Is It Time the United States Grew Up About Race?

by on March 19th, 2008

Before I begin my rebuttal to some of the blog posts listed on this site as well as the coverage of the mainstream media on Barack Obama’s historical speech on race, I would like to clarify that I have not previously been a Barack Obama supporter. In fact, all one need do is search the archives of this website. There one will find a blog post with my endorsement of former Democratic candidate John Edwards, a white, wealthy man. In my endorsement, I explained that though I long desired to see the day when an African-American or a woman (or someone who is both) take up residence in the Oval Office as commander-in-chief, I cannot endorse someone based on such superficialities. I contend that to do so would be equally racist or sexist as voting against someone simply based on those factors. Furthermore, my past posts on this site as well as others have expressed criticisms of Mr. Obama due to some of the contradictions and ambiguities in his campaign.

That being said, I believe Mr. Obama’s speech about race yesterday was one of the most mature and honest expositions of the subject to be broadcasted. As such, I am somewhat appalled and disconcerted by the adverse reactions to his speech by the media. More disheartening is the exploitation of certain remarks made by Mr. Obama’s pastor that have been taken out of context. Of serious concern is the fact that most of these pundits are complaining that had a white man made such incendiary comments about minorities or had questionable relationships with certain groups favoring white supremacy, they would be chastised severely. First, the pastor did not advocate for black supremacy or urge violence against the white community. Though some of his comments were over the top, he was angrily relaying frustration at America for waging war on other countries, and so bringing violence upon ourselves as well as for creating a drug system that imprisoned black people both figuratively and literally. Many of these claims have been backed up by evidence and are not fully without validity. Most importantly, the gist of the pastor’s sermons spoke of karmic relevance reminiscent of Old Testament-style testimonial. We bore the fruit that we sow the seeds for, etc.

Secondly, the pundits’ claims that a white man man who harbored racist sentiments and ties against blacks or others would not be given a pass is simply not true. Everyday, we offer passes to people in our political system, who have actively disenfranchised others because of their race, gender, religion or class.

I seem to recall that former Attorney General John Ashcroft had some questionable ties to Ku Klux Klan and white supremacy groups. Despite these ties, he kept his post until he voluntarily resigned. I also seen to recall one of our most powerful and revered senators, Mr. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, being a former KKK member in his youth. He has long-since denounced this decision, but it still bears some scrutinity. More recently, Rudy Giuliani was once considered to be a shoe-in for the Republican nomination. However, being from New York City, I remember the police state with which our city was ruled under his reign. I remember the numerous shootings of black people, and a dubious rule to send the homeless to prison close to one Christmastime (a majority of these homeless people being minorities). I remember the tragic shooting of Amadou Diallo, a black man, who was shot dozens of times while standing in his doorway, reaching for his pocket to show his identification. The police were were not found guilty for his murder (of which they most certainly were) and received no prison time. Mr. Giuliani fully supported the police throughout their court ordeal. Meanwhile, a man is dead for no other reason than the color of his skin. I have every reason to believe that had it been a white man standing in that doorway, Giuliani would not have supported the police and this case would not have been forgotten so easily afterwards. Guiliani’s positions, platforms and policies were repeatedly and explicitly condemned as racist and classist by advocacy groups, but such critiisms rarely perforated mainstream media outlets.

On a regular basis, our president has made classist and ethnocentric remarks and has ruled with that mindset. His first pledge upon becoming president was to make drug laws extremely harsh despite the fact that he had had his own “youthful indiscretions” with drugs. This was also a man who as governor of Texas put more people to death than any other governor in recent history. I am sure if we were to search through those records of the people put to death we would find a black and Hispanic majority. Additionally, our president has offered no sympathies to the families of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians who have died as a result of this dubious and immoral war, in turn reinforcing the image that Mr. Bush does not view all human lives worthy of equal merit and compassion. His biases, though not voiced out loud, are evident.

And please let us not forget Hurricane Katrina, which brought our national collective racism to the forefront of international attention. When President Bush was briefed on the likely effects of Hurricane Katrina, including an impending levee breach, did he not ask no questions and go on vacation? Is it not true that most of the people in the financial situation to do so fled the area, while the city’s poor were left behind to die and suffer? That the housing of mostly black people and people of lower income was situated in close proximity to the levees, making these people easy targets? Did Congress not pass a budget bill shortly after Hurrican Katrina that cut deeply into social programs, leaving Katrina victims even more destitute?

I am a white woman who grew up in an inner-city neighborhood where white was the minority. I grew up on welfare in an area riddled with drugs and crime. Having ascended from my former status through education and assimilated into a white-collar, middle-class society (though I myself am barely middle-class), I am empathize with the anger and disillusionment of the disenfranchised, whether it be because of their color or class or creed. I am frustrated by the lack of empathy from those who never suffered such disenfranchisement to be so critical of someone’s humanity in expressing their outrage at a society that has maintained its affluence by concentrating its wealth and therefore continuing different forms of oppression to achieve that concentration. In other words, allowing the rich to get richer through a series of checks and balances that make the poor poorer and basically dissolve the middle-ground middle-class.

Many of our governmental institutions have created systems that perpetuate poverty and crime, partially for the sake of achieving these ends. This includes but is not limited to our shortsighted laws on drug regulation, our classist healthcare system, and the dilapidated infrastructure that surrounds impoverished areas. Our most polluted sites are concentrated in areas in close proximity to lower-income or minority neighborhoods, where the people suffer from cancers, emphysema, and asthma.

And yet, we do not hear the outcry from the government or the media about such atrocities. We do not ask for accountability on these fronts, and so we do not overcome these issues and fulfill the true spirit with which this country was founded. Instead, we flounder, and titter like children about whether someone is Muslim, about a pastor’s comments, we have full headlines about the implication of a candidate’s middle name. You have people on the television an radio claiming the moral high-horse over a handful of angry comments made by a pastor out of the context of Mr. Obama’s candidacy. Yet, these same pundits are using these comments to aid in the attempted assasination of Obama’s credibility and candidacy, a man of African-American descent with the first genuine shot at th presidency. Incidentally, these same pundits have been reticent about the racial injustices I have mentioned above, or the complicity of certain aforementioned policitians in achieving and/or perpetuating these injustices.

We can cling to tabloids and soundbites that do nothing to change our society for the better, but instead regress us to an infantile state that is shameful, or we can look beyond it. If we want to look frankly at the roots of prejudice and the dynamics of race, we need to transcend the tabloid-induced bickering that plague our televisions. We need to get into the guts of the problem and try to heal wounds instead of picking them off and adding acid. Barack Obama asked that much from us last night, and because I have such fancy ideals like a society without poverty and racism, and a world without war, I would ask everyone to do as much also.

Laura Kiesel