mykeystrokes.com

"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“The Character Of Our Content”: The Nexus Of Politics And Race That Drives The Right’s Opprobrium Towards Obama

Where, exactly, did people get the idea that President Obama was supposed to end racism?

In a rather curious piece, conservative syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker scrutinized Obama’s May 7 commencement address at Howard University and apparently wasn’t too impressed:

At a recent commencement address at historically black Howard University, Obama noted that his election did not, in fact, create a post-racial society. “I don’t know who was propagating that notion. That was not mine,” he said.

This remark stopped me for a moment because, well, didn’t he? Wasn’t he The One we’d been waiting for? Wasn’t Obama the quintessential biracial figure who would put racial differences in a lockbox for all time?

This was the narrative, to be sure. But, if not Obama’s, then whose?

In retrospect, it was mine, yours, ours. White people, especially in the media, created this narrative because we loved and needed it. Psychologists call it projection. We made Obama into the image of the right sort of fellow. He was, as Shelby Steele wrote in 2008, a “bargainer,” who promised white people to “never presume that you are racist if you will not hold my race against me.”

Obama wasn’t so much the agent of change as he was the embodiment of a post-racial America as whites imagined it.

But Obama’s message, beginning with his 2004 address to the Democratic National Convention in Boston, has always suggested that he would be at least a messenger of unity, which sounded an awful lot like post-racial. “There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America,” he said.

I’ve previously noted that there was a fair bit of nonsense in that 2004 Obama speech. However, that speech did not, by any reasonable standard, imply that Obama would be a “post-racial” leader, and anyone, Parker included, who heard a “post-racial” subtext in the message must have had some strange music playing in the background.

Parker appears to be blaming Obama for her mistaken interpretation of that 2004 speech:

That many interpreted Obama’s message as post-racial made some kind of sense. The divide between red and blue states may be seen as also splitting along racial lines in some cases.

Eight years after being elected as the first black president of a majority-white nation, Obama is shrugging off any responsibility for having contributed to the post-racial expectation. Is this because, racially, things actually seem worse? But what if they weren’t? What if there had been no “Black Lives Matter” movement, no Trayvon Martin, no Freddie Gray, or any of the others who were killed by police in the past few years, or, in Martin’s case, by a vigilante?

I’m guessing he’d have grabbed that narrative in a bear hug and given it a great, big, sloppy kiss. His remarks to a graduating class, instead of disavowing that silly post-racial thing, would have celebrated his greatest achievement — the healing of America.

It’s interesting that Parker says “The divide between red and blue states may be seen as also splitting along racial lines in some cases” because, in the Shelby Steele op-ed she quotes, the right-wing African-American pundit scornfully observes:

On the level of public policy, [Obama] was quite unremarkable. His economics were the redistributive axioms of old-fashioned Keynesianism; his social thought was recycled Great Society.

Had Obama been a right-wing Republican (instead of, as former Reagan advisor Bruce Bartlett has argued, a Democrat who is “essentially…what used to be called a liberal Republican before all such people disappeared from the GOP”), both Steele and Parker would be hailing him as a man who had healed all of America’s historic wounds, who had indisputably united the country across the lines of class and race, who had honored the legacy of Lincoln. The remarks of Parker and Steele are repulsive because they reveal the nexus of politics and race that has always driven the right’s opprobrium towards Obama.

If you’re old enough to remember the Reagan-era promotion of right-wing African-American figures such as Clarence Thomas, Thomas Sowell, Walter E. Williams and Alan Keyes (Steele didn’t become a major name on the right until the George H. W. Bush years), you’ll remember that right-wing white commentators would constantly push the idea that Thomas, Sowell, Williams and Keyes were the “real” voices of the African-American community, as opposed to, say, Jesse Jackson. The right’s rhetoric about the so-called “Democratic plantation” is an offshoot of this sort of thinking: right-wingers really do believe that where it not for chicanery on the part of Democrats, the vast majority of African-Americans would be on the Republican team.

The folks who promoted this narrative about right-wing African-Americans being the only “authentic” voices in the African-American community never got over the fact that Barack Obama discredited their arguments. They cannot stand the fact that the first African-American President is a Democrat; had Obama shared the Thomas/Sowell/Williams/Keyes vision of the world, right-wing whites would have defended him just as ferociously as they have attacked him since the late-2000s.

Parker assumes her readers are stupid. She doesn’t think her audience fully understands that she would be glorifying Obama as a healer and hero if his politics were closer to hers. Her column is one of the year’s most deceitful to date

 

By: D. R. Tucker, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, May 29, 2016

May 30, 2016 Posted by | Conservatives, Kathleen Parker, Post Racial Society | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Story About How We Treat The Poor”: Sometimes, Race Is More Distraction Than Explanation

Dear white people:

As you no doubt know, the water crisis in Flint, Mich., returned to the headlines last week with news that the state attorney general is charging three government officials for their alleged roles in the debacle. It makes this a convenient moment to deal with something that has irked me about the way this disaster is framed.

Namely, the fact that people who look like you often get left out of it.

Consider some of the headlines:

The Racist Roots of Flint’s Water Crisis — Huffington Post

How A Racist System Has Poisoned The Water in Flint — The Root

A Question of Environmental Racism — The New York Times

As has been reported repeatedly, Flint is a majority black city with a 41 percent poverty rate, so critics ask if the water would have been so blithely poisoned, and if it would have taken media so long to notice, had the victims been mostly white.

It’s a sensible question, but whenever I hear it, I engage in a little thought experiment. I try to imagine what happened in Flint happening in Bowie, a city in Maryland where blacks outnumber whites, but the median household income is more than $100,000 a year and the poverty rate is about 3 percent. I can’t.

Then I try to imagine it happening in Morgantown, West Virginia, where whites outnumber blacks, the median household income is about $32,000 a year, and the poverty rate approaches 40 percent — and I find that I easily can. It helps that Bowie is a few minutes from Washington, D.C., while Morgantown is more than an hour from the nearest city of any size.

My point is neither that race carries no weight nor that it had no impact on what happened in Flint. No, my point is only that sometimes, race is more distraction than explanation. Indeed, that’s the story of our lives.

To be white in America is to have been sold a bill of goods that there exists between you and people of color a gap of morality, behavior, intelligence and fundamental humanity. Forces of money and power have often used that perceived gap to con people like you into acting against their own self-interest.

In the Civil War, white men too poor to own slaves died in grotesque numbers to protect the “right” of a few plutocrats to continue that despicable practice. In the Industrial Revolution, white workers agitating for a living wage were kept in line by the threat that their jobs would be given to “Negroes.” In the Depression, white families mired in poverty were mollified by signs reading “Whites Only.”

You have to wonder what would happen if white people — particularly, those of modest means — ever saw that gap for the fiction it is? What if they ever realized you don’t need common color to reach common ground? What if all of us were less reflexive in using race as our prism, just because it’s handy?

You see, for as much as Flint is a story about how we treat people of color, it is also — I would say more so — a story about how we treat the poor, the way we render them invisible. That was also the story of Hurricane Katrina. Remember news media’s shock at discovering there were Americans too poor to escape a killer storm?

Granted, there is a discussion to be had about how poverty is constructed in this country; the black poverty rate is higher than any other with the exception of Native Americans, and that’s no coincidence. But it’s equally true that, once you are poor, the array of slights and indignities to which you are subjected is remarkably consistent across that racial gap.

That fact should induce you — and all of us — to reconsider the de facto primacy we assign this arbitrary marker of identity. After all, 37 percent of the people in Flint are white.

But that’s done nothing to make their water clean.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, April 24, 2016

April 25, 2016 Posted by | Flint Water Crisis, Poor and Low Income, Poverty, Race and Ethnicity | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Politics, Power, And Change”: Here’s What You Need To Understand About How Hillary Clinton Views Race

This afternoon, Hillary Clinton will deliver a speech on race in Harlem. There’s a political context here, of course, which is that African American voters are central to both the Feb. 27 South Carolina Democratic primary and the entire campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

But when Clinton speaks about race, something important happens: we get a revealing view not just of what she thinks is important, but of how she understands politics, power, and change.

According to guidance distributed by the Clinton campaign, today’s speech is going to cover a lot of policy ground, including criminal justice, education, housing, and economic opportunity. Clinton will also be discussing “systemic racism,” which is a key phrase to keep in mind to understand how she sees race, and how it differs from the way Barack Obama has dealt with racial issues over the past eight years.”

The idea of systemic racism has symbolic weight, but it’s primarily practical. It does speak to the fundamental truth that black people understand and that some whites resist, that racism exists in a thousand places at once, both those we can see and those we overlook. Saying you understand systemic racism is a way of saying that you see the problem as deep, wide, and historically grounded.

But it’s also a way of saying: This is a problem we, and the president him or herself, can actually do something about. If the racism that imposes itself on people’s lives is to be found in systems, then the way you attack it is to change the way those systems operate, through changes in law and policy.

In short — and if you’ll allow me to oversimplify things a bit — when it comes to race, unlike Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton doesn’t care how you feel.

Well of course she cares, but it’s not her primary concern. This is both her weakness and her strength.

Let me start this story in March 2008, when Obama delivered his much-praised speech in Philadelphia on race, after his former pastor Jeremiah Wright became controversial. In the speech you can see the stark difference between Clinton and him, or at least the candidate he was then. While Obama mentions in passing some of the ways racism has been embedded in institutions, most of the speech, and certainly the part people focused on after, was about different people’s perspectives on race. He talked about his white grandparents, noting that even the loving grandmother who largely raised him expressed fear of young black men. He talked about how white people who feel they never benefited from racial privilege can grow resentful of things like affirmative action. He talked about the anger of black people who continue to feel the sting of prejudice.

Like so many of Obama’s speeches in that campaign, it was extraordinarily eloquent and inspiring. It made you feel like no matter who you were, he understood you. Rereading it one can’t help but remember why many Americans went nuts for this guy.

As president, Obama has been extraordinarily cautious talking about racial issues. He obviously understands the way that his political opponents have cultivated racial resentments and used him as the symbol of everything anyone might fear about a time when white privilege is being challenged (regular listeners of conservative talk radio know, for instance, that Obama’s domestic policies are regularly described as “reparations,” wherein white people’s money is being stolen and then showered upon indolent, undeserving minorities). And though you could certainly point to any number of policy initiatives his administration has undertaken that address racial prejudice and its consequences, in his rare public statements on the topic Obama is far more likely to talk about people and their feelings, both black and white, than about the details of policy. It’s clear that he still believes that empathy and understanding are central to bridging the racial divides that his presidency has been unable to improve.

Clinton’s previous remarks on race, on the other hand, are essentially the inverse of Obama’s: some brief mention of values and feelings, quickly giving way to lengthy discussion of policy changes that can be made to address ongoing racial problems. You can see that in a major speech she gave in April about criminal justice reform. Early in the speech she articulated statements of values that link policy with ideas like justice and fairness: “There is something profoundly wrong when African American men are still far more likely to be stopped and searched by police, charged with crimes, and sentenced to longer prison terms than are meted out to their white counterparts.” She then talked about her own work as a young lawyer with the Children’s Defense Fund, but what stands out for me is that her discussion is about power and institutions. “I saw repeatedly how our legal system can be and all too often is stacked against those who have the least power, who are the most vulnerable,” she says, which is a statement about justice but also a way of saying, I understand this system. The speech is heavy with facts and figures, and while there are a few lines about hopes and dreams, it doesn’t address anyone’s feelings about race. Instead, it’s mostly about policy.

Or consider an even more vivid illustration, a fascinating spontaneous discussion she had with some Black Lives Matter activists in August. It may be the single clearest statement you can find illustrating Clinton’s perspective on social and political change as you’ll ever see.

The activists essentially argue to Clinton that symbolism, rhetoric, beliefs, and policy are all intertwined. At one point, Julius Jones says to her, “America’s first drug is free black labor and turning black bodies into profit, and the mass incarceration system mirrors an awful lot like the prison plantation system. It’s a similar thread, right? And until someone takes that message and speaks that truth to white people in this country, so that we can actually take on anti-blackness as a founding problem in this country, I don’t believe that there is going to be a solution.” He also wants to know what’s in Clinton’s heart, and how she feels about the mistakes of the 1990s. “What in you,” he asks, “not your platform, not what you’re supposed to say — like, how do you actually feel that’s different than you did before? Like, what were the mistakes? And how can those mistakes that you made be lessons for all of America for a moment of reflection on how we treat black people in this country?”

Clinton’s response, though she doesn’t put it these terms, is essentially that it’s not about what she feels. Again and again, she comes back to the idea that you need a program, an agenda of specific things government should do:

So, all I’m saying is, your analysis is totally fair. It’s historically fair. It’s psychologically fair. It’s economically fair. But you’re going to have to come together as a movement and say, “Here’s what we want done about it,” because you can get lip service from as many white people as you can pack into Yankee Stadium and a million more like it, who are going to say, “Oh, we get it. We get it. We’re going to be nicer.” Okay? That’s not enough, at least in my book. That’s not how I see politics. So, the consciousness raising, the advocacy, the passion, the youth of your movement is so critical. But now all I’m suggesting is, even for us sinners, find some common ground on agendas that can make a difference right here and now in people’s lives. And that’s what I would love to, you know, have your thoughts about, because that’s what I’m trying to figure out how to do.

Then Clinton and Jones begin talking quicker, and when at one point Jones characterizes her position as being that “what the Black Lives Matter movement needs to do to change white hearts is to come up with a policy change,” Clinton jumps in with this:

No, I’m not talking about — look, I don’t believe you change hearts. I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate. You’re not going to change every heart. You’re not. But at the end of the day, we can do a whole lot to change some hearts and change some systems and create more opportunities for people who deserve to have them to live up to their own God-given potential, to live safely without fear of violence in their own communities, to have a decent school, to have a decent house, to have a decent future. So, we can do it one of many ways. You know, you can keep the movement going, which you have started, and through it you may actually change some hearts. But if that’s all that happens, we’ll be back here in 10 years having the same conversation.

If I could put her point in terms that are a little more blunt, Clinton is basically saying that symbolism and feelings are all well and good, but they’re really not her concern. What she cares about is institutional power: who it belongs to, how it’s used, and what effects it has. Movement-building and consciousness-raising are not her job. They’re a part of the larger picture and can make her job easier, but her job is to make change within the institutions through which power flows.

You may or may not like this view of what a president does and how a president makes change. You may thirst for someone who can work the levers of power but can also inspire people, make them see things in a new way, offer a transformative vision of the future. But for better or worse, that’s not who Hillary Clinton is.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, February 16, 2015

February 17, 2016 Posted by | African Americans, Hillary Clinton, System Racism | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Leadership And The Politics Of Fear”: Obama Providing Exactly The Kind Of Leadership This Country Needs Right Now

Jeff Greenfield’s article titled: Getting the Politics of Fear Right got me thinking about what leadership means at a time like this. He acknowledges that following the Paris attacks, Donald Trump “went on a fear-mongering bender.” But then he finds President Obama’s response to be problematic as well.

Meanwhile President Obama has tacked sharply in the other direction, playing down the public’s anxiety, defiantly continuing to downgrade the possibility of an attack on the U.S. and the capabilities of Islamic State…Obama’s dismissiveness is no doubt one reason for Trump’s popularity; clearly many voters believe our current crop of leaders – starting with the president – have been too inattentive to their fears.

This is not an uncommon critique of President Obama. Way back in 2010 during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Maureen Dowd led a chorus of people complaining about the fact that the President didn’t seem to feel our panic.

President Spock’s behavior is illogical.

Once more, he has willfully and inexplicably resisted fulfilling a signal part of his job: being a prism in moments of fear and pride, reflecting what Americans feel so they know he gets it.

So this is nothing new. We heard the same thing during the Ebola scare and every other crises we’ve faced over the last 7 years. It all makes me think about what it is we want in a leader.

I was reminded of a powerful diary written years ago by a blogger named Hamden Rice about the leadership of Martin Luther King. The parallels with our current situation eventually break down, but Rice pointed out that King emerged to lead African Americans during a time that they were experiencing the terrorism of Jim Crow.

But this is what the great Dr. Martin Luther King accomplished. Not that he marched, nor that he gave speeches.

He ended the terror of living as a black person, especially in the south…

It wasn’t that black people had to use a separate drinking fountain or couldn’t sit at lunch counters, or had to sit in the back of the bus…

It was that white people, mostly white men, occasionally went berserk, and grabbed random black people, usually men, and lynched them. You all know about lynching. But you may forget or not know that white people also randomly beat black people, and the black people could not fight back, for fear of even worse punishment.

This constant low level dread of atavistic violence is what kept the system running. It made life miserable, stressful and terrifying for black people.

And what was King’s response to that terror?

They told us: Whatever you are most afraid of doing vis-a-vis white people, go do it. Go ahead down to city hall and try to register to vote, even if they say no, even if they take your name down.

Go ahead sit at that lunch counter. Sue the local school board. All things that most black people would have said back then, without exaggeration, were stark raving insane and would get you killed.

If we do it all together, we’ll be okay.

One has to wonder if folks like Greenfield and Dowd had been around back then, would they have complained that MLK was too inattentive to their fears?

When it comes to the current threat of terrorism, President Obama plays a very different role in this country than the one Dr. Martin Luther King did all those decades ago. But interestingly enough, yesterday his message sounded pretty similar.

What happened in Paris is truly horrific. I understand that people worry that something similar could happen here. I want you to know that we will continue to do everything in our power to defend our nation…

But it’s not just our security professionals who will defeat ISIL and other terrorist groups. As Americans, we all have a role to play in how we respond to threats. Groups like ISIL cannot defeat us on the battlefield, so they try to terrorize us at home – against soft targets, against civilians, against innocent people. Even as we’re vigilant, we cannot, and we will not, succumb to fear. Nor can we allow fear to divide us – for that’s how terrorists win. We cannot give them the victory of changing how we go about living our lives.

That is exactly the kind of leadership this country needs right now to combat the politics of fear.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, November 25, 2015

November 26, 2015 Posted by | Fearmongering, Republicans, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Reality Of Implicit Race Bias Is Well-Documented”: Overcoming Implicit Prejudice And The Heightened Perception Of Threat It Brings

I once read a question that went as follows:

Two groups of young men are walking on opposite sides of the street. One group is black, the other, white. Both are loud and swaggering, both have baseball caps turned to the back, both are brandishing bats.

Which one is the baseball team and which one, the street gang?

The truth is, many of us — maybe most of us — would decide based on race, giving benefit of the doubt to the white group, leaping to the harshest conclusion with the black one. Some will resist that notion, but the reality of implicit bias has been exhaustively documented.

Dr. Angela Bahns, an assistant professor of psychology at Wellesley College who describes herself as a “prejudice researcher,” wanted to push the question further. Earlier this year she published a study testing what she says is the prevailing theory: Prejudice arises from threat, i.e., you perceive those other people over there as dangerous and that’s what makes you biased against them.

“My research,” she said in a recent interview, “tests whether the opposite is true, whether prejudice can precede and cause threat perception.” In other words, is it actually pre-existing bias that causes us to feel threatened? It’s a question with profound implications in a nation grappling with what has come to seem an endless cycle of police brutality against unarmed African-American men, women and children.

Reliably as the tides, people tell us race played no role in the choking of the man, the arrest of the woman, the shooting of the boy. But Bahns’ research tells a different story. She conditioned test subjects to feel negatively toward countries about which they’d previously had neutral feelings, including Guyana, Mauritania, Surinam and Eritrea. “And I found,” she said, “that when groups were associated with negative emotion, they came to be perceived as more threatening in the absence of any information about what the people are like objectively.”

This column, by the way, is for a woman named Tracy from Austin who wrote earlier this year to ask “What can I do?” to fight police brutality against African-American people. I promised her I would seek answers. Well, Bahns’ research suggests that one answer might be to encourage police departments to incorporate bias training in their regimens.

According to Bahns, this training can help people overcome implicit prejudice and the heightened perception of threat it brings, but there is an important caveat: They have to be motivated and willing and have to leave their defensiveness at the door. “Before any change can happen, the first step … is that the perceivers — in this case, the white perceivers, or police officers — have to be open to admitting that they might be influenced by bias. I think we’re not getting anywhere when there’s this defensive reaction. … We’re all prejudiced and until we admit that, we’re not going to get anywhere in terms of reducing its effects.”

Not that people’s defensiveness is difficult to understand. “Everyone’s motivated to see themselves in a positive light,” said Bahns. “..People that genuinely hold egalitarian values and desperately do not want to be prejudiced are very motivated not to see bias in themselves.”

The thing is, we cannot wait passively for their conundrum to resolve itself. Some of us are dying because of this inability to tell the ball club from the street gang. And frankly, if people really do hold egalitarian values and desperately don’t want to be prejudiced, those deaths should push them past defensiveness and on to reflection.

As Bahns put it, the idea “that threat causes prejudice assumes that something about them — the out group — makes them threatening rather than assuming there’s something about us that makes us see them that way.”

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, November 4, 2015

November 6, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Police Brutality, Prejudice, Racial Profiling | , , , , , | Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: