Category: racism

I have no wacky uncles. Leading up to Thanksgiving, the interwebs were full of advice on how to deal with your crazy tea partier uncle and the theories he was sure to bring to the dinner table.

This year, as usual, I was blessed with a distinct lack of crazy uncles, and a table-full of mostly intelligent, liberal to lefty people who backed Obama, believe in universal health care, science and history, think the Republicans have been irresponsible troublemakers for the better part of 4 (or 12, or 30) years, and have no patience for the tea party, in the form of Uncle Jim or anyone else.

For this, I am truly thankful.

To be sure, in my family there are wacky uncles, and aunts, and cousins galore I’m sure, who are holed up in their tight little worlds, still trying to figure out how to get that Kenyan Muslin Usurper out of the White “It’s called that for a reason, ya know” House. There is a whole arm of the family in Eastern Washington and elsewhere who, I’m sure, are planted firmly in front of Fox News on a pretty regular basis, and who take their talk radio from the likes of Rush and Hannity.

But they’re not sitting at my dinner table. And I’m not really sorry about that. There was a time in the 1980s when my brother was a big fan of Rush Limbaugh and the right wing nut jobs of that day. Even though he railed wildly on extreme themes, was dangerously lacking in fact checking, and was downright rude to my girlfriend (he didn’t speak directly to her for 2 years), you could, sort of, have a conversation with the guy. Because he was a thinking man, after a while he shifted his views to more of a progressive Libertarian stance, and eventually  worked hard to get Obama elected in 2008.

Even back then, conversation was at least possible.

But the New Millennium version of the family right-wing nut job is a lot harder to deal with, and I’m very happy not to have the arguments of this era over the holiday meal. My larger extended family of right-wingers does their holiday on their own these last few decades (probably with Fox News tuned in somewhere in the background). At my own Thanksgiving table, we sit much in accord with each other, and it improves both the conversation and the digestion.

There are differences, to be sure, along our Democratic-to-Libertarian spectrum, but it’s founded in basic common ground: government, though prone to the failings of any large bureaucracy, can do good, and is how we pool our common interests and resources. All people are valuable. Religious freedom is serious stuff, and has nothing to do with protecting extreme Christians from having to acknowledge the very existence of other faiths or no faith. Women (and men) should be able to determine their own medical needs. A family is a family, straight, gay or otherwise. Education is valuable. Science is based on careful research and analysis. The world is not 6000 years old.

And I’d like to think that if a whacky uncle or three sat down at the table, we’d all be strong minded enough to actually have a great conversation together, to agree to disagree, to keep it sane out of sheer numbers, so many of “us” speaking truth as we see it to “them.” And I’d like to think we’d change some minds, open some doors, sweep the blight of right wing media lies from Uncle So-and-So’s thinking.

But I must admit, I’m glad I don’t have to.


Ta-Nehisi Coates reflects on the recently found tape of Malcolm X speaking in 1961 at Brown University:

I think it’s easy to forget how much Malcolm X actually enjoyed these campus visits, not simply as someone spreading Nation dogma, but as a person who had never enjoyed the constant mental stimulation of a college campus. There are many rewards along the autodidact’s road — but those who hail from a certain socio-economic background often find themselves without fellow travelers and respected interlocutors. My Pops often says that one of the best things about the Black Panthers was that it was the first time in his life he’d been surrounded by thinking, literate, politically-minded young people.

Oh, I can’t tell you how hard (in a wonderful way) this hit me: “… one of the best things about the Black Panthers was that it was the first time in his life he’d been surrounded by thinking, literate, politically-minded young people.”

(I will admit I had to look up the term “autodidact” – I think of it as someone who seeks knowledge on their own, without benefit of a school or teacher or academic program or mentor. The definition “self-taught person” seems to oversimplify the case.)

My parents were young moderate-lefty-ish white kids – not exactly the target audience of either Malcolm X or the Black Panthers – and while wary of the “incendiary” language of both Malcom X and the later-day Panthers,* they none-the-less had a definite respect for both that great speaker, Malcom X, and that great organization/movement, the Black Panthers. And it was this sense of hearing, perhaps of being PERMITTED to hear, the voices of “thinking, literate, politically-minded young people” who also happened to be black and so articulated their experience, that really captured their hearts. They might quibble over the details of the proposed revolution, but there was no doubt they were moved by the voices of its advocates. And they were moved not only by the content, but by the poetry as well.

I am lucky (as a little white kid) to have heard the words of Malcom spoken in his own voice. A lot of my little kid friends didn’t have a clue who he was, much less what he said. I wish more little white kids had heard it in its day. I wish their parents had shared it with them. I think it might have made a difference. That’s one thing the Youtube generation has going for it that we didn’t have in my day: access.

My parents and god-parents, from whom I learned about the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. King, Malcom X and the Panthers, were the ones who taught me that the Panthers started out as a organization of young black men who were doing things like making sure little kids in their neighborhoods had breakfast, and shoes to wear to school. I know they learned it despite all kinds of efforts by mainstream America to thwart that awareness; I am forever grateful to them for passing it on to me.



* I’m not saying it was incendiary, just that they perceived it as so. When I hear those same words, I perceive them as grim but realistic.

HermanCainBanner-croppedHerman Cain, campaigning for the Republican nomination in the 2012 race to the White House, is gaining in the polls despite his over-simplistic and middle-class-hitting “9-9-9” tax plan.  For whatever non-sensical reason, conservative voters are giving him a thumbs up, at least for the time being, and at least in relation to the other GOP potentials.  I think he’s ridiculous, and that his policies can’t win him the nomination, but clearly the dude has some appeal.  Conservative voters seem to trust him, to some degree, and his simplistic talking points apparently appeal to many voters.  I’m sure that his business background is part of the draw – not a plus in my view of what it takes to govern, but many conservative voters seem to assume a biz career provides a better model for governing than an actual career in governing at the state and local level.  He also has a good sense of humor, which makes him somewhat less awkward on the stage or at a podium, and comes off as a “real person” rather than a manufactured candidate, ala Romney.  He has a great smile, too.  Physically, he comes off as a very warm, down-to-earth rich guy.  I wouldn’t vote for the man in a million years, but I do understand, to a limited degree, what his appeal might be for voters very unlike myself.


The main reason I believe he can’t win the Presidency, and therefore is unlikely to win the GOP nomination, is that he’s black.  I just don’t think voters, Republican or otherwise, will put two black men in a row in the Oval Office. 

Call me cynical.  Call me racist.  Call the voters racist.  We probably are.

But I truly believe it:  were Cain the Magic Candidate, with carefully crafted policies appealing to Left, Right and Center, he couldn’t get the votes.  Too many people – white people – will balk at the idea of another non-white-guy in the Presidency.  That Cain is black only compounds this – we might, maybe, as a nation, go for a Hispanic, Asian, or maybe even Native president.  Maybe even a woman (white, presumably, this time around).  But with the level of discomfort around Obama’s “blackness” these last three or four years, there is just no way, no how, that the voters will install a second black dude.  Doesn’t matter that Obama and Cain have completely different perspectives, politics, backgrounds, styles, or any thing else.  Too many voters would be wary of some kind of imagined trend in which people of color start takin’ over the highest office in the land.

We’re just that stupid.  We look at the surface more than the depth, even when we shouldn’t.

So, sorry, Herman Cain.  Your fifteen minutes may stretch to fifteen months, but you just aren’t going to get the votes.

Okay, leaving aside some statement I read somewhere, once or twice, on some old parchment, that religious affiliation isn’t required in taking the oath of office,

Article VI

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

… and thus implying that religious affiliation is immaterial to holding office – leaving aside that, what is up with the latest “Is Obama a Muslim?” polling?

All this hoopla about Obama being a Muslim, a Muslin, a Christian, a bible-believin’ Christian, whatevah, takes me right back to my ol’ pal Colin Powell, speaking on the day he endorsed Obama back in 2008:

“Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he’s a Christian. He’s always been a Christian,” he said. “But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, ‘He’s a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists.’ This is not the way we should be doing it in America.” [emphasis mine]

This whole issue disturbs me deeply, even before we get to the part about protests against the Two-Blocks-From-Ground-Zero mosque/community center, or the construction worker being harassed by the protesters, or the tax driver who got knifed, or anti-Muslim nuttiness elsewhere. 

I believe the United States, however imperfectly, is a pluralist society – one in which diverse groups work to coexist peacefully and respectfully.  The recent anti-Muslim crap is evidence to me that a small but noisy – and scary – contingent of my fellow citizens do not feel the same way.

Byron Williams wrote about something I couldn’t really put my finger in the my two posts on Rand Paul and the Civil Rights Act:

Paul’s remarks, consider this coming in 2010, bear stark similarity to Southern segregationists who opposed the civil rights legislation. Do such beliefs make Paul a racist or at least guilty of latent racism? No.

But Paul’s statement does reveal the disconnect that exists whenever an individual is strictly beholden to an ideology, there will inevitably come a point where that philosophy is unable to confront reality.

If you believe our understanding of the Constitution cannot change along with society, you provide no way to legally deal with issues the framers of the Constitution could never have anticipated.  They provide no alternative but a sad nostalgia for the past.

Williams talks about adherence to strict principles in a more general sense, and goes on to say:

Fundamentalist thinking is also popular among those who advocate for “strict constructionists” to serve on our courts. They claim to oppose judges who “legislate from the bench.”

This assumes the Constitution is frozen in time. Whatever the words meant when the Constitution was ratified in the 18th century is what it must mean today. Strict constructionism is a nice, neat, and convenient thought but hardly realistic in a world that is constantly evolving.

Thanks, Mr. Williams.

11 January 2010

So, Nevada Senator Harry Reid is reported to have said the following, as quoted in a new book on the 2008 presidential campaign, Game Change, by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann

He was wowed by Obama’s oratorical gifts and believed that the country was ready to embrace a black presidential candidate, especially one such as Obama — a “light-skinned” African American “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one,” as he later put it privately.

Reid doesn’t deny he said these things, and Obama has apparently said there is no ongoing problem due to the remarks.  But Harry is getting a lot of heat for what many have termed a racist statement.  Some conservatives even think he should resign.  My take on it is different.

Though awkwardly stated, what Reid says is, essentially, true.  I noticed it in my own way during the election season:  if Obama looked like, say, Yaphet Koto, no way would so many white voters (and maybe other voters) have been in his court.  Darker skin, not to mention a wider nose, stockier body and a less “educated” or Ivy League manner of speaking, would have undoubtedly garnered him less support.  It wouldn’t have mattered how educated, how versed in politics or constitutional law or any other measure of actual suitability to the office of President – if the voting public, the white voting public, had perceived him as “more black” I don’t believe Obama would have been able to overcome the racism of the white voting public.  A lot of that loss of support would have been the result of unconscious racism rather than outright blatant racism (i.e. “I don’t trust blacks!”), but it still would have translated into real losses at the polls.

Unfortunate, depressing, kind of sickening, but I think very true.  Reid might have used words like “light skinned” or “negro dialect” which rub the wrong way, but the essence of his remarks was, I think, accurate.  While we might critique his antiquated Nevadan dialect, I don’t think he deserves criticism for the truth of his comment.


NPR’s Tell Me More had a spot on this issue today which supports my contention that Reid’s comments were essentially true, however ungracious it might have sounded:  Sen. Reid Takes Heat For Descriptions Of Obama, ‘Negro Dialect’

Tell Me More

7 August 2009

I listen to the NPR show, Tell Me More, almost everyday.  I listen online – I can listen at a time of my choosing, and at my own pace, pausing it to take a phone call, or running it back to replay something I didn’t quite catch.  Because of these features, I listen to lots of NPR programs online – Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Fresh Air – even though my local station, KLCC, airs them.

Now, Tell Me More, which I started hearing on NPR’s 24-hour program stream, is not broadcast in my area.  It took me a few weeks of listening to realize that the program is largely focused on black, Latino and other communities of color.  My pasty white self not withstanding, I continued to listen to this excellent news and issues show, feeling like something of an outsider, but not unwelcome in the listening audience.

I imagine my local station doesn’t broadcast Tell Me More because we have both a limited fundraising base, and because we have a largely-white audience.  And because of that, a lot of the local community doesn’t hear the kinds of stories, or the kinds of perspectives that Tell Me More features.  But why shouldn’t my mostly lily-white community be listening to this show?  And not just because they “should” as good non-racists, or because they share the broadcast area with, yes, a small black population, but also a fairly diverse Native, Hispanic and Asian population.  Nope, our white citizens need to listen to this kind of programming because this is part of our nation, our community, our neighborhood, even if that’s an online neighborhood.

If you live in an all- or mostly-white community, it’s really easy to not even realize what you are missing.  White culture being dominant, the absence of another voice, of a whole set of other voices, isn’t necessarily missed unless you are tuned to it.  That seems mostly to come of being one of those absent voices, but hopefully more and more white folks will hear the silence, become aware of the gaps when the full picture of our nation isn’t represented.

I will never know what it’s like to grow up or live as a black man, or a Latina woman, any more than I will know what it’s like to grow up as a Muslim, or in Prague during the 1600s, or live inside a body racked with Huntington’s, or any of a myriad of experiences that, due to birth or geography or time, I simply can’t have.   That makes it more important to listen to other voices, to glean what I can, to observe what feels the same and what seems vastly different between me and other people.  My observations will be incomplete, but how could I not try? How else can I learn?  How else can my neighbors, online and down the street from me, become members of my community, and me of theirs?

Yes, I’m a dreamy-eyed liberal, hoping for peace and harmony between all peoples.  And it starts with listening.

30 July 2009

No surprise that the advent of our first black president has and will continue to spark discussion about race and racism.  But I’m continually amazed at the narrow views held by extreme right media stars. 

Not such a surprise that Rush Limbaugh would fling accusations of racism, or reverse racism back on Obama, as we’ve see over many months.  Charges of racism?  Really?  Typical of Rush, typical of his kind of tactics, typical of someone trying to get a rise out of a radio audience.  So to me, the quote which came up for discussion today seemed mild by comparison.

Here you have a black president trying to destroy a white policeman.  I think he is genuinely revved up about race.  You know me.  I think he is genuinely angry in his heart and has been his whole life.

But as bizarre as Glenn Beck can be, this comes out of the blue: he views Obama as "a guy who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture. I don’t know what it is…"  The guy goes on and on.  He seems amazed, appalled, and convinced that this is Obama’s whole viewpoint, that it is his defining characteristic.

Leaving aside my own confusion about where the evidence for this supposed hatred of white people or culture comes from, I would like to say that Rush’s accusation of Obama as an “angry black man” strikes as a “well, duh!” moment.

I don’t much expect anything else.  I’d be angry too, just like I’m angry at the limitations and dismissals I encounter as a woman.  Is this really surprising?  Of course not.  But it’s also not the whole picture.  One can be mad about something and still have a fairly even handed approach to those issues, to any issue.  Because you’re angry does not automatically dictate that you’ll view those issues narrowly, or make bad policy, or treat people unfairly.

When you have something to be angry about, you get angry.  It may well be that to allow yourself the anger, to admit it and recognize it, allows you in turn to view the big picture more clearly.  Pretending you are not angry typically compromises your ability to think clearly; it’s one of the elephant-in-the-room things, where you never acknowledge the anger, yet totally structure your life in avoidance of it.

In Obama’s case, his generally even-handed approach to things like racism, sexism, abortion, gay rights suggests he doesn’t much operate out of anger, however he might have passions stirring somewhere we can’t quite see them.  And as calm as Obama generally is, maybe he needs a little anger in the mix.  Spice thinks up, Mr.. Obama!  Show us your passion!

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