lie! The Government lied about the drugs for arms Contras scheme, orchestrated by Oliver North and then they pardoned – the Government pardoned – all of the perpetrators so they could get better jobs in the Government. Governments lie! The Government lied about inventing the HIV-virus as a means of genocide against people of colour. Governments lie! The Government lied about a connection between Al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein, and a connection between 9/1-1/01 and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Governments lie! The Government lied about Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq being a threat to the United States’ peace. And guess what else? If they don’t find them some Weapons of Mass Destruction, they’re going to do just like that LAPD and plant them some Weapons of Mass Destruction. Governments lie!
But I’m fitting to help you. I’m fitting to – turn to your neighbour, say “He fitting to help us.”
Where Governments lie, God does not lie. Read Numbers 23:19; it says “God is not Man that he should lie.” That’s the Kings James translation. The New Revised Translation says – repeat it after me so that you won’t forget it – “God is not a human being that he should lie.” Say it again. “God is not a human being that he should lie.” Let’s say it together. “God is not a human being that he should lie.” Where Governments lie, God does not lie. That’s number one…
Number two: Governments change.
Long before there was a Red White and Blue colonisation, the Egyptian government was doing colonisation. They colonised half the continent of Africa, they colonised parts of the Mediterranean. All colonisers ain’t White. Turn to your neighbour and say “oppressors come in all colours.” Hello, hello, hello. But while the Government of Egypt and Pharaoh ran it, they don’t run a thing today, and why? Because Governments change. When the Babylonians carried away the people of promise into exile, the Babylonian Government was the baddest government around. But when King Nebuchadnezzar when crazy, his government was replaced by the government of King Belshazzar. King Belshazzar held a great big feast, big banquet, defiled the sacred vessels stolen from the temple in Jerusalem and a hand appeared out of nowhere and started writing on the wall, “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin”. And Daniel translated the writing for the king, and told him “here’s what it means, king” – you can find this in Daniel 5 – “Mene: God has numbered the days of your government and brought it to an end.” Governments change. “Tekel: you have been weighed on the scales of justice and you’re too light to balance the scales.” “Parsin: that’s from the verb Peres; your kingdom, your government is divided and given now to the Medes and to the Persians.” And the Bible says that night, that same night, King Belshazzar was killed and Darius the Mede took over the government. Governments change, y’all. Darius was replaced later on by another government, and then another 70 years later King Cyrus said to the people of promise, y’all can go back home. All I’m trying to get you to see is that Governments change.
Prior to Abraham Lincoln, the Government in this country said it was legal to hold Africans in slavery in perpetuity. Perpetuity’s one of those University of Chicago words, it means forever. From now on. When Lincoln got in office, the government changed. Prior to the passing of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution, the government defined Africans as slaves, as property – property! – people with no rights to be respected by any Whites anywhere. The Supreme Court of the government – same court, granddaddy court of the one which stole the 2000 election – Supreme Court said in its Dredd Scott decision in the 1850s: no African anywhere in this country has any rights that any White person has to respect at anyplace, anytime. That was the government’s official position, backed up by the Supreme Court – that’s the judiciary – backed up by the Executive branch – that’s the President – backed up by the Legislative branch and enforced by the military of the government, but I stopped by to tell you tonight that Governments change! Prior to Harry Truman’s government, the military in this country was segregated. But Governments change. Prior to the Civil Rights and Equal Accommodations laws of the government in this country, there was Black segregation by the country, legal discrimination by the government, prohibited Blacks from voting by the government, you had to eat in separate places by the government, you had to sit in different places from White folk because the government says so, and you had to be buried in a separate cemetery. It was Apartheid American-style from the cradle to the grave, all because the government backed it up. But guess what? Governments change!
Under Bill Clinton, we got messed up Welfare-to-Work bill, but under Clinton Blacks had an intelligent friend in the Oval Office. Oh, but Governments change.
The election was stolen. We went from an intelligent friend to a dumb Dixiecrat, a rich Republican who has never held a job in his life – is against affirmative action, against education, against health care, against benefits for his own military, and gives tax breaks to he wealthiest contributors to his campaign. Governments change – sometimes for the good, and sometimes for the bad. But I’m fitting to help you again; turn back and say “He’s fitting to help us again.”
Where governments change – write this down, Malachiah 3:6 – “thus sayeth the Lord:” – repeat after me – “for I am the Lord, and I change not.” That’s the Kings James version. The New Revised says, “For I the Lord do not change.” In other words, where Governments change, God does not change. God is the same yesterday, today and forevermore. That’s what is name, “I am”, means you know. He does not change. There is no shadow of turning in God; one songwriter puts it this way: “As thou hast been, thou forever will be. Thou changes not. Thy compassions, they fail not. Great is thy faithfulness Lord unto me.” God does not change! God was against slavery on yesterday, and God who does not change is still against slavery today. God was a God of love yesterday, and God who does not change is still a God of love today. God was a God of justice on yesterday, and God who does not change is still a God of justice today. Turn to your neighbour and say, “God does not change.”
Where Governments lie, God does not lie. Where Governments change, God does not change. And I’m through now. But let me leave you with one more thing.
Governments fail. The government in this text comprised of Caesar, Cornelius, Pontus Pilot – Pontius Pilate – the Roman government failed. The British government used to rule from east to west. The British government had a Union Jack. She colonised Kenya, Guana, Nigeria, Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Hong Kong. Her navies ruled the seven seas all the way down to the tip of Argentina in the Falklands, but the British failed. The Russian government failed. The Japanese government failed. The German government failed. And the United States of America government, when it came to treating her citizens of Indian decent fairly, she failed. She put them on reservations. When it came to treating her citizens of Japanese decent fairly, she failed. She put them in internment prison camps. When it came to treating her citizens of African decent fairly, America failed. She put them in chains. The government put them in slave quarters, put them on auction blocks, put them in cotton fields, put them in inferior schools, put them in substandard housing, put them in scientific experiments, put them in the lowest paying jobs, put them outside the equal protection of the law, kept them out of their racist bastions of higher education and locked them into position of hopelessness and helplessness. The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law, and then wants us to sing “God Bless America.” No, no, no. Not “God Bless America”; God Damn America! That’s in the Bible, for killing innocent people. God Damn America for treating her citizen as less than human. God Damn America as long as she keeps trying to act like she is God and she is supreme!
The United States government has failed the vast majority of her citizens of African decent. Think about this, think about this. For every 1 Oprah, a billionaire, you got five million Blacks who are out of work. For every 1 Colin Powell, a millionaire, you got ten million Blacks who cannot read. For every 1 “Condeskeeza” Rice, you got one million in prison. For every 1 Tiger Woods, who needs to get beat at the Masters with his cat-blazing hips, playing on a course that discriminates against women; God has this way of bringing you short when you get too big for your cat-blazing britches. For every 1 Tiger Woods, we got ten thousand Black kids who will never see a golf course. The United States government has failed the vast majority of her citizens of African decent. But I’m fitting to help you one last time – turn to your neighbour and say “he’s fitting to help us one last time.” Turn back and say “Forgive him for the ‘God Damn’, that’s in the Bible Lord.” Blessings and cursing is in the Bible, it’s in the Bible. But I’m fitting to help you one last time. Let me tell you something.
Where governments fail, God never fails.
When God says it, it’s done. God never fails. When God wills it, you better get out the way. ‘Cause God never fails. When God fixes it, oh believe me, it’s fixed. God never fails. Somebody right now, you think you can’t make it, but I want you to know you are more than a conqueror, through Christ you can do all things, through Christ who strengthens you. To the world, it looked like God has failed in God’s plan of salvation when the saviour that was sent by God was put to death on a Friday afternoon. It looked like God failed. But hallelujah, on Sunday morning the angels in Heaven were singing, “God never fails.” You can’t put down what God raises up. God never fails. You can’t keep down what God wants up. God never fails. If God can get a three-day Jesus up out of a grave, what’s going on in your life that in anyway can’t match what God has already done? He’ll abides with you, he’ll reside in you, and he’ll preside over your problems if you take them to Him and leave them with Him. Don’t take them back – turn to your neighbour and say “stop taking your problems back.” Should we always bring our problems to the altar and then do we just them right on back to our seats? Turn and say “Stop taking them back!” God never fails. Turn and tell them “God never fails!” God never fails!
God never fails. ++
White People Have a Racial History Too
How dishonest it is to portray Obama as the only candidate with a racial inheritance.
Alice Walker, AlterNet
April 2, 2008
I have come home from a long stay in Mexico to find — because of the presidential campaign, and especially because of the Obama-Clinton race for the Democratic nomination — a new country existing alongside the old. On any given day we, collectively, become the Goddess of the Three Directions and can look back into the past, look at ourselves just where we are and take a glance, as well, into the future. It is a space with which I am familiar.
When I was born in 1944 my parents lived on a middle Georgia plantation that was owned by a white distant relative, Miss May Montgomery. (During my childhood it was necessary to address all white girls as “Miss” when they reached the age of 12.) She would never admit to this relationship, of course, except to mock it. Told by my parents that several of their children would not eat chicken skin, she responded that of course they would not. No Montgomerys would.
My parents and older siblings did everything imaginable for Miss May. They planted and raised her cotton and corn, fed and killed and processed her cattle and hogs, painted her house, patched her roof, ran her dairy, and, among countless other duties and responsibilities, my father was her chauffeur, taking her anywhere she wanted to go at any hour of the day or night. She lived in a large white house with green shutters and a green, luxuriant lawn: not quite as large as Tara of Gone With the Wind fame, but in the same style.
We lived in a shack without electricity or running water, under a rusty tin roof that let in wind and rain. Miss May went to school as a girl. The school my parents and their neighbors built for us was burned to the ground by local racists who wanted to keep ignorant their competitors in tenant farming. During the Depression, desperate to feed his hardworking family, my father asked for a raise from 10 dollars a month to 12. Miss May responded that she would not pay that amount to a white man, and she certainly wouldn’t pay it to a nigger. That before she’d pay a nigger that much money, she’d milk the dairy cows herself.
When I look back, this is part of what I see. I see the school bus carrying white children, boys and girls, right past me and my brothers, as we trudge on foot five miles to school. Later, I see my parents struggling to build a school out of discarded army barracks, while white students, girls and boys, enjoy a building made of brick. We had no books; we inherited the castoff books that “Jane” and “Dick” had previously used in the all-white school that we were not, as black children, permitted to enter.
The year I turned 50, one of my relatives told me she had started reading my books for children in the library in my hometown. I had had no idea — so kept from black people it had been — that such a place existed. To this day knowing my presence was not wanted in the public library when I was a child, I am highly uncomfortable in libraries and will rarely, unless I am there to help build, repair, refurbish or raise money to keep them open, enter their doors.
When I joined the freedom movement in Mississippi in my early 20s it was to come to the aid of sharecroppers, like my parents, who had been thrown off the land they’d always known, the plantations, because they attempted to exercise their “democratic” right to vote. I wish I could say white women treated me and other black people a lot better than the men did, but I cannot. It seemed to me then, and it seems to me now, that white women have copied, all too often, the behavior of their fathers and their brothers, and in the South, especially in Mississippi, and before that, when I worked to register voters in Georgia, the broken bottles thrown at my head were gender-free.
I made my first white women friends in college; they were women who loved me and were loyal to our friendship, but I understood, as they did, that they were white women and that whiteness mattered. That, for instance, at Sarah Lawrence, where I was speedily inducted into the board of trustees practically as soon as I graduated, I made my way to the campus for meetings by train, subway and foot, while the other trustees, women and men, all white, made their way by limo. Because, in our country, with its painful history of unspeakable inequality, this is part of what whiteness means. I loved my school for trying to make me feel I mattered to it, but because of my relative poverty I knew I could not.
I am a supporter of Obama because I believe he is the right person to lead the country at this time. He offers a rare opportunity for the country and the world to start over, and to do better. It is a deep sadness to me that many of my feminist white women friends cannot see him. Cannot see what he carries in his being. Cannot hear the fresh choices toward Movement he offers. That they can believe that millions of Americans — black, white, yellow, red and brown — choose Obama over Clinton only because he is a man, and black, feels tragic to me.
When I have supported white people, men and women, it was because I thought them the best possible people to do whatever the job required. Nothing else would have occurred to me. If Obama were in any sense mediocre, he would be forgotten by now. He is, in fact, a remarkable human being, not perfect but humanly stunning, like King was and like Mandela is. We look at him, as we looked at them, and are glad to be of our species. He is the change America has been trying desperately and for centuries to hide, ignore, kill. The change America must have if we are to convince the rest of the world that we care about people other than our (white) selves.
True to my inner Goddess of the Three Directions, however, this does not mean I agree with everything Obama stands for. We differ on important points probably because I am older than he is, I am a woman and person of three colors, (African, Native American, European), I was born and raised in the American South, and when I look at the earth’s people, after 64 years of life, there is not one person I wish to see suffer, no matter what they have done to me or to anyone else; though I understand quite well the place of suffering, often, in human growth.
I want a grown-up attitude toward Cuba, for instance, a country and a people I love; I want an end to the embargo that has harmed my friends and their children, children who, when I visit Cuba, trustingly turn their faces up for me to kiss. I agree with a teacher of mine, Howard Zinn, that war is as objectionable as cannibalism and slavery; it is beyond obsolete as a means of improving life. I want an end to the ongoing war immediately, and I want the soldiers to be encouraged to destroy their weapons and to drive themselves out of Iraq.
I want the Israeli government to be made accountable for its behavior towards the Palestinians, and I want the people of the United States to cease acting like they don’t understand what is going on. All colonization, all occupation, all repression basically looks the same, whoever is doing it. Here our heads cannot remain stuck in the sand; our future depends of our ability to study, to learn, to understand what is in the records and what is before our eyes. But most of all, I want someone with the self-confidence to talk to anyone, “enemy” or “friend,” and this Obama has shown he can do. It is difficult to understand how one could vote for a person who is afraid to sit and talk to another human being. When you vote, you are making someone a proxy for yourself; they are to speak when, and in places, you cannot. But if they find talking to someone else, who looks just like them, human, impossible, then what good is your vote?
It is hard to relate what it feels like to see Mrs. Clinton (I wish she felt self-assured enough to use her own name) referred to as “a woman” while Barack Obama is always referred to as “a black man.” One would think she is just any woman, colorless, race-less, past-less, but she is not. She carries all the history of white womanhood in America in her person; it would be a miracle if we, and the world, did not react to this fact. How dishonest it is, to attempt to make her innocent of her racial inheritance.
I can easily imagine Obama sitting down and talking, person to person, with any leader, woman, man, child or common person, in the world, with no baggage of past servitude or race supremacy to mar their talks. I cannot see the same scenario with Mrs. Clinton, who would drag into 21st century American leadership the same image of white privilege and distance from the reality of others’ lives that has so marred our country’s contacts with the rest of the world.
And yes, I would adore having a woman president of the United States. My choice would be Rep. Barbara Lee, who alone voted in Congress five years ago not to make war on Iraq. That to me is leadership, morality and courage; if she had been white, I would have cheered just as hard. But she is not running for the highest office in the land, Mrs. Clinton is. And because Mrs. Clinton is a woman, and because she may be very good at what she does, many people, including some younger women in my own family, originally favored her over Obama. I understand this, almost. It is because, in my own nieces’ case, there is little memory, apparently, of the foundational inequities that still plague people of color and poor whites in this country. Why, even though our family has been here longer than most North American families — and only partly due to the fact that we have Native American genes — we very recently, in my lifetime, secured the right to vote, and only after numbers of people suffered and died for it.
When I offered the word “womanism” many years ago, it was to give us a tool to use, as feminist women of color, in times like these. These are the moments we can see clearly, and must honor devotedly, our singular path as women of color in the United States. We are not white women, and this truth has been ground into us for centuries, often in brutal ways. But neither are we inclined to follow a black person, man or woman, unless they demonstrate considerable courage, intelligence, compassion and substance. I am delighted that so many women of color support Barack Obama — and genuinely proud of the many young and old white women and men who do.
Imagine, if he wins the presidency we will have not one but three black women in the White House; one tall, two somewhat shorter, none of them carrying the washing in and out of the back door. The bottom line for most of us is: With whom do we have a better chance of surviving the madness and fear we are presently enduring, and with whom do we wish to set off on a journey of new possibility? In other words, as the Hopi elders would say: Who do we want in the boat with us as we head for the rapids? Who is likely to know how best to share the meager garden produce and water? We are advised by the Hopi elders to celebrate this time, whatever its adversities.
We have come a long way, Sisters, and we are up to the challenges of our time. One of which is to build alliances based not on race, ethnicity, color, nationality, sexual preference or gender, but on Truth. Celebrate our journey. Enjoy the miracle we are witnessing. Do not stress over its outcome. Even if Obama becomes president, our country is in such ruin it may well be beyond his power to lead us toward rehabilitation. If he is elected, however, we must, individually and collectively, as citizens of the planet, insist on helping him do the best job that can be done; more, we must insist that he demand this of us. It is a blessing that our mothers taught us not to fear hard work. Know, as the Hopi elders declare: The river has its destination. And remember, as poet June Jordan and Sweet Honey in the Rock never tired of telling us: We are the ones we have been waiting for. ++
Divided, we stand: What we don’t talk about when we talk about race
Jaime O’Neill, Chico News & Review via SmirkingChimp
April 4, 2008
The carpet salesman is helpful but obsequious, offering advice, flattery, and deference in equal measures. My wife has an accent pillow with her, and the salesman drops carpet samples on the floor next to it, suggesting compatible colors.
Another customer, a black man, enters the store, and the salesman excuses himself to attend to him.
“May I help you?” he asks, and the sales ritual begins, much as it had when my wife and I came into the store, except that I notice that now the salesman’s pleasantries are all couched in language in which the letter “g” has disappeared from all words ending in “g.”
I notice, too, a kind of condescension as palpable as it is unintentional. He steers the black customer to the section that contains the cheaper grades of carpet, and he asks, “Is there a lady in the picture?”–a question that confuses the customer until the salesman says, “Is your wife gonna have a say in pickin’ out this carpet.”
All of us are in our early 60s–me, my wife, the salesman, and the black customer. We’ve lived the same history, from Selma to Sharpton, from “Ofay” to O.J., and I can see a resigned weariness cross the face of this customer who just wants to buy a damned rug for his living room without being patronized.
The black customer says he’d just like to browse, the salesman returns his attention to me and my wife, but I am no longer interested in carpet samples.
I am weary of the racial divide, weary of the intractability of this gulf that separates us from one another, and saddened that a promise I made to my daughter when she was a baby has not come true.
I remember this with photographic clarity: I am holding my infant daughter in the year Martin Luther King has given his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Her face shines up at me, and I am overwhelmed with feelings for her future–hope, fear, dread, and mystery. Born of those feelings, I make an unspoken pledge to her face, that small pink oval in the crook of my arm. What I pledge to her is that by the time she grows up, we–by which I mean my generation–will have solved the racial problems that have so plagued this country.
At the time, it didn’t seem like such an extravagant promise. The aforementioned Dr. King was making speeches of undeniable moral clarity, and change was in the air. Kennedy was president, and a country led by such a man could hardly be expected to perpetuate the foolishness of discrimination based on skin color. It just did not seem possible that my pigmentation, or anyone else’s, could continue to be seen as a sane or sensible way of judging people.
And so I did my small bit to see that my daughter’s future would be free of the scourge of bigotry and prejudice. Like many in my generation, I carried banners. I worked for fair housing. I tried to extend myself to people whose backgrounds and/or pigmentation differed from my own. I voted for candidates who stood for equal opportunity. Later, when I became a teacher, I tried to share my attitudes with my students.
Much was accomplished and much progress has been made, but the pledge I made to my daughter, now just over 40 years of age, remains unrealized. The torch Martin Luther King bore with such dignity did not get passed. The gulf between the races remains wide.
It remains wide because we cannot speak with honesty about anything that bears on the subject of race. We cannot, for instance, state unequivocally that the mostly black jury in O.J. Simpson’s criminal trial delivered a racially based verdict, as racist as the verdicts once returned by all-white juries in the segregated South of the 1940s and ’50s. Black filmmakers cannot exhibit honest portrayals of how black people talk among themselves, as witness the flap over the movie Barbershop.
The gulf remains wide because of people like former Mississippi Republican Senator Trent Lott, people who speak in a kind of code meant to make them sound as though the gulf is no longer wide at all. Until the mask slips, that is, and reveals how near the surface the racism of 1948 remains.
Or the racism of 1957, when I was 13. My dad, tired of the cold winters, moved our family from northern Illinois to a backwater town in central Florida. In Illinois, I had attended an integrated school, but in Florida the schools were still rigidly segregated.
Each day, the bus that took me to my shabby school passed an even shabbier one, the school for the black kids. Windows were broken out. The building was badly in need of paint. It never failed that as we passed some of the kids on the bus would yell insults at the black kids walking on the side of the road.
Everyone in the South seemed to know the phrase from the Supreme Court ruling in the Plessy v. Ferguson case. Segregation had been ruled constitutional so long as public facilities were “separate but equal,” though it took no discernment whatsoever to see that facilities were never equal.
Not that I gave it much thought. At 13, one takes the world largely as one finds it. The assumption still lingers that the grownups know what they’re doing, though the frightening doubt that they don’t hovers just overhead.
On Saturday nights, I would go downtown to the Youth Center to try to ingratiate myself with the cracker kids who’d grown up there, who spoke with the thick accent I struggled to mimic. We all struck poses, drank Dr. Pepper, eyed the girls with their budding breasts, and listened to Chuck Berry or the Everly Brothers on the jukebox.
One night, on the way home with a new friend, I saw two large black men walking in our direction on a dim and nearly deserted street–working men heading home from a late shift in one of the lumber mills We were two skinny white boys, and as the distance between us and them closed, I grew increasingly frightened.
My new cracker buddy, however, showed no sign of fear. When we were five or six feet from them, the two men stepped off the sidewalk into the gutter, allowing us to pass.
The incident remains shocking to me even as I retrieve it from distant memory. Here were two grown men stepping aside for boys who did not yet shave.
Everything I had been taught about respect for my elders was controverted in this small incident. Though I was no stranger to casual racism, the utter injustice of it had never before struck me with such force. How could the world work in any sensible way when adult working men stepped around boys they outweighed by at least 80 pounds?
But of course it wasn’t me and my cracker buddy that made those men step into the gutter; it was the fear of bigger people who shared our skin color, men who might hold the mortgages on their houses, or give the orders where they worked.
What does it do to a man to step into a gutter for boys, and to make such acts of obeisance routinely over the course of a lifetime?
I carried this question with me when my dad moved us back north the following year. I once again found myself in an integrated school, but in a fiercely segregated city where the Pecatonica River drew a line between the races.
Walking home alone along that river one evening after a basketball game, I was jumped by four black kids a year or two older than I was. The prelude to the beating I was about to take involved a test they administered regarding skin color.
The kid who appeared to be their leader pointed to the back of his hand and said, “Hey, honky, what color is that?”
If there was a correct answer to that question, I failed to guess it on that evening, and each incorrect guess (brown? black? beige?) was followed by a pummeling and a chorus of insults. In a final desperate attempt to placate them, I answered “white.” This was the supremely wrong answer, prompting the most prolonged series of blows and kicks.
When I got home, I had to explain a bloody nose, a black eye, bruised ribs, and a torn shirt. “I got jumped by a gang of nigger kids,” I said, between snuffles. Few things resurrect latent bigotry like a racially inspired mugging.
Now flash forward, past the time when I held my baby daughter in my arms to make that grand pledge of a society in which racial division had disappeared. She is 6 years old, and we now live in a small town in the Sierras where I have a new job as a college teacher, a new house, and a new neighbor who hates me on sight.
To him, a retired military man, this new hippie neighbor portends inter-racial parties, maybe even orgies, and probably cultivation of marijuana. A hippie neighbor means a decline in property values.
And so he begins a program of harassment, firing his .12 gauge shotgun at 4:30 each morning where our shared property line is closest to the bedroom windows. When I leave for work, the phone inevitably rings and my wife is treated to a spate of heavy breathing before the caller hangs up.
This continues for several days. I confront him one day as he patrols the edge of the property on a riding mower, his shotgun across his lap. I ask him to refrain from discharging his weapon so near our house so early in the morning. He says, “Welcome to the mountains,” and displays a sausage-sized middle finger.
When we are awakened even earlier the next morning by three shotgun blasts in rapid succession, I call the sheriff’s department to lodge a complaint. The woman on the phone says someone will be right out, but no one comes. Nor does anyone come the next five times I call over the succeeding week.
By this time, I am losing sleep. My work is suffering, and I fear for my family’s safety when I am gone.
In desperation, I go to my boss, the president of the college. He makes some phone calls, talks to his cronies in the Rotary Club, and the next time I phone in a complaint, I am answered by a return call from the office of the district attorney. The secretary says that her boss would like to see this matter settled without a complaint being filed, and he’d like to sit down with me and my neighbor to reconcile the problem.
I am told to report to the courthouse on the following Saturday morning, which I do. I am ushered into the D.A.’s office. Conspicuously, he does not rise to greet me. He motions for me to sit, and I do. There is no sign of my neighbor.
“Son,” the D.A. begins, “I understand you and your neighbor have a little problem. I expect he’ll be here soon, but before he gets here, there’s something I’d like you to know.”
I nod, trying to maintain an air of calm.
“Y’see, son,” he continues, “I don’t like long hair on a man. It just isn’t natural. But I want you to know that I am a fair man. When I look out the window of this courthouse and see a nigger with a white woman, well, that just makes me sick, but I want you to know that when that same nigger comes into any courtroom where I’m the D.A., that nigger gets the same treatment as a white man. And I just want you to know that. You can expect fair treatment from this office.”
I am in no way reassured.
As if on cue, my neighbor enters at just that moment. We have an uncomfortable and unsatisfying meeting … but the shooting ceases, as do the nuisance phone calls.
Later, I learn that my neighbor had been the D.A.’s campaign manager. I also learn, from a student who works in the courthouse, that the D.A. had told my neighbor that if he didn’t knock off the harassment, he’d have to let my next complaint go through, and that would embarrass him politically.
Welcome to the world of grown-ups, where they don’t always know what they’re doing. Or where they know what they’re doing all too well.
More than 30 years ago, that was, but the attitudes he expressed that day are still very much alive. Occasionally, they bubble up, and everyone becomes frantic to turn the heat down and get the pot back to simmering, to get us all back to the pretense that those attitudes are just quaint vestiges of another time, bad thoughts once held by men now transformed into cute and harmless old gargoyles.
Everyone, it seems, wants to pretend that the pledge I made to my baby daughter has been realized.
But, as William Faulkner observed, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Note, for instance, the language contained in a title search I received as part of a 2003 sale of a house we owned in Sacramento. Recorded on March 23, 1948 (the year Strom Thurmond was running for president of these United States on a segregationist platform), it reads, in part: “No persons of a race other than the White or Caucasian race shall use or occupy any structure or any lot in said subdivision; provided, however, that nothing herein contained shall prevent occupancy by domestic servants of a different race domiciled with an owner or tenant.”
Though such covenants no longer have the force of law, though my wife and I worked with thousands of others to pass the Rumford Fair Housing Act in 1964, the language of segregation lies there like a snake ready to strike any buyer or seller with our chronological proximity to the legacy that continues to keep us divided, whether we’re selling our homes, or merely going out to buy a carpet. ++
The very best thing about Barack Obama
No, not that. Or that or that or that. It’s that other thing, deeper, crazier, intuitive
Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist
Friday, April 4, 2008
Nope, it’s not what you might think. The best thing about Barack Obama has almost nothing to do with him as a person or as a leader or even as Oh My God The First Black President Who Could Really Change Everything I Mean Wow. It’s not even the wondrous oratory power or the charisma or the sweet sense of deeper change overlaid with all kinds of sparkly utopian futuriffic goodness.
There is, I think, something more. Something richer. And it’s rather startling.
See, I’ve read the profiles and the liberal fawnings and the intelligent analysis, the attempted takedowns and the right-wing smears, all the valiant attempts to dig up something dirty or problematic or frightening about Obama and his family, his past, his middle name, his beliefs and his pastor and his favorite flavor of ice cream — attempts that, rather amusingly, have all failed.
I’ve read, too, the glut of wonderment, how Obama is this generation’s JFK, how he makes Hillary Clinton’s brand of retro cronyist politics feel like the equivalent of rubbing salt on a paper cut. He is, they say, that once-in-a-lifetime candidate, a fantastically rare mix of intelligence, consistency, inspiration, hope, charisma, humanity, articulation, and an almost shocking lack of manipulation and sheen (well, relatively speaking), all packaged in a strikingly handsome unit in whose closet apparently live almost no skeletons at all.
I also nodded in agreement when snark-master Jon Stewart appeared slightly stunned and taken aback and very nearly jokeless as he pointed out, following Obama’s remarkable speech on race in America, that at long last, here was a top-tier politician who dared to speak to us like we were adults. It wasn’t just refreshing; after seven-plus years of humiliating, monosyllabic dumb-guy Bushisms, it was downright jarring.
And I even enjoyed the overall assessment that the fact that Obama is untested and inexperienced in the higher and more dire realms of government is actually a good thing, just the kind of wild card we crave and need, given how he shows absolutely zero signs that he’d screw it up, not to mention how the last thing anyone really wants is more of the same old-school, inbred crap we’ve had for decades.
Still, this wasn’t what riveted me the most about Obama, still not what’s most fascinating about this moment in political history. It was still something more.
Initially I thought the most impressive aspect of Obama’s run was, well, how the guy made it this far at all. That someone of his caliber and obvious intelligence could survive what has become a truly caustic, brutal political system and still emerge into the international spotlight as, well, not deeply f—ed-up and insane, not possessing that creepy demonic gleam shared by so many politicos (hi, Sen. McCain!) that suggests they’ve had souls eaten whole by the same scabrous trolls of greed and war and corruption that birthed two Bushes and gave Bill Clinton that nearly intolerable aura of ego and slickness.
See, I’ve long believed that, if nearly eight years of the World’s Worst President has taught us anything, it’s that the American political system has moved well beyond merely deeply flawed and broken and sad, and is now wholly rotted, ruined from the inside out, a true moral wasteland barely suitable even for cockroaches and leeches and Rick Santorum. I thought George W. Bush had actually managed to do the impossible: make an already defective system truly unbearable, turning something already gray and murky to turgid and pathetic, toxic to all decent human life.
And I’m happy to report that the fact that Obama exists at this stage of the game is proving me very wrong indeed.
But I’ll even take it a step further. Because the greatest thing about Obama isn’t really about Obama at all, per se. It’s actually about, well, us.
This is the great revelation: We still got it. The collective unconscious, the deep sense of inner wisdom, that intuitive knowing that borders on a kind of mystical proficiency, where millions of people can actually look beyond rhetoric and media spin and merely feel the presence of something great in the room? Yep, still there. Who knew?
See, this is what I hear most from relatives and readers and friends and newborn activists who were never activists before: Obama speaks to the intuition. It’s about the sixth sense. It’s not just what he says or how he behaves in the debates or the policy wonking or the “Change” banners or any of the typical, tangible factors — although those have proven to be remarkably positive, too.
It’s this: People feel it. They hear an Obama speech or read the articles or talk to like-minded folk, and they squint their eyes and weigh everything and then dismiss all that surface crap and get that look on their face that says, you know what? This guy gets it. He feels right. It’s not a trick of light. It’s not complete bulls—. It’s not the usual spin and manipulation and fakery. There is actual meat on this bone. What a thing.
Of course, I’ve plenty of readers who are die-hard cynics and jaded anarchists who say: What the f— is wrong with you? Can’t you see it’s just another vicious ploy? All candidates at this level are essentially the same, interchangeable, all abhorrent simply by default because when you reach that stage of the game there is simply no way to avoid deep corruption and rampant lies. They tell me that even just to write a column like this is akin to merely washing the windows in your little pod in “The Matrix.” Sure, the world may seem shinier, but you’re still just buying into the same old revolting corporate/military machine.
After all, once the vipers of big money and big oil and military spending and corporate cronyism get their fangs sunk in, it’s pretty much “game over” for any candidate’s remaining integrity. Has Mr. Perfect Obama spoken out against the insidious Patriot Act or taken on the absurd farm subsidies or talked up issues of global warming? No he has not. As nice and smart as he may be, strip away all the fawning and the oratory tricks and give him a year in office and boom, just another corrupted, compromised former visionary. Right?
Whatever. I’m not buying it. At least, not yet. For the moment, I trust the collective intuition. I trust the shockingly widespread sense, not merely of hope and change, but of collective wisdom swimming though the air like an electrical surge between every smart, creative person on the planet right now, a bolt of energy that says: Hey, we’re still together. We still got it. Smart, intuitive people are still a force. There is life in the revolution yet.
And Obama? He gets it, too. Hell, he may have kindled it anew, all by himself. Either way, it’s back. And it’s powerful. And that, to me, is the most hopeful thing of all. ++
“So keep fightin’ for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don’t you forget to have fun doin’ it. Lord, let your laughter ring forth. Be outrageous, ridicule the fraidy-cats, rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce. And when you get through kickin’ ass and celebratin’ the sheer joy of a good fight, be sure to tell those who come after how much fun it was.”
~ Molly Ivins, 1944 – 2007
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