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“Many Rivers To Cross”: What To Get Rush Limbaugh And Other Racism Deniers For Christmas

Oh, hey, Jonah Goldberg and Elisabeth Hasselbeck and Rush Limbaugh, and all you right-wingers trying to whitesplain racism to Oprah Winfrey: The finale of “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross” is on PBS tonight and I’m sure you won’t want to miss it.

You guys know the guy behind it, Henry Louis Gates Jr. Well, OK, you probably only know one thing about him: that he was the Harvard professor arrested by a Cambridge cop in 2009 after having trouble getting into his own house — arrested even after he’d proven he lived there. It took a beer summit with President Obama and Vice President Biden to make things sort of OK.

I wrote at the time about how Obama’s wading into the Gates controversy – he simply told the truth, that the police had acted “stupidly” in detaining and booking the Harvard professor in his own home –  had “blackened” him for many white people. It coincided with a sudden plunge in the president’s approval rating among white voters, from the 60s down to the 40s, and he never really recovered.

Yet Gates was a terrible choice to play Angry Black Man, because he’s always been someone who’s treated white people as though they deserve the benefit of the doubt. Melissa Harris-Perry argued in the Nation at the time, “Gates is invested in black life, black history, black art, and black literature, but he has managed to achieve a largely post-political and even substantially post-racial existence.” Which is what made his arrest so shocking.

“Many Rivers to Cross” seems the ideal way for whites, even conservatives, to cross over to understand the enduring legacy of slavery (even you, Sarah Palin) and Jim Crow and the persistence of racism in the age of Obama. Gates doesn’t interview Oprah, but in the finale he does talk to the most illustrious black Republican of our time, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who gets teary talking about Obama’s victory. “I cried,” Powell confesses to Gates, and Gates gets choked up too.

Oh, I forgot: Colin Powell used to prove the Republican Party wasn’t racist; then he endorsed Barack Obama, and now you guys hate Colin Powell, and think he’s a racist.

Still, Gates does a lot of sly things to make everyone comfortable crossing these rivers with him. He’s kind of literally company, as we see him walk on a cane down roads and riverbeds where unspeakable racial tragedies took place. You’d be safe with him, Jonah Goldberg, strolling down a path that led to the savage quelling of a slave rebellion or a bridge where a Detroit race riot erupted.  He admits his own fears. Gates walks Ruby Bridges back to the elementary school she integrated. “Ruby, were you scared?” he asks. “I would have been terrified.”

Yet he also shows how African-American achievement has always coexisted with African-American oppression, which would be a bracing corrective to the ignorance of insisting the ascendance of Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey mean racism is behind us. Oprah even has an American capitalist antecedent in Sarah Breedlove/Madame C.J. Walker, who was the first African-American millionaire, male or female (though Walker got rich marketing to black women where Oprah ministers to all of us).

Gates introduces us to black strivers and titans and culture heroes, from Walker to Don Cornelius to Vernon Jordan to Questlove; black meccas from St. Augustine, Fla., to Tulsa, Okla., to Detroit, all while telling the story of how far we still have to travel to equality. He shows how white Americans have always been able to love (and appropriate) black culture without giving up their racism. I’m not saying nothing has changed, nor is Gates, but the notion that Oprah’s own popularity disproves her charge of racism is itself disproven by American history.

I probably know more than the average white person about African-American history, which only ensures that I know less than I think I do. And I learned so much from “Many Rivers,” I am sorry to see it end. One thing I haven’t seen anyone say about it: There’s a gender balance that’s rare in history documentaries that aren’t about women’s history. I watched Episode 4 online back to back with “Lincoln at Gettysburg,” which I loved, but which only featured one female scholar, the great Melissa Harris-Perry.

Gates features dozens, from Annette Gordon-Reed and Thavolia Glymph to Michelle Alexander and Isabel Wilkerson. And he focused on the transformative stories and ideas of black women, from Walker to Rosa Parks, Ella Baker, Diane Nash, Charlayne Hunter-Gault, Grace Lee Boggs (including my friend and mentor Angela Glover Blackwell of PolicyLink, where I’m on the board — but I was writing this piece already before I learned that).

I know Goldberg and Limbaugh and Hasselbeck and the other racism deniers aren’t likely to watch “Many Rivers.” And I know it’s simplistic to think a documentary, however artful, can change the minds of partisans who make a good living denying our history, but I can dream. I’d still try to sneak the whole series into the Christmas stocking of your racism-denying but “cultured” relatives this holiday season.

 

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, November 26, 2013

November 27, 2013 Posted by | Racism | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Disrespect, Race And Obama”: This Is Not President Obama’s Doing, But The Simple Result Of His Being

In an interview with the BBC this week, Oprah Winfrey said of President Obama: “There is a level of disrespect for the office that occurs. And that occurs, in some cases, and maybe even many cases, because he’s African-American.”

With that remark, Winfrey touched on an issue that many Americans have wrestled with: To what extent does this president’s race animate those loyal to him and those opposed? Is race a primary motivator or a subordinate, more elusive one, tainting motivations but not driving them?

To some degree, the answers lie with the questioners. There are different perceptions of racial realities. What some see as slights, others see as innocent opposition. But there are some objective truths here. Racism is a virus that is growing clever at avoiding detection. Race consciousness is real. Racial assumptions and prejudices are real. And racism is real. But these realities can operate without articulation and beneath awareness. For those reasons, some can see racism where it is absent, and others can willfully ignore any possibility that it could ever be present.

To wit, Rush Limbaugh responded to Winfrey’s comments in his usual acerbic way, lacking all nuance:

“If black people in this country are so mistreated and so disrespected, how in the name of Sam Hill did you happen? Would somebody explain that to me? If there’s a level of disrespect simply because he’s black, then how, Oprah, have you managed to become the — at one time — most popular and certainly wealthiest television personality? How does that happen?”

No one has ever accused Limbaugh of being a complex thinker, but the intellectual deficiency required to achieve that level of arrogance and ignorance is staggering.

Anyone with even a child’s grasp of race understands that for many minorities success isn’t synonymous with the absence of obstacles, but often requires the overcoming of obstacles. Furthermore, being willing to be entertained by someone isn’t the same as being willing to be led by them.

And finally, affinity and racial animosity can dwell together in the same soul. You can like and even admire a person of another race while simultaneously disparaging the race as a whole. One can even be attracted to persons of different races and still harbor racial animus toward their group. Generations of sexual predation and miscegenation during and after slavery in this country have taught us that.

Alas, simpletons have simple understandings of complex concepts.

But it is reactions like Limbaugh’s that lead many of the president’s supporters to believe that racial sensitivity is in retreat and racial hostility is on the rise.

To be sure, the Internet is rife with examples of derogatory, overtly racial comments and imagery referring to the president and his family. But the question remains: Are we seeing an increase in racial hostility or simply an elevation — or uncovering — of it? And are those racist attitudes isolated or do they represent a serious problem?

Much of the discussion about the president, his opposition and his race has centered on the Tea Party, fairly or not.

In one take on race and the Tea Party that went horribly wrong this week, Washington Post opinion writer Richard Cohen wrote:

“Today’s G.O.P. is not racist, as Harry Belafonte alleged about the Tea Party, but it is deeply troubled — about the expansion of government, about immigration, about secularism, about the mainstreaming of what used to be the avant-garde. People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts — but not all — of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all.”

What exactly are “conventional views” in this context? They appear to refer specifically to opinions about the color of people’s skin.

Cohen seemed to want to recast racial intolerance — and sexual identity discomfort — in a more humane light: as an extension of traditional values rather than as an artifact of traditional bigotry. In addition, Cohen’s attempt to absolve the entirety of the Tea Party without proof fails in the same way that blanket condemnations do. Overreach is always the enemy.

I don’t know what role, if any, race plays in the feelings of Tea Party supporters. It is impossible to know the heart of another person (unless they unambiguously reveal themselves), let alone the hearts of millions.

But nerves are raw, antennas are up and race has become a lightning rod in the Obama era. c.

By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, November 15, 2013

November 21, 2013 Posted by | Race and Ethnicity, Racism | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

American Businesses: Success Is Because Of Government, Not In Spite Of It

While big business whimpers about high statutory tax rates, the effective tax rate paid by most corporations in America is often far lower than most other developed nations (thanks to loopholes and accounting tricks). Meanwhile, corporate tax receipts accounted for 30 percent of US federal revenues in the mid-1950s. In 2009, they made up just 6.6 percent of federal revenue streams.

In other words, not only are big corporations funding a smaller percentage of our shared social safety net, they’re paying a smaller percentage into funding the future infrastructure that they desperately need.

Imagine if big business got its way and corporate taxes were slashed even further. How would businesses suffer?

What would Oprah and Henry Ford have done?

Imagine if, when Henry Ford wanted to start the Ford Motor Company, he had to not only drill for oil himself but also oversee the laying of pipelines and production infrastructure across government-owned land so his cars could have gas to make them go. And when the American auto industry was expanding in the 1940s and 50s creating jobs throughout the nation, imagine if Chrysler and General Motors had to not only build their own factories and assembly lines but actually plan and construct the roads and interstate highways for cars to drive on.

Imagine if Oprah had to regulate the television spectrum for herself and that at random, bandwidth pirates could intrude on broadcasts of the Oprah Winfrey Show because there was no Federal Communications Commission monitoring ownership of and access to the public airwaves.

Imagine if every restaurateur today had to invest in his or her own food safety teams to make sure the meat served isn’t toxic. Imagine if every small business in remote rural communities had to generate its own electricity on site because the government wouldn’t have helped fund the expansion of power lines to those distant places. Imagine if every corporation had to educate its entire workforce from childhood to adulthood because there were no public schools.

Bill Gates would have had to run phone lines.

What if, when Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, he couldn’t get a patent from the United States government to protect his idea? Or for that matter, if there had been no laws to protect private property and no law enforcement, Bell might have had to sit up all night with a gun guarding his invention – instead of going out in the world and figuring out how to use it. When Bill Gates wanted to start Microsoft, consider if instead of drawing on the government-created infrastructure of the original Internet (which he accessed early on in high school through the publicly funded University of Washington), Mr. Gates not only had to invent Windows, but also invent the entire World Wide Web and run the wiring for the phone lines that originally connected all his potential consumers.

When Warren Buffet launched his investing career that ultimately earned him billions, imagine if in addition to hiring lawyers to run his business, Mr. Buffett had to hire judges, too, and create entire court systems to oversee and enforce the types of binding contracts on which the stock market relies. For that matter, imagine if Buffet had to print his own currency and negotiate its value against the currencies of all other individual investors.e infrastructure of private sector success

Taxes fund the infrastructure of private sector success

Businesses in the United States don’t succeed in spite of our government, in many ways, they succeed because of our government. Through our taxes, we fund the legal and economic infrastructure of private sector success. By definition, those businesses that get the most out of that infrastructure are those that should give the most back.

At a time when economic conservatives want to slash spending that helps the poor and middle class rather than raise the already-low effective taxes of big business, it’s shameful that corporations like General Electric and Bank of America effectively pay no taxes. In the context of the larger American story, where successful businesses of today support the public infrastructure for the businesses of tomorrow, saying that corporations should pay even less is downright un-American.

By: Sally Kohn, AlterNet, July 22, 2011

July 24, 2011 Posted by | Bank Of America, Big Business, Budget, Businesses, Congress, Conservatives, Corporations, Debt Ceiling, Debt Crisis, Deficits, Economic Recovery, Economy, Federal Budget, General Electric, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Ideology, Politics, Regulations, Republicans, Right Wing, Tax Increases, Tax Loopholes, Taxes, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

   

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