Thursday, March 20, 2008

Obama Went Backward Says Civil Rights Activist

This column by Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition and former assistance executive director of the NAACP, makes a lot of sense to me. It appeared in the Los Angeles Times today.

Notes on Barack Obama's March 18 Speech on Race

I thought Obama's March 18 speech on race was masterful, because he offered his justification his continued association with Rev. Jeremiah Wright and then heard his listener say, "Yeah, but what about..." and then Obama went on to say, "Yes, but what you are also saying, is, 'yeah, but"' and then proceed to defend that point also. So it was an attempt to be thorough and serious in answering questions raised.

I also felt emotionally moved because the civil rights movement was one of the most important, if not the most important shaping political experience of my young life, and I always feel like there is a terrible gaping wound in my heart because of the racism I know about in our history and now. So Obama's appeal to attempt to heal this is very appealing to someone like myself who has always wanted African Americans to be completely home in this country..

Obama also clearly hearkens back to the "dream" speech of Martin Luther King, which is an obvious thing, but tries to emotionally resonate it, which politicians such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson cannot possibly do.

I also appreciate how Obama attempted to explain the consciousness in the African American community and its anger. I think that is very useful, and I wish more people from that community would do so--not in the Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton way of just exhibiting it--but actually try to articulate what is going on--in part--in the psychology of African Americans, because I know that white people have no idea of what is going on.

Therefore, I came away from this speech really wishing that I could vote for Barak Obama and that somehow a healing, by openly discussing these issues, could begin to take place.

I cannot vote for him, however.

The first problem that hit me is when he talks about education in the cities. Now as the candidate what is he going to do? He is going to get rid of the No Child Left Behind Act and hand everything back to the National Education Association. That means more de-schooling. No more standard tests, which the NEA opposes. Back to outcome-based education, where attitude, not achievement, is measured. So his mouth and feet are not going together on this issue. De-schooling has destroyed the public school system for all races except in certain local communities, small enough in scale, where citizens made a decision to have very good schools, in which case, everyone performs and the drugs get cleaned up (Falls Church City in Virginia is one such example. So what Obama is saying about education--which is absolutely crucial for tackling the problems he says he wants to tackle--is a total zero.

Ditto all the rest of his programs--which perpetuate the same philosophy and practice that have left African Americans lagging so far behind and helped create the conditions that have so many black men behind bars, which is a terrible problem for black families, especially children.

Obama then says he does not want to repudiate Rev. Wright, because that would be like repudiating the African American community. This is not true. If he cared about the African American community, then he would probably not be involved with Rev. Wright in the first place. The only reason Wright is at all relevant to white people is because his parishoner is doing pretty well in running for the Democratic Presidential nomination. Otherwise, the rest of the population does not care what Wright tells African Americans in his big church in the Chicago ghetto. But if you are a leader in the African American community you should care. Wright tells blacks that the white man is systematically out to commit genocide against them, with HIV and presents the so-called white world as the avowed hateful enemy of all African Americans. All this does--wonderful soup kitchens aside--is to amplify and justify hostility, racism, and paranoia in the black community. It feeds the culture of defeat and self-defeat. Is there one tiny shred of evidence that HIV is a white plot to kill black people? No. So Wright is not a truthful leader--he is a demagogue who kowtows to the worst fears and paranoia among his flock to build himself up. He does African Americans a far greater disservice than he does any whites.

From this standpoint, Obama clearly identifies himself as a member of the same (ultimately) white-controlled African American Democratic Party community leadership that takes its big cut from whatever is going down--as is indicated by Obama's "boneheaded" decision re Rezko and real estate. This is the leadership that talks a lot but has done very little and takes its cut right from the top before any money gets to the people it is supposedly for.

And just so everyone can really beat on me, I want to say that I am angry at Obama's attack on his grandmother and saying that she is a racist for saying that she is scared of black men on the street. Well, of course it depends upon what street and how many people are on it. But my personal experience is that you better watch yourself if you are in lonely areas and African American young punkish-looking men, or any other kind of punkish looking young men, are lurking around and you are in a vulnerable position. Everyone knows this, and when I was alone a street with a man and was nervous on numbers of occasions that man has reassured me in a tiny way that he meant me no harm, and I deeply appreciated that.

Conversely, I recently was reading about the murder of Bill Cosby's son on an LA freeway by some white (Ukrainian immigrant) who confessed to it and made clear that he did it for racist reasons. The night before young Cosby’s murder, his mother had talked to him on the phone and told him to be very careful driving on the freeways because there had been recent violence on the roads there. Do I think Camille Cosby is a black racist because she is afraid that her black son driving in that area in a fancy car could get into trouble? Absolutely not. I think she was within her rights, given realities. Her son found himself in a vulnerable position and got hit. It is a crime that makes me sick.

However, I don't hear Bill Cosby, who has reason enough, screaming and yelling about how whites are out to get blacks. Instead, I have seen him give real leadership to African Americans by calling upon them to do what in truth they have to do—to ensure that their children are educated and brought up. Cosby has also put his money where his mouth is, donating millions to keep African American colleges alive to enable young blacks to get a college education.

Obama also attacks his grandmother for making remarks that are stereotyping. Well, all stereotyping is based on certain kernels of truth. I am mostly Irish--isn't it the case that Irish people do talk a lot and do tend to hit the bottle? That’s what my mother told me about our relatives. The problem is not the stereotype. The problem is treating people in a stereotypical fashion and rejecting people because of the stereotype or branding a whole group because of the stereotype--so you discard the human being.

So what healing can come out of Obama’s campaign? I feel that none can come out, unless more people are at least encouraged to speak openly about race and it causes real and honest dialogue. Then his campaign will have served some purpose. But one wonders why is this man running for President, when he has no actual ideas of what he wants to do as President? Where are the new ideas for programs that might even work? What is his plan for training and education that he talks about? What are his plans for homeownership in the black community, so there is some accumulation of money to pass down? Where is his national program to end prison recividism. Where is his new approach?

The joke is that it is the GOP--specifically that odious George Bush--who has seriously tried to tackle some of this, to enable homeownership, to stop the lemming-like drive for de-schooling, to try new ideas in using faith-based local charities as conduits of federal funds through those who know the people they are serving, as opposed to bureaucrats. Does that program add up to a solution? No. But at least it shows a serious attempt to try something new, to address the situation with the goal of empowerment rather than eternal dependency.

So I think that Obama's speech was extremely well done. But in the end, he is selling snake oil to all of us, and it makes me very sad.