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Gender: Male
Hometown: Maryland
Member since: Sun Aug 17, 2003, 10:39 PM
Number of posts: 75,429

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Let's be clear about the effect of the racism directed against President Obama and his family


It's clear that a majority in the black community have taken a personal interest (and some pride) in the election of the nation's first black president. That pride in this president has undergone a natural evening-out as expectations are tempered by the reality of politics and other obstacles to the realization of what folks wanted out of this presidency.

However, the ultimate effect of the persistent racism directed against President Obama and his family by public officials and others visible public figures is going to be a reversion by supporters to that initial rallying and defensive mode that pushes critical judgements about his actual performance aside in favor of a united stand against an atmosphere of hatred that envelopes much more than just the target in its wake.

In effect, the racist attacks on President Obama and his family reflect on our own aspirations for achievement and advancement. On one hand, there is satisfaction in the realization that the barrier to the highest office in the land has been broken by Americans willing to elect this African-American president. The most important step that black Americans can take next is to begin to apply a more critical standard of support for this Democrat which isn't dominated by a necessarily reflexive need to stand-up this president against these attempts to define him outside of the American mainstream based on the color of his skin. Yet, to allow this president to be diminished on the basis of race diminishes us all.

American politics has reached a historic milestone which most of my family and peers have been impatiently anticipating all of our lives, yet, would not have predicted it to happen now. It's fair to say that many in the black community (and without) have been inspired to believe that a black man can be elected president, in this day and age, by the audacity and urgency of Barack Obama's bid for the highest office in the land. It's also fair to say that much of that inspiration and belief has come from the mere fact of Obama's success, so far, in convincing so many non-blacks to support and elevate his presidency.

Racism certainly isn't chic anymore; not like it was in the days where slurs, slights, and outright discrimination were allowed to flourish under the umbrella of segregation and Jim Crow. But, it has still been used by some, over the years since the dismantling of that institutionalized racism, to manipulate and control the level of access and acceptability of blacks in a white-dominated political system.

I still recall the mere handful of blacks I found in Congress when I first explored the Capitol. I remember seeing the tall head of Rep. Ron Dellums, ever present on the House floor, and imagining that there were many more like him in the wings. It wasn't until 1990, though, that we actually saw a significant influx of minorities elected to Congress, enabled by the 1990 census Democrats fought to reform and manage (along with their fight for an extension of the Voting Rights Act which Bush I vetoed five times before trading his signature for votes for Clarance Thomas) which allowed court-ordered redistricting to double the number of districts with black majorities.

Open racism hasn't been in fashion for decades, but the fear and insecurities which underlie discrimination and prejudice still compel some to draw lines of distinction between black and white aspirations and potential for success. What is often unspoken is the reluctance some Americans have in envisioning blacks in a position to make decisions for a white majority, resulting in attempt to set boundaries and define the roles blacks must assume to achieve success and approval.

The gains blacks have made in our political institutions have not kept pace with even the incremental gains which have occurred in the workplace, for example. We may well have an abundance of black CEOs, military officers, business owners, doctors, lawyers and other professionals. However, Americans have yet to support and establish blacks in our political institutions with a regularity we could celebrate as 'colorblindness.' And, to be fair, not even many blacks would likely agree that we've moved past a point where race should be highlighted (if not overtly emphasized), in our political deliberations and considerations.

The persistent racism directed against President Obama has not allowed folks to feel secure in this one advancement. In the immediate wake of Reconstruction and the election of a handful of black lawyers, ministers, teachers, college presidents to the national legislature, there was a concerted campaign by their white peers and other detractors to challenge their seats and to construct discriminatory barriers to the election of other blacks which persisted for generations and generations. The 'birther' movement is no stranger to those who recall that 'Jim Crow' past.

The attacks in this generation are not to be taken lightly, even though we may assume that the nation is past all of that. The attacks need to be openly and loudly defended against by Democrats and Republicans alike. They can't just be brushed aside as some sort of acceptable standard of discourse. For the most part, they've been responded to with dispatch and sincerity. For the other, there's a glaring silence -- and even a rhetorical encouragement by some in the political arena who are leveraging age-old stereotypes to serve their cynical campaigns for office.

Catherine Meeks, Ph.D., wrote in HuffPo today that, "The entire discussion is almost beyond comprehension for those of us who are not being blinded by bigotry and hatred."

"Magic Mulatto, Mrs. YoMama, Touching A Tar Baby, Your Boy, Orbameo, Watermelons on the White House Lawn, cartoons with the President Obama's head and a chimpanzee's body, references to monkeys who escaped the zoo being related to the First Lady, and the list goes on with the racial slurs that have been hurled at this President and his family," recalls Meeks. "Along with these is the recent attack of racial slurs against 11-year-old Malia, his youngest daughter."

"Whatever policy issues that anyone finds themselves at odds with him about should be spoken about, debated and fought over in whatever civilized manner that discourse can occur," she wrote. "But I am talking about this low level of racist discourse that has been going on since day one. A discourse that has exhibited no respect for the office of President in the first place as well as no respect for this man, his wife and children. But even larger than this is the lack of respect that is being shown toward every African American in this country," she said.

Who are we; we the people of color? We the African Americans? We Minorities, we Negroes, we Blacks? Our history in this country is rooted in slavery and oppression, but in the search for the roots we sometimes find that the more we draw closer to our black identity, the more we seem to pull away from the broader America. An insistence that our community must necessarily be at odds with white America, because of our tragic beginnings, threatens to render our successes impotent. But, what becomes of a quest for a national identity when many of blacks' contributions in developing and reforming this nation have not been acknowledged or reciprocated? Can we really put aside our identification with our unique heritage and regard ourselves as 'homogenized,' even as our particular needs are seemingly ignored? Even as the advancement of a person of color to the highest office in the land is openly disparaged by racism?

We the Egyptians. We the Portuguese. We the Sudanese; the Nubian; the Ashanti; the Mossi. We the Arabs; we the Spanish; we Indians; we Europeans. We the Moslem; the Muslim; we Christian; we Buddhist; we agnostic and atheist. We are all driven to roil tradition and unite, to prevent us from isolating ourselves into obscurity. We desperately need to move on.

The news coverage today should tell you what we're up against

The most repeated thing I heard today was that Mitt Romney easily defeated his republican rivals in New Hampshire. No mention of the 50% he had polled in the week preceding the vote. No mention of the President's 80% or so vote. Just reports that Romney won, as if he'd already locked up the election, much less the republican nomination that he's barely begun to amass delegates for.

It's a frustrating situation in the press where the republicans are portrayed as generating support from voters without context which would show that each candidate still trails our Democratic president, and with the context that Romney's showing is actually pathetic for a contest right next door to his home state.

I realize that cable news may well have more comprehensive coverage, but the rest of the media is lost this morning in portraying Romney's win as a supreme anointment. It's going to be a hard, long campaign in the media for Democrats. This morning's coverage proves that our President and party will need to work overtime to portray our nominee as dynamic and competitive in the months ahead.

A Story for the Season

I work at a grocery store. I've got a night gig right now, but I worked most of my career in the produce department. We see thousands of shoppers over the years and get to know a few of them pretty well; others, not so much. Most of us try and engage these fine folks in conversation, or provide an ear for those who need to vent. You can learn a lot listening to some, and, if you're fortunate, you can be their harbor for the short time they happen to visit. Some come through only once in a while, while others come every day or every week, like clockwork.

It's not hard to miss them sometimes as we're working to stock the store. Yet, I've always said that it's a shame that some of these folks (usually older individuals) can go from one end of the store to the other without anyone saying so much as hello. The biggest insult can come at checkout time when the cashier offers up the total owed and not much more.

So, most of us take the time, and even go out of our way if needed to stop and engage these folks in conversation. You find that usually the gruffer they are on the outside, the kinder they are on the inside. A lot of these folks struggle with pain or personal tragedy and carry their discomfort with them as the attempt to navigate our store. It's a classic mistake to believe you can correctly judge these folks by their outward appearance; even by their dialogue or their responses. Most people are multidimensional with significant and detailed life experiences. It really pays to dig beneath the surface and discover the richness (or the tragedies) of their worlds for the first time.

Of course, such intimacy is a rarity. Most folks aren't willing to bare their lives for the benefit and edification of a retail clerk; but, it's usually worthwhile to make the attempt. That said, many, many folks who pass us by each day never reveal the complexity of their lives. It sometimes takes a tragedy to discover the truth.

'Brownie' was a man of about 70 years old or so who came to our produce department several times a week. Our group of produce clowns had nicknamed the gentleman, Brownie, because of the stains he bore on the seat of his worn trousers. It was a pet name we used among ourselves as a cruel sort of a joke. It took about a year or so for someone to ask his name.

'Norman,' he had replied with a smile, in his brief, but friendly manner.

Norman's visits to our produce department were mainly about one thing: to get two extra large sized bags of peanuts. He's stand for hours at the little peanut bin and pick the nuts, one by one, until he'd completely filled the two jumbo plastic bags. One after another, Norman would examine each shell and throw them into the bag.

'That guy sure likes his peanuts,' the crew members would say. Seeing Norman pick through that bin always compelled me to keep plenty of fresh nuts on hand, and to empty the spent shells out so he'd have an easier task when he came looking to pick and buy more nuts. He appreciated the effort. We appreciated him.

One day, we spotted Norman standing in the middle of our department with a basket on his arm, looking lost and confused. 'What's wrong with Norman?' we asked each other. We watched him turn around a few times in the same spot before going up to him and asking him what the problem was.

Norman couldn't speak; he could only make grunting noises in response to our questions. We asked him if he thought he might have had a seizure or stroke. That animated him -- he nodded his head, yes, several times.

Poor guy . . . 'Can we help you?' we asked.

He shook is head aggressively, no!

'No,' he was mouthing, with only gurgling noises in place of his marvelously brief answers he had always afforded us. We watched him walk around the store awhile; watched as he bought a few things; then, gathered by the front window to watch him get into his beat-up, ancient Oldsmobile and sit there for what seemed like an eternity before he finally drove away.

You ask yourself after an incident like that, what else should you have done to help, but you're faced with the reality that you can't be their guardian and self-appointed protector just by virtue of your association with these folks who come into the store. I know . . . you'd like to think that you could have done more.

Norman's sister came into the store a week or so later, and, when we inquired about her brother, were informed that he had died of further complications from the stroke we had guessed he had suffered.

Norman lived a few blocks from the store, so, Mark (the produce mgr.) and I went to his house to see when the funeral was. The both of us had decided we'd attend. Norman lived with his brother on the lower floor of a large, old house. His brother told us that Norman hadn't been upstairs for years and years and offered to let us go down to his room to see how he lived.

Norman's downstairs apartment was sparsely lit; but even darker because of the soot that covered the walls from the propane heater that he insisted on using, despite that the home was centrally heated and available throughout. Perhaps, the only thing that had saved him from suffocating himself was the presence of a splintered hole in his door, the size of a fist, open to the cold outside.

Looking around the one room that made up the entirety of Norman's residence I noticed there was a easy chair in font of a small black-and-white television; there was another straight-backed chair which held his jacket and a few other articles of clothing; and there was a table which was filled with pictures of all of Norman's past pets -- each with an inscription with their name and a date. In the middle of all of the pictures was one of Norman, himself, all suited up in WW2 military gear with a rifle and a menacing look. 'Bad-ass, Brownie,' we both immediately coined it.

There was only one other thing in the room, and that gave us the insight that we were, perhaps, looking for in our visit. The floor around Norman's easy chair was littered with peanut shells stretching from his recliner to the door with the hole to the outside. God, that was it. Norman bought the peanuts to feed the squirrels around his home. They would, apparently, come right into the house through the hole in the door -- right up to Norman's easy chair-- where he'd hand-fed them his treasured legumes that he'd carefully hand-picked from our produce department every week. What would become of his little friends, now that he'd gone?

You think you can really know someone through a loose and casual association with them. You can't. Norman's brother didn't even know how he'd been living, right downstairs from him, all of those years.

They had a funeral service for Norman at a little church right down the street from where he had lived. At the church service, they put the picture of 'Badass Brownie' front and center on a little table surrounded by flowers. He had been such a polar opposite from that WW2 image.

They buried Norman out back of the church in a small graveyard. The minister said his few words as they lowered the casket into the ground. Mark and I stayed back at the grave-site while the rest of the family and friends went back into the church or departed. We looked around us on that crisp, fall afternoon -- reflecting on our experience with this departed customer of ours -- and we both saw the same thing and laughed. The graveyard was surrounded by tall, ancient oak trees and the ground was littered with leaves and acorns.

Scampering back and forth, between the uneven rows of tombstones, were Norman's squirrels. He'd not left them, after all.
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