Thursday, March 20, 2008

addressing race

After Barack Obama's race speech, below on YouTube, people are talking about the race issue again. He acknowledges anger among Whites and among Blacks. Whether you want him to be President or not, to listen to a man who is a viable candidate for President of the United States who has relatives of practically every race, address the issue of race head on, is remarkable. He is the son of a White woman, apparently descended from slave owners, and a Kenyan father. His wife Michelle is descended from slaves and slave owners.

I am descended from slave owners. But my parents raised us to treat people of all races with utmost respect. Before I was born, my father was a poor Baptist preacher in the South who told the story of the Good Samaritan with the Good Samaritan as a Black person. You know the story. A man is robbed and left for dead, all the "good" people like priests walk by him, avoiding him lying there on the road. I suppose it was about the blood they weren't supposed to touch. Along came the Samaritan (Jesus' audience in this story, the Jews, hated Samaritans) who tended the man and paid for him to be nursed until he recovered. Ok, so my dad told the story from the pulpit with the Good Samaritan as a Black man, in a little rural church in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. After the church service, the Elders came to him, saying, "Rev. Hart, we'd appreciate it if you'd please only preach the Bible."

In the 1990s I got a seven-year education in American race relations when I worked in a University office in which I was one of two White women. The rest of the staff (10 or so people) were either African American or Latino. I learned that my friend Sheree, a beautiful AA woman of 35, felt discriminated against every time she went to the mall and the staff stayed close by her and left White women alone. I learned that there was deep anger between African Americans and Latinos. I learned that some African Americans felt superior to Whites because they believed they would never degrade other humans through slavery. I learned that even after 140 years, Whites can't necessarily expect that African Americans are ready to "move on." I learned that I basically have nothing to say as a White person, about what an African American or Latino person might feel or should do.

This is the first 9-minute segment of Obama's speech two days ago. You can download segments 2-4 from the sidebar at YouTube.


Loring Wirbel said...

What Obama alluded to regarding his preacher was the danger of falling into conspiracy theories when you play the racial or cultural blame game. Get mad about continued subtle discrimination, and about Michigan overthrowing its affirmative action laws by initiative, but don't get mad about imaginary white or Hispanic or Korean attempts to keep African-Americans down. The easiest thing to do is to imagine a vast secret effort to reinforce discrimination. The hardest thing to do is recognize the subtle and entrenched natures of behavior, which are not due to evil whites at the top with a master plan.

freefalling said...

Do you think the fear and horror of war has turned us to our fellow countrymen to embrace unity and reconciliation?
Is it the mentality of being united against a common enemy?
I dunno.
Just putting it out there.

Ruth said...

Loring, when I examine my own heart and mind, I'm appalled at how I separate myself from the people I judge.

Ruth said...

Letitia,this race speech was mostly in response to criticisms of Obama's pastor, who rails pretty openly about Jews, America and I don't know what else. That was the prompt for Obama's speech, and I'm glad it was brought up, even though I despise the kinds of sweeping statements Rev. Wright makes.

But I think you are right, that in Australia with Rudd's apology to Aborigines, and now the eagerness on the part of some of us to reconcile our race issues here in the US, could very well be partly the result of being sick and tired of solving global problems through military force. The Obama message I really like is that change is going to have to happen from the people, within people. We must take responsibility for ourselves, and for our country, and take it back.

Ruth said...

I agree with Nicholas Kristof in his OpEd today. It's easier as a white person to discount conspiracy theories than it is for blacks.

Loring Wirbel said...

Great column by Kristof, and I think that what is interesting here is how different cultures and races treat the entire process of rationalism and logic deduction, which has tended to be put on a pedestal in white culture since the Enlightenment (and rightly so, I think).

Nearly all whites and many blacks in South Africa, for example, find ex-pres Thabo Mbeki's views on AIDS to be strange, fabulist, and incomprehensible. Yet there are many South Africans who think it is perfectly reasonable to think that AIDS was created at Fort Detrick, or that it can be cured with garlic and yam juice. Racism would say that one belief was more fundamentalist than another, but there are simply different ways of knowing in different cultures. And because I tend to be a pro-scientific-method bigot, I am one of those whites who find Obama's preacher's speeches to be odd. But Kristof is right, the speeches are not being considered in context.

Rauf said...

Ruth, the good news is humans are evolving. And the bad news is, the most powerful are refusing to evolve.
i wonder if i would make a good slave. No one would buy me. i look like a gorilla, i am lazy and good for nothing, i don't like to work. i imagine myself sitting with a herd of people in chains hot and scorching sun in a slave market. i see woman and children stripped naked and checked. by the end of the day i am sitting alone and no one buying me even with a 50% discount.
i tell my owner, you better offer something along with me. Buy rauf and you get two cows free.
but my owner gives me a board to hold reading 'buy a cow and get this man free'
this thought was going in my mind when i recently saw a cattle market in a remote village in Tamil nadu.
Oh it rained heavily yesterday Ruth, all the roads and streets were flooded, power went off for the whole day and the internet and phones were not working. Very unusual for this time of the year.
Things are going horribly wrong all over the world.
This man Obama must shift his attention to the real issue of saving the human race from extinction.
Its a ridiculous idea to save the planet.
We are still busy with greed and racism. Big money makers have realised that there is no money in racism.

oh dear o dear, its started raining again. let me post this comment before the power goes off again

happy Easter to you Don lesley and Peter and to all your readers Ruth.

Ruth said...

Loring, so true about different ways of knowing in different cultures. There is no shame in how any of us know. The shame, I think, is to deny or reject how someone else knows. I appreciate just how you've expressed yourself here. The cool thing is how our own knowing evolves as we absorb other ways of knowing, whether we recognize that or not, or appreciate that or not.

Ruth said...

rauf, I'm tilting my head a little, changing perspective, stepping back. I think things will get very bad. I think our economy may just fall apart. I think we may run out of water. I think circumstances will get worse and worse. But so what if I lose my investments? So what if physical circumstances get worse and life gets harder? Well, the "what" that I hope for is that harder circumstances will make one of two things happen. Either people will evolve uglier (I don't hope for this), or they'll evolve into better people. I'm grateful, for example, to Pres. Bush for pushing things to such an extreme level, because I think people have started waking up and looking for change. Why else are we so receptive to someone like Obama?

If powerful leaders would also start evolving, then there might be hope. Our governments have to evolve. Our economies have to evolve. They are somewhat, but fast enough? I have hope for the younger generation, who are already recognizing that current global strategies are deadly and a new paradigm is necessary.

Ginnie said...

I always "enjoy" reading these conversations, Ruth, and wish I could be a better participant. I do believe we're on the edge of change but have no idea what it will evolve into...or if it will be fast enough. I do hope it will be for the betterment of humanity and that it will not matter how or by whom it happens!

Ruth said...

Boots, I think change will come in fits and starts, maybe one step forward and two back, as they say.