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“We Are All Charged With Pushing Forward”: President Obama Delivers A Speech For History

“This whole week,” said President Obama, “I’ve been reflecting on this idea of grace.”

That was the turning point of Friday’s eulogy for Clementa Pinckney, the Charleston, South Carolina minister who was, with eight of his congregants, murdered by a racist terrorist two weeks ago. It was the moment a memorable speech became a speech for history.

“According to the Christian tradition,” the president-turned-preacher explained, “grace is not earned, grace is not merited, it’s not something we deserve. Rather, grace is the free and benevolent favor of God.” Grace, in other words, is that which bridges the gap between creation and Creator, the staircase connecting the soil to the celestial.

And it is amazing. So the heart leapt when, moved by some ephemeral thing cameras could not see, Obama launched into a soulful, heartfelt and, yes, off-key rendition of one of the foundational hymns of the church. “Amazing grace,” he sang, 6,000 voices rising to meet him, “how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.”

“As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy,” the president said, “God has visited grace upon us, for He has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind. He’s given us the chance, where we’ve been lost, to find our best selves.”

The president named a few of the things to which we’ve been blind, the issues upon which we have been lost. He spoke of gun violence, the hunger of children, the brazen hatred that inspired the alleged shooter, the soft bigotry that gets “Johnny” called back for an interview but leaves “Jamal” job hunting.

Though he didn’t mention it, it seemed not inconsequential that he said these things on the same day the Supreme Court affirmed the right of same-sex couples to marry. It seemed fitting that he returned that night to a White House bathed in colors of the rainbow. One could almost see history making a great, wide turn toward freedom.

And, too, one heard predictable howls of outrage. Sen. Ted Cruz called it one of the darkest days in American history, Rush Limbaugh predicted polygamy, some Southern states, as they did during the civil rights years, declined to be guided by the court’s ruling. But, it all carried a tinny, faraway sound, like a radio station from some distant town, drowned out by the thunder of rejoicing.

This is not to say those doorkeepers of yesterday are without power to interdict change. They are nothing if not stubborn and resilient. It is, however, to say that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. And, moreover, that the genius of the nation founded 239 years ago Saturday by a group of men we would now call sexist, racist and homophobic, was not its perfection as originally conceived, but the fact that it was built for change, built to become better, and continually expands itself to accommodate that long arc.

Are we not tasked with forming “a more perfect union”? It’s the ongoing work of America, work no one speech or court ruling can finish, but which we are all charged with pushing forward. Until one bright day, you look up and are surprised how far you’ve come.

That’s what happened Friday. And it might be the story of John Newton’s life. Newton, who wrote the hymn in which President Obama found solace, was a slave trader who changed by increments over the years until, by the end of his life, he was issuing grief-stricken apologies for his part in that evil business. If the first verse of his hymn is a paean to the redemptive power of grace, its third is a reminder that grace obligates us to push forward toward bright days not yet glimpsed:

“Through many dangers, toils and snares,” he wrote, “I have already come / Tis’ grace has brought me safe thus far / And grace will lead me home.”

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist, The Miami Herald; The National Memo, July 1, 2015

July 2, 2015 Posted by | Bigotry, Hate Crimes, Racism | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Never Patriotic”: The Real Meaning Of The Confederate Flag

In the intensifying national debate over the Confederate flag, important clues about the seditious symbol’s true meaning are staring us in the face. Dozens of those clues were posted by an angry, glaring Dylann Storm Roof on the “Last Rhodesian,” website, where the alleged Charleston killer pays homage to certain flags – notably those of apartheid-era South Africa and Rhodesia, as well as the old Confederacy – while he enthusiastically desecrates another.

Pictures of Roof burning, stomping, and spitting on the Stars and Stripes are interspersed among the photos of him grasping and waving the Confederate battle flag, sometimes while holding a gun. “I hate the sight of the American flag,” he raged in a long screed on the site. “Modern American patriotism is an absolute joke.”

What this racial terrorist meant to express, in crude prose and pictures, is a lesson that the diehard defenders of the Confederate flag should no longer ignore: To uphold the banner of secession is to reject patriotism – and has never meant anything else.

For many years after the Civil War, the symbols of the Confederacy were not much seen outside local museums and burial grounds. The late general Robert E. Lee, a reluctant but justly revered war hero, rejected any post-war fetishizing of the Stars and Bars, which had actually originated as the battle flag of his Army of Northern Virginia. Lee believed it “wiser…not to keep open the sores of war, but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife and to commit to oblivion the feelings it engendered.”But such admonishments were cast aside by the exponents of white supremacy, whose own patriotism was certainly suspect. When the Ku Klux Klan and the Knights of the White Camelia were revived as racial terror organizations in the 1930s and 1940s, carrying out a spree of cowardly lynchings, their grand wizards found natural allies among the leaders of the German-American Bund — whose funding and fealty were eventually traced to Nazi headquarters in Berlin. Indeed, the Klansmen burned their towering crosses alongside swastika banners at rallies sponsored by the Bund to attack President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

In the years following the Second World War, the Dixiecrats led by South Carolina politician Strom Thurmond – and the “uptown Klan” known as the White Citizens Councils that supported Thurmond’s movement – appropriated the Confederate flag as their own standard. Among its greatest enthusiasts was a young radio reporter (and future U.S. senator) named Jesse Helms, whose fawning coverage of Thurmond’s 1948 third-party presidential bid marked him as a rising star of the segregationist right.

As for the White Citizens Councils, those local groups were ultimately reconstituted into chapters of the Council of Conservative Citizens – a notorious hate group that has embarrassed many Republican politicians caught fraternizing with its leaders, and that ultimately inspired Roof with its inflammatory propaganda about black crime and the endangered white race. Headquartered in St. Louis, MO, the CCC festoons itself and its works with the Dixie flag, as does the neo-Confederate League of the South, which still openly advocates secession.

Meanwhile, racist, anti-Semitic agitators such as David Duke and Don Black — both Southerners prominent in Klan and neo-Nazi organizations for decades — have never ceased to manifest their reverence for the Confederacy. Stormfront, the notorious neo-Nazi website founded by Black, continues to promote the mythology and symbolism of the Southern cause, declaring in a June 23 podcast that the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery — and that “the attack on southern symbols and heritage such as the Confederate Flag are actually part of an overall Jewish-led attack on European Americans.” Owing to Duke’s influence, in fact, the Confederate flag has served as a substitute for Nazi banners in demonstrations, often violent, by “white nationalists” in Europe — where the symbols of the Third Reich are widely outlawed.

Obviously, not every American who has displayed the Dixie flag endorses the treason and bigotry that it now represents to so many other Americans. There are sincere patriots, like former senator James Webb of Virginia, who still insist that it is only a remembrance of the valor of their ancestors. But over the decades, its appropriation by traitors and bigots has provoked little noticeable protest from the more innocent exponents of respect for Southern heritage. Today, the Charleston massacre has left it standing irrevocably for the most brutal and criminal aspects of that heritage – and it is more deeply irreconcilable with American patriotism than ever.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editors Blog, The National Memo, June 26, 2015

June 28, 2015 Posted by | Confederate Flag, Domestic Terrorism, Hate Crimes, Patriotism | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A History Lesson We Adamantly Refuse To Learn”: Our Racist History Isn’t Back To Haunt Us. It Never Left Us

When, on Wednesday night, a 21-year-old white man named Dylann Roof entered the Charleston church founded by former slave Denmark Vesey on the anniversary of Vesey’s planned 1822 slave rebellion and shot and killed nine people, he provided the United States with the latest installment of a history lesson we adamantly refuse to learn: that our racist past is not past. It is present. It is unending. It is, in many ways that we seem congenitally unable to acknowledge, fundamentally unchanged.

In recent years, especially the years during which Barack Obama has occupied the White House, there have been many valuable meditations on the ways in which American policy structures that were shaped in and informed by the slave-holding and Jim Crow chapters of our nation’s story, continue to define today’s racial power imbalances. There’s been history, analysis, and contemporary commentary: Michelle Alexander’s indispensible The New Jim Crow, about our prison and legal systems; Isabel Wilkerson’s Warmth of Other Suns, about the Great Migration; Tom Sugrue’s books on integration and racism in northern cities and on housing policy in Detroit. At the Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates has produced a body of work—culminating (for now) with his Case for Reparations—showing how we have gotten from “there” to “here,” contemporary America, with its persistently unequal scales of opportunity. Throughout our history, racism has indeed found fresh manifestations: from real estate restrictions and usurious interest rates to physical segregation to job discrimination to stop and frisk and police brutality.

There is usually the sense, however, that at least we’re changing, at least we’re moving in some direction, away from the where we started. Except on days like today, when the reminder is that we have not moved one bit.

In addition to new forms of subjugation and prejudice, we live in a country in which racist violence exists in precisely the same forms it always has—unabated, unreconstructed. We are not distant from the crimes and inhumanities and hatred of the past. We are still acting them out and still refusing to accept them for what they are: this country’s original and defining sin.

What happened on Wednesday night is violence enacted on different individuals than the violence enacted on four little girls who were killed in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1963, but it is a crime with the same shape and contours, a crime that leaves innocent people dead in their place of worship because of their race.

Too often, we look at iconic images of our racist past with a kind of antiqued horror. We recall with horror, if we’re old enough, how police turned dogs on innocent people. If we are younger, we suck in our breath and shake our heads with disbelief as we try to fathom a world inhabited by our parents, our grandparents, in which a city official, Bull Connor, ordered the use of fire hoses on peaceful protesters. But we also know that Bull Connor is long dead, a comfortable relic. We can just barely imagine that this happened to John Lewis. Lewis is now a long-serving congressman; his past is crucial, moving, but remote. That was then, look at him now.

But this—a white policeman shoving a 14-year-old girl’s face to the ground, stepping on her, kneeling on her at a pool party in McKinney, Texas—is also now. It’s this month. This, in Fairfield, Ohio, is not simply an altercation “between police and teens” as the caption says, but between a white police and black teens who scream in terror and anger. It is also this month, also at a community pool. Community pools, a locus for racial conflict. Does that sound distant? Or does it sound contemporary?

It is contemporary.

When we think of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old black boy murdered in Mississippi in 1963 after reportedly speaking to a white woman, we recall his open casket. His mother insisted on it, because she wanted the world to see the brutality that had been visited on her son because of the color of his skin. Look at this picture, printed on pages yellowed by all the years that have come between his death and today. Those years have made him famous; we take some cold comfort in the fact that though Till was robbed of the opportunity to love and thrive and work and change the world in life; his death profoundly altered it, kicking off the cycle of social progress that has brought us here, a world away from Money, Mississippi, 1955.

Now look at this image, of Frederick Jermaine Carter, a 26-year-old black man found hanging from a tree in a white suburb in Greenwood, Mississippi. It was taken ten miles south and 55 years after Emmett Till was killed. Carter died in 2010.

Yes, southern (and northern) trees still bear strange fruit. In March of this year, Otis Byrd, a man who had served time for killing a white woman, was found hanging from a tree in Claiborne County, Mississippi. (A special investigation ruled that there was no evidence proving his death a homicide.) Less than a year ago, the body of 17-year-old Lennon Lacey—a young man in a relationship with a white woman—was found hanging from a swing-set in Bladenboro, North Carolina. His death was immediately ruled a suicide, despite a series of inconsistencies and a report from an independent examiner suggesting that given his height and weight, a self-hanging would have been impossible. This death recalled the 2000 hanging of Raynard Johnson from a pecan tree in Kokomo, Mississippi. Johnson, like Lacey, had been dating, and been harassed for dating, a white woman, and his death—on June 16, in advance of a local Juneteenth celebration—was promptly ruled a suicide.

There’s no way to know for sure whether these deaths were lynchings or suicides, but what they are not are echoes of some distant past. They are original sounds. They are simply later chapters in the story of Emmett Till and countless, less well known others. They are a story of violent white resistance to the perceived incursion of blackness on bodies—on women’s bodies and on the nation. These bodies are not just presumed to be white, but presumed to belong to white men, a dynamic made crystal clear by Dylann Roof’s reported locution, during his Wednesday murder spree: “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”

We can try to comfort ourselves, as a local news anchor tried earlier this year, by assuring viewers that the cross found burning on the front lawn of a black woman in Elizabethville, Pennsylvania, was “not like those huge crosses from the old days.”

But these are the old days. In February, a Tennessee man and member of a church affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan was fined and sentenced to jail for burning a cross in the yard of a black man in Minor Hill, Tennessee. In 2014 in White River Township, Indiana, a black man was awakened in the middle of the night to find a three-foot cross burning on his front lawn. This is today.

This is Eric Garner, being killed by cops. This is Walter Scott, being shot in the back and killed by a police man. This is Freddie Gray, howling with pain after having had his body broken by police, a week before his death. This is Tamir Rice. He was 12 when he was shot to death, in November of last year, by police.

As Jelani Cobb wrote on Wednesday, recent incidents can “seem like gruesome boomerangs of history until we consider the more terrible idea that they are simple reflections of the present.”

It’s not just a terrible idea, it is a terrible reality. The cold reality of our country right now. We are not post-civil rights. We are not post race. We are not better than we were. We do not inhabit a world in which stray instances of violence might recall a distant and shameful history. This shame is a flood that has never abated.

 

By: Rebecca Traister, The New Republic, June 18, 2015

June 19, 2015 Posted by | Charleston SC Shootings, Domestic Terrorism, Hate Crimes | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“A Collective Media Shrug”: Just Because No One Died in the NAACP Bombing Doesn’t Mean The Media Should Ignore It

The NAACP chapter in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is located on South El Paso Street in a one-story building with faded redwood siding, where it shares space with Mr. G’s Hair Design Studio. The surrounding streets are lined with modest, largely single-story homes. The men and women who work herenot just in the NAACP building, but also in the neighborhoodhave been very busy lately, organizing local vigils and sending out e-mail blasts in response to the events in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York.

Late Tuesday morning, an improvised bomb exploded outside the building. No one was hurt or injured, though three people were working inside in Mr. G’s salon and two staffers were in the NAACP office. The explosion scarred the outside of the building, and knocked a few things off some shelves inside. The FBI has indicated that the bombing could well be motivated by hate, but that other motives are possible, too. Amy Saunders, a spokesperson for the Denver office of the FBI, told The Los Angeles Times that it wasn’t yet clear “if the motive was a hate crime, domestic terrorism, a personal act of violence against a specific individual,” or something else entirely.

The FBI is looking for a balding white man in his 40s who may be driving an old, dirty pickup truck. News organizations initially refused to identify the man’s race as “white,” though, despite having that fact in handa refusal that extends one of the principle benefits of white privilege to someone suspected of domestic terrorism.  The New York Times, cribbing an Associated Press story but eliding the question of race, indicated that authorities were searching for “a man.” At least they covered the story, though. Many news outlets simply ignored it all together. And then, in what has become a ritual, outlets were called out on Twitter and Facebook for ignoring the bombing. “PLEASE,” actress Rashida Jones tweeted, “everybody, mainly national news outlets, CARE MORE ABOUT THIS.” If not for this grassroots #NAACPBombing campaign, we might not even be talking about this today.

It is too easy to explain the national media’s silence. The collective shrug in the first 24 hours after the event was, perhaps, evidence of a sort of racial fatigue, a consequence of the country’s collective desensitization to anti-black violence, to the drumbeat of stories about men and women and children who’ve been shot or tasered or thrown in jail. But it was also a reflection of the scarcity of details, and concern about covering a fast-moving story from a distance. The news moves so quickly, and a failed bombingfailed, that is, because no life was taken, no property destroyedmay have seemed hardly worth reporting. And then, even as the events in Colorado Springs slowly caught the attention of some, word came of the massacre at Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

The eclipse of the story only added to the frustration. On Twitter and in Colorado Springs, what began as a heartfelt plea for media attention quickly became a complaint about the algebra of media coverage, which makes room for only one big developing news story. This bitterness is understandable. It is a terrible thing to be caught up in a traumatic event of local significancescrambling to learn more, earnestly believing that your story is a part of a long national nightmare linked not just to Ferguson but to violence against of NAACP offices a century agoonly to have an even more traumatic event, one that’s part of another nation’s growing nightmare, draw all the news attention. You might, in this set of circumstances, begin to suspect that your trauma will never even be seen, that it doesn’t even deserve to be forgotten. “Dear so-called journalists,” another tweet reads, “even if you don’t cover #NAACPBombing, it still happened.”

#NAACPBombing skeptics have wondered why so many have jumped to conclude, without supportive facts on the ground, that race was a factor in the bombing, asking instead whether there might not be a more pedestrian explanation. Indeed, it is unclear right now whether this bombing was an act of domestic terror or even a hate crime, but the assumption of domestic terrorism is a reminder that instead of becoming a post-racial nation with President Obama’s election in 2008, as many hastily proclaimed, organized white supremacist and anti-government groups are been on the rise (as are gun sales).

The enumeration of hate groups is perhaps less significant, though, than the depth of individual feeling, the darker passions that enable one to sit in a garage or a basement, stuffing a small pipe with loose metal fragments and gunpowder. Crafting a homemade IED and detonating it outside an NAACP office isn’t an act of whimsy. It emerges from the worst fever swamps of racism. Those can’t be so easily measured, because they are usually kept secret or private. It’s one thing to launch a white supremacist website, sell David Duke t-shirts, distribute leaflets, spray-paint swastikas, and build a firing range. These acts don’t tell you whether someone is willing to try to kill. The true temperature of hate is best measured through an accounting of things like bombs.

 

By: Matthew Pratt Guterl, The New Republic, January 9, 2015

January 10, 2015 Posted by | Hate Crimes, NAACP Bombing, Racism | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Oldest Hatred, Forever Young”: When Hatred Is Loosed, We’re All In The Crossfire

Most of the hate crimes in the United States don’t take the fatal form that the shootings in Kansas over the weekend did, and most aren’t perpetrated by villains as bloated with rage and blinded by conspiracy theories as the person accused in this case, Frazier Glenn Miller. He’s an extreme, not an emblem.

This is someone who went on Howard Stern’s radio show four years ago (why, Howard, did you even hand him that megaphone?) and called Adolf Hitler “the greatest man who ever walked the earth.” When Stern asked Miller whether he had more intense antipathy for Jews or for blacks (why that question?), Miller chose the Jews, definitely the Jews, “a thousand times more,” he said.

“Compared to our Jewish problem, all other problems are mere distractions,” he declaimed, and he apparently wasn’t just spouting off. He was gearing up.

On Sunday, according to the police, he drove to a Jewish community center in Overland Park, Kan., and opened fire, then moved on to a nearby Jewish retirement home and did the same. Three people were killed.

They were Christian, as it happens. When hatred is loosed, we’re all in the crossfire.

On Monday, as law enforcement officials formally branded what happened in Kansas a hate crime, I looked at the spectrum of such offenses nationally: assault, intimidation, vandalism.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation keeps statistics, the most recent of which are for 2012. In the United States that year there were 6,573 hate-crime incidents reported to the bureau (a fraction, no doubt, of all that occurred). While most were motivated by race, about 20 percent were motivated by the victims’ perceived religion — roughly the same percentage as those motivated by the victims’ presumed sexual orientation. I didn’t expect a number that high.

Nor did I expect this: Of the religion-prompted hate crimes, 65 percent were aimed at Jews, a share relatively unchanged from five years earlier (69 percent) and another five before that (65 percent). In contrast, 11 percent of religious-bias crimes in 2012 were against Muslims.

Our country has come so far from the anti-Semitism of decades ago that we tend to overlook the anti-Semitism that endures. We’ve moved on to fresher discussions, newer fears.

Following 9/11, there was enormous concern that all Muslims would be stereotyped and scapegoated, and this heightened sensitivity lingers. It partly explains what just happened at Brandeis University. The school had invited Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a celebrated advocate for Muslim women, to receive an honorary degree. But when some professors and students complained, citing statements of hers that seemed broadly derisive of Islam, the invitation was withdrawn. Clearly, university officials didn’t want their campus seen as a cradle or theater of Islamophobia.

But other college campuses in recent years have been theaters of anti-Israel discussions that occasionally veer toward, or bleed into, condemnations of Jews. And while we don’t have the anti-Semitism in our politics that some European countries do, there’s still bigotry under the surface. There are still caricatures that won’t die.

One of them flared last month on the Christian televangelist Pat Robertson’s TV show. His guest was a rabbi who, shockingly, was himself trafficking in the notion that Jews excel at making money. The rabbi said that a Jew wouldn’t squander a weekend tinkering with his car when he could hire a mechanic and concentrate on something else.

“It’s polishing diamonds, not fixing cars,” Robertson interjected.

Polishing diamonds?

In a 2013 survey of 1,200 American adults for the Anti-Defamation League, 14 percent agreed with the statement that “Jews have too much power” in our country, while 15 percent said Jews are “more willing to use shady practices” and 30 percent said that American Jews are “more loyal to Israel” than to the United States.

That’s disturbing, as is the way in which the Holocaust is minimized by its repeated invocation as an analogy. In separate comments this year, both the venture capitalist Tom Perkins and Kenneth Langone, one of the founders of Home Depot, said that the superrich in America were being vilified the way Jews in Nazi Germany had been.

It’s not just Kansas and the heartland where anti-Semitism, sometimes called the oldest hatred, stays young.

A story in The Times last year focused on an upstate New York community in which three Jewish families filed suit against the school district, citing harassment of Jewish students by their peers. The abuse included Nazi salutes and swastikas drawn on desks, on lockers, on a playground slide.

When a parent complained in 2011, the district’s superintendent responded, in an email: “Your expectations for changing inbred prejudice may be a bit unrealistic.”

Well, the only way to breed that prejudice out of the generations to come is never to shrug our shoulders like that — and never to avert our eyes.

By: Frank Bruni, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, April14, 2014

April 16, 2014 Posted by | Bigotry, Discrimination, Hate Crimes | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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