That Was Then, This Is Now
The racial problems in this country have worried me a great deal for some time, and I’ve grown pretty pessimistic about them. The possibility that Obama’s presidency might help African-Americans to believe that this is their country, too, gives me hope.
I mean, not so much about that specific notion--that it's their country, too--but about the general improvement in race relations that even some people who didn't support Obama, like me, hoped might follow his election. But things are actually worse. Obama himself has not been the problem so much as his supporters.
Sojourners had an article about the President’s comments from the White House press room last Friday. My comment in response to the article was that I thought the president's remarks were both instructive and healing. His delivery in the press conference mode was the perfect medium, rather than his "campaign to the crowds" mode. That he could calmly speak in the tone of an intimate conversation made it much easier for us white folks to hear him. The most profound and poignant moment for me was when he described the experiences of a young black man getting on the elevator and seeing a woman back up and clutch her purse, of hearing car doors lock as he walks across the street – then saying, "This has happened to me." I think the president advanced the conversation tremendously.
You can read the Sojourner article, “A History of Discrimination Earns President Obama a Right to Speak” at http://sojo.net/blogs/2013/07/22/history-discrimination-earns-president-obama-right-speak
Posted by: Charles Kinnaird | 07/25/2013 at 05:46 AM
I'm sorry but I don't think he advanced it much at all, though it could have been a lot worse. The crucial thing is that Trayvon Martin's death was never the race-based incident that it was made out to be. I haven't read Obama's entire speech but as far as I know he didn't acknowledge that, but allowed the misinformation to continue to work its poison.
Posted by: Mac | 07/25/2013 at 07:06 AM
The most profound and poignant moment for me was when he described the experiences of a young black man getting on the elevator and seeing a woman back up and clutch her purse, of hearing car doors lock as he walks across the street – then saying, "This has happened to me."
I have to say, I do this kind of thing when almost any man approaches and even some women, if they don't have children with them. It depends where I am. There is nothing especially discriminatory about it, in the sense of unfairness and a woman can hardly help it if she feels suddenly scared.
Maclin, it's very sad that this presidency has not brought about the real change it could have.
Posted by: Louise | 07/25/2013 at 08:41 AM
Very sad. Tragic, even.
You can certainly understand the perfectly innocent young black man being upset by that scenario. But if you want to understand the whole situation, and possibly change it, you also have to consider why the woman clutches her purse etc.
Posted by: Mac | 07/25/2013 at 10:08 AM
Indeed. I'd say it's tragic too.
Posted by: Louise | 07/25/2013 at 10:58 AM
Obama himself has not been the problem so much as his supporters.
I'm not so sure about that. At the very least, he set the tone very early in his presidency when he inserted himself into the arrest of Henry Louis Gates:
"I don't know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that [Gates case]. But I think it's fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry; number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home; and, number three, what I think we know separate and apart from this incident is that there's a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. That's just a fact."
That doesn't sound all that different to me from what he said last week about the Zimmerman verdict.
Posted by: Marianne | 07/25/2013 at 05:43 PM
I seem to recall your buddy Daniel mumbling something in this forum about 'racial healing'. It is rather much to expect politicians to have much of an effect on the culture. Given the wretched institutional sclerosis we face, it is actually rather much to expect them to have an effect on the political architecture either.
That having been said, you pick up the newspaper and you get the impression that the administration repairs to the default settings of the Democratic Party, and that means there will be assiduous efforts to render public policy worse than it already is (Thos. Perez, "Comprehensive immigration reform", &c).
One way to interpret the blatherskite about 'diversity' and also much of the immigration boosterism you hear is to understand it all as a comment on other subcultures within the country. You have an academic subculture heaping scorn on the children of those bourgeois who do not share the tastes and prejudices of academics and then you have the haut bourgeois in general being dismissive of the common-and-garden (non-exotic) working class. Sometimes this has lucid expression:
I do not know if it would promote racial healing, but it would be agreeable if a prominent personality they could not dismiss appeared on a college campus and told the faculty and administration present that their attitude toward their revenue sources was unseemly. It would not promote racial healing, but it would advance honest discussion, to say plainly to Democratic members of Congress that promoting population replacement for purposes of political gamesmanship is an indicator that you do not share the interests of the extant population and that (once upon a time) people who sought to dethrone the sovereign ended their days one head shorter.
And I think we all recall the situation as it was from about 1964 to about 1993, when we were all told that it was illegitimate to be the least bit concerned about security in urban living. You will recall we were told "law and order" was code for something else; those people never did get around to letting the rest of us know just what was the code for 'law and order'.
Do you get the impression that the contempt for evangelicals in this country is offered without inhibition?
You see, the trouble with your hope is that it hinges on those around the president of having a sense of where actual cultural wounds are and what might be done to address them. Fat chance.
Posted by: Art Deco | 07/25/2013 at 05:50 PM
That he could calmly speak in the tone of an intimate conversation made it much easier for us white folks to hear him.
Can you speak for yourself.
"A History of Discrimination Earns President Obama a Right to Speak”
For crying out loud. No one has more of a 'right to speak' than anyone else. That aside, the President is the child of the professional-managerial bourgeoisie. His upbringing was half exotic (in Indonesia) and half in Honolulu's haolie society. His connection to black America is that he married into it. So did May Britt. Big deal.
Posted by: Art Deco | 07/25/2013 at 05:58 PM
Maclin, it's very sad that this presidency has not brought about the real change it could have.
It could do nothing of the sort. Our politicians have managed to balance the federal budget three times since 1961. That tells you what they can manage.
Posted by: Art Deco | 07/25/2013 at 06:01 PM
May Britt. Now there's a name I haven't heard for a long time.
More later. I just posted something longer on this topic, most of which was actually written before this quickie post, but I didn't manage to finish it till just now.
One quick reply to Marianne's comment: quite true that Obama has been pretty consistent on this kind of thing, and not very good. What I mean is that I think he could have been a whole lot worse, and that many of his supporters are. I'm thinking of the malicious voices that try to pin the label of "racist" on anyone who opposes or criticizes the Light Worker.
Posted by: Mac | 07/25/2013 at 07:04 PM
"It is rather much to expect politicians to have much of an effect on the culture...."
Not by command, of course, but they do have an effect. Surely Clinton's tomcat persona and brazen lying had some effect on making that kind of thing more acceptable. If Obama addressed the racial situation more fairly and completely, instead of focusing on the clutched purse and the locked doors, for instance, he might even have some direct influence.
Posted by: Mac | 07/25/2013 at 09:52 PM
Yes, 1997-98 was an ugly turning point.
Posted by: Art Deco | 07/25/2013 at 10:11 PM
One not fully appreciated or understood, I think. The Clinton years in general may have been the point where the current situation of extreme bitterness and win-at-any-cost hostility became the norm. I'm not sure about that--the Reagan and for that matter the Nixon years were pretty bad, too. But it seems like things went to a new level then, and stayed.
Posted by: Mac | 07/25/2013 at 10:19 PM
In the seriously not helpful category:
"Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said that stand-your-ground laws are “a clear and present danger to every black man in America.” She pushed the men on the panel to share tangible lessons, objectives or suggestions that lawmakers could act upon before the energy generated by the verdict dissipates.
Martin said that he would like to see his son’s name attached to a “statute or amendment that says you can’t simply profile our children, you can’t shoot them in the heart and say you were defending yourself.” Crump said he would like to see an analysis of shootings that involve the stand-your-ground law to see if it is arbitrarily being used."
Washington Post story. As if stand-your-ground laws had anything to do with this. I would almost like to see that statute Mr. Martin proposes.
Posted by: Mac | 07/26/2013 at 07:13 AM
Question, is Eleanor Holmes Norton in the habit of making utterly fraudulent remarks, is she unaware of the facts of the case and ordinary descriptive statistics about crime in this country, or is that all a matter of indifference (she knows a story and she is sticking to it)? That broad ran the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission during the Carter Administration. Could she have adjudicated any case fairly?
Posted by: Art Deco | 07/26/2013 at 07:55 AM
"The most profound and poignant moment for me was when he described the experiences of a young black man getting on the elevator and seeing a woman back up and clutch her purse, of hearing car doors lock as he walks across the street – then saying, "This has happened to me.""
I want to know, what was he wearing? As a woman who is small enough to be regularly mistaken for a high schooler, whether I back away all depends on the clothes. If you are wearing saggy jeans and a T-shirt with a swear word on it, I will shrink away from you in the elevator or the metro. If you are wearing a suit and tie, I will feel safer as you enter. Now, from my experience riding the metro, that does tend to fall along racial lines, at least among younger people, but my shrinking away is due to the clothes/attitude, not the color.
If it's dark and I'm alone in a car, I lock the door if a dog comes down the street, but I'm terrified of the dark.
Posted by: SophieMiriam | 07/26/2013 at 08:13 AM
I drive through a fairly wealthy neighborhood on my way to work. I see a lot of people walking and jogging. I noticed the other day that whether someone registers on me as out of place or not depends mostly on what they're wearing and their general demeanor, certainly way more than on race. There's a black guy I see walking a dog occasionally: big man, dressed in a way that's far more L.L. Bean than gangster. He's atypical, so I notice him, but he doesn't really look out of place. There's a less affluent neighborhood right adjacent to that one, which I also pass through, and there's also a big black guy I see walking there. He wears a sideways baseball cap and saggy jeans, and sort of shuffles along rather than striding like the other guy. He would look out of place.
Obviously we can badly misjudge people on the basis of things like that, but the idea that we can force people not to form those kinds of impressions is silly and doomed. Pattern recognition is a very elemental function of the mind.
Posted by: Mac | 07/26/2013 at 09:29 AM
but the idea that we can force people not to form those kinds of impressions is silly and doomed. Pattern recognition is a very elemental function of the mind.
I agree. And I resent the notion that anyone who forms such basic pattern recognition is a Bad Person.
Posted by: Louise | 07/26/2013 at 10:02 AM
Best I can tell from a distance, Tracy Martin is a man with several different aspects to him; the most important aspect would be "average American". He is a long-haul truck driver - right near the median of compensation and skill-level in this economy. It is doubtful that anything in his background has prepared him for the maelstrom he has inhabited for the last 18 months. To add to that, people are naturally emotionally partisan for their own, and that can cloud their judgment. Benjamin Crump was supposedly recommended to TM by a shirt-tail relation, and TM made a seminally bad decision in retaining the man (and his odious appendage, Ryan Julison).
Posted by: Art Deco | 07/26/2013 at 10:27 AM