Saturday, March 22, 2008

Getting it Down in Black and White

The reaction to Barack Obama’s speech about race last Tuesday has been generally favorable, with comments ranging from “a milestone in American political rhetoric,” to “a brilliant fraud.” I’ll leave the high-flying rhetoric and minute parsing to those who get paid (too much) to do it. All I know for sure is that Obama’s speech took me from the status of Supporter to Believer.

The comments about his white grandmother reeled me in. I’m from Western Pennsylvania, the area in the political headlights as being key to the now-crucial Pennsylvania primary. I know people like his grandmother well. I grew up with them. I’m related to them. I’ve made comments similar, if not identical, to those he heard his grandmother make. I know what he’s talking about, and it’s about time someone addressed it.

There are racial grievances, real and imagined, on both sides. Actually, more than both, as Hispanics and Asians now have to be included in the discussion much more than forty years ago. The crux of racial intolerance in America will always be black and white, as was ensured by the codification of slavery in the Constitution.

The point I heard Obama make is, no matter who holds the grievance, or whether it’s real or imagined, it doesn’t help. Creating scapegoats gives an excuse not to do anything to help yourself, because it won’t matter. Either The Man won’t give you a break, or some nigger took your job. Wash your hands of it, feel sorry for yourself, it’s not your fault.

Maybe it’s not your fault, but it’s in your best interest for it to get better, and it won’t ever get better without the cooperation of the group you feel is oppressing you. It’s not that The Man took your job, or the black guy got it instead of you. The problem is that the job went elsewhere when some big company cited “best interests of the stockholders.” The stock and profit boom that fed the myth of the Bush expansion was built by removing jobs from the very people the boom depended on to buy the products to sustain the boom. The side effects of this government subsidized Ponzi scheme are now being felt in a very real way.

What made Obama’s speech special was not whether he’s right or wrong; it’s the courage and leadership he showed in taking an uncomfortable and unfortunate situation by the horns and calling it for what it was, without pointing fingers.

White guilt has nothing to do with embracing Obama’a speech. Slavery is a blot on this country’s soul that can never be erased. That being said, no one reading this had anything to do with it—or with Jim Crow—therefore we share no responsibility or guilt. That doesn’t mean we don’t live with the consequences every day. Sooner or later we have to deal with them as a nation. Barack Obama is uniquely suited to start that discussion.


Runs With Scissors said...

Now that Reverend Wright has been "disowned," what is the status on the white grandmother?

Dana King said...

Just for curiosity's sake, would you care to name a politician who meets your high standards of perfect behavior?