Tag Archive: racism

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.

The following excerpts are from blog posts which have had me thinking for days.  They aren’t isolated – other bloggers, opinionators and Smart People have also been writing about these issues.  But these excerpts sum up very nicely the ideas banging around my head right now.


First up, Ta-Nehisi Coates, writing about Michael Moore and Bill Mahar’s clever little quip: “I went into the polls voting for the black guy, and what I got was the white guy…”

But it really isn’t [clever]. In fact, it’s racist, and Michael Moore would do well to stop repeating it. It really is no better than the Kenyan anti-colonial bit, indeed it is a good deal worse. I said this yesterday on twitter, but it would be as if my Jewish accountant messed up my taxes and I said, "Dude, you’re Jewish, what the hell?!?!"

In fact, I’d be getting exactly what I deserved. If you paid more attention to Obama’s skin color, than to his speeches, the voluminous amounts of journalism noting his moderation, his two books which are, themselves, exercises in moderation, then you have chosen to be ignorant. 

You are now being punished for that ignorance. No one should feel sorry for you. Try not being racist.


On a different note, Steve Benen, writing about the anti-intellectualism in Rick Perry’s campaign talk, refers to something Paul Krugman wrote about 3 years ago:

What matters is what this tells us about anti-intellectualism in Republican politics today, and the fact that the Perry and Bush jokes always generate applause from conservative audiences.

Three years ago, Paul Krugman wrote a memorable column identifying the GOP as “the party of stupid.” The columnist explained, “What I mean … is that know-nothingism — the insistence that there are simple, brute-force, instant-gratification answers to every problem, and that there’s something effeminate and weak about anyone who suggests otherwise — has become the core of Republican policy and political strategy. The party’s de facto slogan has become: ‘Real men don’t think things through.’”


Tacking yet a different direction, here’s Ta-Nehisi Coates again, talking about our reluctance to shoulder the responsibility for building a progressive society, and instead expecting our leaders to do all the work:

Somehow we got in our head that the Civil Rights movement happened because Martin Luther King was a really nice guy. We don’t really talk about the movement as an actual force, as applying force. We don’t think about what SNCC was really trying to do when they were risking their lives to register voters in the delta. When we think about people trying to kill them we think about evil, but we should think about power and fear.


Finally, Geoffrey Stone, writing about how our Constitution has truly progressive roots:

More fundamentally, however, the Constitution has served as the vehicle through which generations of Americans have made and remade their nation. When one steps back, as one should on Constitution Day, and considers the most profound changes in our society since 1789, it is easy to see that, by any reasonable measure, the Constitution has served in the long run as a progressive document that has enabled us to protect the rights, liberties and well-being of our people.


Though these four articles tackle different subject matter, they all suggest we really look at history, at our words and concepts, and encourage us not to over-simplify the hard work of shaping and maintaining a society which takes care of all of its citizens and the endeavors to which we put our talents.

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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