Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

Barack Obama recognizes racial pain and healing need to be heard

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Originally published on BuzzFlash.com on Wed, 03/19/2008 – 10:35am

Controversy is in the eye of the beholder. So when the “controversial” comments from Barack Obama’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, were made public, I shrugged my shoulders.

I am white, but I know we live in a racist nation. I should know because I grew up in a racist community. Alex Kotlowitz wrote about St. Joseph and Benton Harbor, Michigan in “The Other Side of the River.” He mentions the alternative name for St. Joseph by blacks (St. Johannesburg) and the alternative name for Benton Harbor by whites (Benton Harlem).

Two small communities literally separated by the St. Joseph River, yet miles away on race. According to the 2000 census:

City White pop. Black pop. Household income
St. Joseph 90.31% 5.11% $37,032
Benton Harbor 5.49% 92.40% $17,471

chart courtesy of Wikipedia

I heard the n-word a lot growing up. Heck, I have heard relatives of mine from the South use that word.

I heard all sort of negative stereotypes about black people growing up. I even worked in restaurants where it was whispered that black people don’t tip well. It’s certainly possible that some black people don’t tip well as well as some white people. But if you treat a customer any less because of some element, including color of skin, you might not get a good tip. If you treat them with the same respect, you have a much better chance of getting a good tip.

When Michelle Obama spoke up about how “for the first time in my adult lifetime, I’m really proud of my country,” I wrote that I could relate to her thoughts.

But the frustration she felt and the tone of Rev. Wright’s sermons speak to something white people aren’t used to hearing — the black frustrated, angry perspective.

I’ve been sitting here for awhile asking why does our society gladly accept the hurtful things said by white preachers such as Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, current John McCain endorser John Hagee, Rod Parsley, and more. As a white person who believes in Jesus, I find their misinterpretations of the Bible to be anti-Christian, horribly divisive, and anti-human. I find their comments to be controversial, yet they have power and favor in our society. The MSM won’t dare to touch or criticize their stands.

Rev. Wright is being criticized by many people, including Obama, as being divisive at times. And I do agree. And I agree that Louis Farrakhan should not be ratcheting up the rhetoric in such a way as to demean Jews.

But if we are going to agree on those things, we also have to agree that some white evangelical preachers are also horribly divisive. No Republican politician has been asked in a major way to disavow any divisive religious figure on their team.

Unfortunately, that isn’t going to happen for one simple reason: White America doesn’t mind if white people say hateful, hurtful things. We can talk bad about Mexicans, even though they speak a different language and only want what the Irish, Polish, and Italians wanted when they came here. We can talk bad about blacks, even though people can still easily remember when we had a country where white people were afraid of black people using their drinking fountains.

Occasionally, when prominent white people say these things, we stand up and object. When our buddy says them, we remain silent. Yes, we stood up when Geraldine Ferraro said what she said. But Don Imus said something worse, and found work relatively quickly.

But if someone from Black America says hateful, hurtful things, White America stands up loud in protest, even if what they said isn’t even in the same realm as the “White” hurtful things.

Some of that frustration comes from realities in the black community where the white community is oblivious. As Stanford Law School professor Richard Thompson Ford recently wrote in The Washington Post:

Many of our nation’s cities are as racially segregated as they were in the era of Jim Crow, many minority neighborhoods are crime-plagued and bereft of opportunities for gainful employment, and one in three black men between 20 and 29 is in prison, on parole or on probation.

If one in three white men between 20 and 29 in America were in prison, on parole, or on probation, it would be on the news every single night.

Barack Obama is absolutely correct that we do have to look past all of this and focus on the issues as a society.

“when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems – two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.”

Obama is also right that we — all of America — have to acknowledge that there is black frustration and anger over the differences in our society.

“But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.”

So perhaps the “controversy” of the Rev. Wright’s statements opened a few doors that needed to be aired out in this country. And Barack Obama rose to the occasion and gave us the speech we needed to hear. After all, as Jon Stewart put it best last night: “At 11 a.m. on Tuesday, a prominent politician (Obama) spoke to Americans about race as though they were adults.”

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Written by democracysoup

March 19, 2008 at 10:35 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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