Thursday, March 20, 2008

Political Crotch Test

Cyclists, particularly mountain bikers, have great argot. One term, crotch test, applies at the moment. That's when you're churning along and hit a deep hole that causes the saddle to knock out your wind, display flashes before your eyes, and give you that turn-and-cough experience.

Barack Obama's speech on race and related issues was a great colander or winnowing paddle. It separated those eager to bolt. In addition to those in favor of McCain or Clinton, those wanting an excuse to reject Obama's candidacy had lots of tiny nails to hang their equivocations on. Whether they were confused or racist or undecided, they suddenly had gotcha phrases. Others simply could play offended that he'd speak what so many have muttered or whispered about for months.

I fear the majority do not share his hope or, as some would have it, fantasy that our long-standing racial divides can be addressed directly and eventually closed. He spoke to Americans as though we were largely intelligent adults. We're not used to that from politicians or MSM.

Most TV and other MSM didn't even bother to hear. Watch Jon Stewart's recap of the typical analysis, below:

Plethora of 'pinions

Of course The Nation and a few papers will offer solid coverage. However, some of the strongest analysis comes in the Black Commentator. Warning: you don't get trivial snippets telling you what to think; the 11 editorial-board members have a range of views and take-aways.

Note: The article contains mini-bios of the authors as well as emails or websites or both for most of them.

The caustic, some say toxic, sermon outtakes from Rev. Jeremiah Wright do state the obvious so often noted by historians, economists, and many well-read among us. Class and race are tightly woven. Wright certainly spoke with evidence that a larger, often rapacious white society has had a vested interest in exploiting an underclass. It is much like colonial eras, including our own United Fruit-style ventures. At its worst, capitalism enables some to under-compensate where they profit from exploiting the human and material resources of others. Many of the worst exploiters often would say, "If we didn't do this, these people would starve." The same logic and words played for slavery, child labor and sweat shops domestically.

In that context, Wright's comments are pretty accurate. Some of his phrasing and even the volume seem to shock many who, like me, attend WASPy churches where ministers seem afraid to offend pledging units. I'm fortunate to have had broader experience. I have been Black churches in the North and South numerous times. Also, my favorite UU preacher, Victor Carpenter, never let us leave a sermon without specific social-action tasks for the week.

Over at the Black Commentator, read each piece and consider them as a whole. A few excerpts follow to tease your brain:
  • Bill Fletcher Jr. — Yet Senator Obama, at one and the same time, attributes much of the anger of Rev. Wright to the past, as if Rev. Wright is stuck in a time warp, rather than the fact that Rev. Wright's anger about the domestic and foreign policies of the are well rooted--and documented--in the current reality of the USA...The anger of a Rev. Wright is not a throw-back, but is a reality check.
  • William L. (Bill) Strickland — (T)he real issue: Can America face the truth about itself and its History? Reverend Wright is doubtful and Obama is hopeful.
  • Ethel Long-Scott — (Obama's speech) did nothing to unravel the central contradiction of Mr. Obama’s candidacy. That contradiction is rooted in the fact that America has always needed a class of workers who are kept downtrodden and in poverty to make its economy work. That is a fact that has not changed, and none of the remaining presidential candidates are dealing with it. ..The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, was trying to raise some of these issues as he advised his congregation not to get so lost in their “middleclassness” that they failed to reach out to those in poverty...We can conclude that while major party politicians can talk about change, they are not likely to fight for the kinds of changes that would really end poverty. To do that, we the people must organize with new ideas and a new vision of justice.
  • James Jennings — The limitation of the speech is that class issues are raised as important, but little discourse about how we can discuss such, within a context of the nation's racial history, and racial alienation among many in this society. Alas, raising this issue as natinonal, indeed international, may be the first step in responding to the latter.
  • Lenore J. Daniels — Look at the U.S. domestic and foreign policies of the last 40 years. These policies have not benefited the masses of Black, Brown, Red, and poor whites nor have they benefited the Caribbean, Latin American, African, and Middle-Eastern nations...Racism is “endemic” in this country. It rests at the foundation of this nation...Would Rev. Martin Luther King have to apologize for his “Beyond Vietnam,” Riverside speech if he were alive today?
  • David A. Love — Obama had a clear choice: either respond to the attacks against him, out of cold political cynicism, desperation and blind ambition - and throw his pastor and mentor Rev. Jeremiah Wright off the cliff (not to mention the African American community, in the process) - or speak from the heart and make it plain. He chose the latter...Obama redirected the current discussion away from the unhelpful distractions, the scapegoating and the smokescreens, and towards the larger fundamentals of inequality and power in America. He addressed the legacy of oppression that people of color face, and the economic deprivation that many whites experience, all against the backdrop of corporate greed and a devotion to business as usual among the political elites. This is just the beginning of a conversation that is needed in this country.
  • Jamala Rogers — Most black folks are attracted to—even if superficially—anyone who speaks truth to power, who can “tell the truth and shame the devil.” I have yet to find a black person to wholly condemn the sermons by Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Our lives, our voices are muted or silenced every day in so many ways. Even our joys and successes are eclipsed by louder voices and more powerful images that propel the perceived worst of a people into the public domain. This often results in our blanket condemnation of one another without looking at the historical roots of our oppression...The question that remains is whether Obama’s goal of opening up space for substantive dialogue about race will end up in America’s graveyard of missed opportunities.
  • Steven Pitts — But the power of a speech lies not its words nor its deliverer. The power of a speech lies in the strength of the movement that inspires the speech and is inspired by the speech. Without such a movement, the spoken words are like the sound of a tree falling in a forest when no one is around. The challenge for Black progressives (and all progressives) has been to use this moment and the incredible energy unleashed by the Obama candidacy to build a movement for social change that will make a lasting mark on U.S. society.
  • Carl Bloice — A friend wrote to me right after the speech: "What if we actually end up with a president who is capable of drawing lessons from history and conveying them to the nation he leads?"...I would be more than surprised and pleased if the other prominent politicians exhibited such responsible thinking and understanding.
  • Larry Pinkney — (Deferring to Cynthia McKinney), "I am glad that candidate Obama mentioned the existing racial disparities in education, income, wealth, jobs, government services, imprisonment, and opportunity. Now it is time to address the public policies necessary to resolve these disparities. Now it is time to have the discussion on how we are going to come together and put policies in effect that will provide real hope and real opportunity to all in this country. "
The larger piece understandably reveals very differing views on the speech. Yet, the common themes of the inseparable race, class and policy issues emerge in all. These are what our MSM chooses not to cover. It is far, far easier to whittle this down to a simple call for better race relations.

It is one thing to call for dealing with our racist past and quite another to demand dealing with the complex issues of power and the commonweal. If Hillary Clinton is as smart as she claims to be, she'll jump on this, pick it up and run. Neither Dem is anywhere near progressive enough for me, but if one is elected saying the new administration will immediately and constantly deal with the issues Obama raised, the nation has to be better off for it.

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Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more when you say that Clinton needs to pick up on this too. By talking almost solely about binary black v. white racial issues, Obama has left the door open for her (or anyone) to build on what he said by talking about the common denominators of many forms of bias in this country.

Anonymous said...

If you are black you are RACIST that’s that. Seen it every step of the way. If you disagree with me ask yourself this, when was the last time something happened to a black by ANY other race and the black person was actually wrong; in your opinion? When was the last time the black wasn't completely perfect and a victim? Especially if what happened to them did in fact happen to them while committing a crime. You dont wait for the fact to see what happened. You wait for the facts to pervert everything to your argument. Even when others tell you your wrong. As a matter of fact when was the last time someone of another race told you, you were wrong and it WASN'T because they were racists? Just for the record, who on God's green Earth put blacks in charge of deciding who qualifies as a racist and who doesn't. The MAJORITY of blacks don’t have any say in their own lives. Ask them they'll tell you, it's all the White Man & the Jews. These are the people you want deciding who qualifies as what and who doesn’t. I say it should be the majority of America making this decision. Unfortunately majority usually equals "White" and therefore obviously EVIL. This is Democracy. Majority rules is the actual definition of Democracy. MINORITY RULES is the definition of FASCISM!!!! Just cause your black doesn’t mean you can’t qualify as a Nazi. that’s what the Nazis were………. Fascists.
America believed Hitler would eventually attack the USA. He didn’t but his beliefs and way of life did.
Now remember the most important part of all of this, if you are black, all you have to say is the White Man is the real racist here. That’s all you have to say to be right

-Tyler Goines

massmarrier said...

Although I can't verify Tyler Goines, this message is similar to many under that sig on other blogs and boards. Most, however, are not obsessed with Nazism.

Those unsupported and unsupportable absolute statements don't seem to advance any dialog or discovery. In this case, as the message carries a date two days before posted here, using non-compliant characters as though it were composed in Word and arriving from a Google search for "reverend wright", I'm betting this identical message ended up in many blogs' comments.

As wired as the comment it, oddly enough, it doesn't violate my posting policy.