O Harry: Because Sometimes Your Friends are Ignorant

It’s always a tricky bit of navigation when your friends say or do something ignorant. I remember a couple of occasions in church, I was attending a mostly white church at the time, and one of the members patted me on head. On another occasion, the pastor compared me to “a faithful dog” from the pulpit. For better or worse, I chalked those things up to well-meaning, but ignorant gestures. Perhaps she didn’t get the memo that the whole rub the head of a black guy has some pretty racist origins or maybe he didn’t get that comparing black folks to animals might not play well considering a history or dehumanization. I often got the “you’re the whitest black guy I know” (which I often heard as “you’re the only black guy I know and I only associate with you because you sound and seem to act a lot like me so you don’t scare me”) because I don’t “sound” black.

Which is why it didn’t exactly shock me that Senator Harry Reid had described Obama—as reported in the new political gossip book, “Game Change” by John Heileman and Mark Halperin—as a “light-skinned” African-American “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.” There was a steady chorus of people who bought into the idea that “the first black president” is actually not black.* The comments were being made on both sides of the political aisle and from across the spectrum of race. The “am I black enough for you” debate even raged in the black community (Reverend Jesse Jackson says what?).**

Race is the third rail in politics, in the church, and, well, most of our lives. If there is to be any hope of reconciliation, there has to be a sharing and hearing of stories and some of the conversations are going to be tough (and, as a friend of mine points out, you can’t have a conversation about anything by starting it with “Your voice doesn’t count.”) Now, I know some Republicans want to make hay of this incident, calling folks on the seeming-hypocrisy of Senator Trent Lott having to step down over his comments versus the gymnastics folks do to defend someone they like. And they’d have a point, except that conversations about race shouldn’t happen in a vacuum, but rather have a context. (Though, seriously, Senator Lott, how do you think trying to spin someone’s segregationist past is a good idea or that it wouldn’t get you into trouble? But again, if you have built up a lot of good will, you can step into such firestorms to make the point you thought you were making because friends can have those kind of tough conversations. If you don’t have that kind of good will built up…]

Every few years we have these sort of dust ups, so we were about due. Not too long ago we had Don Imus referring to the women of the Rutgers basketball team as “some nappy-headed hos.” After so many offenses, he rather struck me as an equal opportunity offender, but it led to the conversation about how there are some words and phrases “off limits” to certain folks in certain contexts and the situation resolved by the offended parties speaking up and reprimands given.

We also had Kelly Tilghman, play-by-play announcer for The Golf Channel’s PGA Tour broadcasts, while bantering with Nick Faldo about young players who might challenge Woods suggesting that they “lynch him in a back alley.” In short, it’s stupid and you can’t say it. However, I don’t think she should have been suspended. I think her apology should have stood on its own, she should have been simply reprimanded, and the conversations had about why what she said was a poor choice of words. We can’t police every bad sentence, because that would stifle conversations that still need to be had.

“I’ve apologized to the president, I’ve apologized to everyone that within the sound of my voice that I could have used a better choice of words,” Reid has said. Apologies happen for a reason. Sometimes folks simply don’t get that what they did was hurtful or demeaning and their apologies should stand and be accepted on their face value (even if the incidents themselves aren’t forgotten because we know that forgiveness takes time). Just like folks ought to be judged by their deeds and track record.

Just because folks are your friends doesn’t mean that they aren’t capable of saying and doing ignorant things. Just like I’m sure there will be another RaceFail conversation in the genre fiction world as we muddle through what it means to live with one another, deal with the history of hurts with of one another, be different from one another, and respect one another.

*Now, I can’t wait to see the gymnastics folks do if President Bill Clinton’s alleged comment about President Obama—“ a few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee.”—prove to be accurate. After all, President Clinton was widely held as our “first black president.”

** Better to discuss this than the reality of what it means to be black in America, dealing with what W.E.B. DuBois called the “double consciousness” of black folks. How many of us may “act” or “speak” one way when we are in professional settings and then another when we’re at home or in a “safe” place.

[That and sometimes our “friends” are just too ignorant for words: “I’m blacker than Barack Obama. I shined shoes. I grew up in a five-room apartment. My father had a little laundromat in a black community not far from where we lived,” ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich said to Esquire Magazine. “I saw it all growing up.”] With a h/t to the blackfolks LJ:

Not in My Lifetime

I watched an old black woman laughing. Crying. Laughing and crying and saying joyfully “I’m glad I lived long enough to see this! Oh God! I’m glad I lived long enough to see this!”

They looked like people taking their first breath and really enjoying it. I didn’t see the haggard, submissive expression. I saw enthusiastic joy, free from restraint. If you saw it, if you heard it, there’s no way that a human being couldn’t be touched by it. How many people last night and this morning took their first real breath?

A friend of mine recently commented that she’s “just a white girl from a small town” but she just doesn’t get the near-messianic expectation surrounding Barack Obama being black and elected. Not why people broke down and cried, not why folks danced in the streets, or stayed up so late. Or why my cell phone blew up election night as every black person in my directory called or got called, all sharing a similar refrain. It boiled down to four words “not in my lifetime”.

Being just a white girl means, directly or not, she’s lived in the comfort of being in the majority and of white privilege. It means she’s never had to worry about being excluded from a system or the feeling of being targeted by that same system. It means she never had to live under a government whose constitution saw her as 3/5 human. It means you haven’t had to exist in the toxic mentality of “you can’t do that if you’re black”, “white people are against you”, and limited opportunities leaving you half-defeated before you start. It means you haven’t had to deal with images of you, in television and movies, leaving folks saying/thinking things like

You gold-teeth, gold-chain-wearing,fried-chicken-and-biscuit-eatin’,monkey, ape, baboon, big thigh,fast-running, three-hundred-sixty-degree-basketball-dunking spade Moulan Yan. Go the f*#$ back to Africa

It means that all no matter how false you think the majority of that mentality and stereotypes are, we’re still left with the reality of our history and experience: slavery was during my great-great-grandmother’s lifetime, segregation during my grandfather’s, the Civil Rights struggle during my father’s, the Tuskeegee Experiments during mine.

We still live in a world of rampant drug use/trade, a lack of educational opportunities, ghettos, and people incarcerated at alarming rates; however, progress has been made. At least my kids won’t have to face the dilemma of whether or not they should “pass” and forever hide and be tacitly ashamed of the fact that they are half black (“Daddy I’d be white cause it sounds easier.” –Malcolm Broaddus when I tried explaining to my six year old the idea of segregation).

Most important to the Obama victory was the long struggle of black Americans to be incorporated in the public sphere. No, President Barack Obama won’t redeem white people from the sin of racism (or whatever else some folks might imagine the import of his election might mean). But he represents a beacon of hope and the promise of change. His election might portend a true shift in our culture and how we see and treat one another. That is the root of the expectation: the hope of a better tomorrow in light of our many tragic yesterdays. Something many of us never thought we’d see in our lifetimes.

Edited to add this:

My Country
The Day Before, January 19, 2009
By Linda D. Addison

Here we stand, breath held,
sweet land of liberty
of thee we dream,
land where my ancestors
sleep easier now, freedom
will ring brighter in coming days.

Stars and stripes forever
red, white and blue
bringing us all home
finally, willing to be
responsible, each person finally
willing to be American.

History confronted, the stain,
violence, oppression faced
in the light of today, moved aside
for the Grace of Presence,
allowing forgiveness to begin,
the dissipation of karma.

Here we stand, breath held,
the day before liberty
dances, full and bright,
a land of humans, each
needing hope and peace,
willing to be American.


Obama and FaceBook Love

November 3, 2008
The Day Before
By Linda D. Addison

On the other side of this day
when voting is done,
counting finished, America
will be different,
history will document
this country
standing for
equality in a way
than can never be
denied again, in the face
of our own declarations
we will make a step
to Equality for all.

Remember this day
you will be different
whether you want to or not,
agree or not,
we have said
we stand for equality
for all, tomorrow
it will be closer to

With a Democratic House and Senate, I’m curious to see what all he accomplishes. Regardless, now, as always, I pray for our president and our nation. Of course, I immediately got this bit of love on my FaceBook wall:

Rejoice while you can. you sold your soul and for what? A black president? I’m all for a black president but no one, of any race, that stands for what he stands for should be in power. America will now to be run by a man who delights in MURDERING babies, a terrorist sympathizer (but wait the dwelling place is arrogant enough to think you’ve replaced Israel), & he’s a socialist. Well I hope it works out. As far as I’m concerned, America is gone, the values are gone, God has judged us, and everyone who sold their soul to the devil will rejoice for a time but one day God will restore Israel to their rightful place as His firstborn, the Jews will be exalted, any true Christians left will be in a new heaven & new Earth & everyone who sided with evil will be held accountable. So all the obama supporters should rejoice while they can b/c one day they will all pay the price of killing 40 million babies, cursing Israel, fighting for gay rights which is an abomination to God. good luck with that

Um. Yeah. Another satisfied Dobson customer. If you play by the politics of fear, then it should be no surprise when your people run scared.

So I’ll close out this political season by leaving you with Brian Keene’s The Day After: ‘We The People…’ and Feo Amante’s My Guy Lost and …

Not Dancing to the Tune of the Pied Dobson

Up until a few months ago, I was still getting political forwards in my e-mail inbox. In light of a few posts, I quit getting them, however, my wife had no such luck and received the letter from 2012 from James Dobson’s Focus on the Family. Ok, I’ll admit, James Dobson’s antics this political season have been getting on my nerves for a while (and this isn’t including the time he went after SpongeBob SquarePants). This fictional letter is written by a Christian from 2012 informing readers of the horrors that may happen if Barack Obama is elected president. I’m officially dubbing this letter Project Fail (and I’ll lump into it this project all of the tactics of fear-mongering and race baiting).

We get it in our heads that one political party speaks for Christendom. I have no problem with our spirituality informing our politics, but have huge problems with our politics informing our spirituality. When politics becomes our religion, with only two agenda points that all “right thinking Christians”/“True Believers” need to base their vote on: abortion and gay marriage. We position leaders to whom we look to for salvation. Their stump speeches become sermons. Their rallies serve as revival meetings.

It cuts both ways. There are black churches that condemn Republicans as evil (and black Republicans as sell outs) and white churches that proclaim that the Republican agenda God’s agenda, and anyone against it amoral, irreligious, or anti-God. I’ve been to Republican and Democratic meetings and found them both attended by people who love this country and seek its best interests (and both opened their meetings in prayer, but this is Indiana).

As a church-cum-political action committee, we’ve been out to amass and wield power. This is the epitome of being of the world and conforming to its ways. I chalk up Project Fail as the last gasp of the Christian right as we’ve known it, though I fully expect 2012 to bring us a new brand of conservative. I’ve been doing some thinking about the idea of the Christian right and how they’ve framed a lot of the discussion about Christianity and politics, and I’ve come to a few conclusions:

1) Have you ever wondered that whenever folks talk about the Christian right, what “the church” should be doing, and Evangelicals in general, that maybe they should just say “white, conservative Evangelicals”? With the size of the black church in America, do you really think “all right thinking Christians” jumped on the Reagan/Bush/Gingrich bandwagon?

2) Religion informing politics is not a bad idea … on paper. In practice is where things become muddled. Actually, they only become muddled when the idea becomes prescriptive rather than descriptive. Here’s what I mean. I have spiritual beliefs that have defined my political views on things. I’m pro-life. I believe we need to be stewards of the environment. I believe we ought to be about “the least of these” (the poor, widows, children, etc). Now HOW we’re to accomplish those things are up for debate. I can’t just say “all right thinking Christians need to define pro-life ‘this way’ and we can only accomplish the end goal of our position with ‘this method.'”

3) There’s the rise of Christian left. I’m talking about the Brian McLarens, the Shane Clairbornes, the Jim Wallis’ of the world. I don’t think this is either good or bad (as jumping into bed with Democrats is no better a solution than jumping in bed with Republicans). What this does accomplish is re-frame the discussion so that there’s not just “one Christian way” to do things. there can be other ideas and actions that can be just as much Christian.

In the fervor of the election season, I can’t help but be reminded of the Old Testament Israelites who clamored for a king. They had some good kings and some bad kings, often getting the leader they deserved. I don’t look to politics to solve many of our problems, no matter who is in office. The church is not a political action committee. The church has a mission, a missio dei, God’s mission. The church needs to be about manifesting God’s love in sacrificial service to the world. We’ll soon know who the new leader of our country is and whoever it is, I will remember two things: 1) to pray for him and 2) that God is sovereign.

Yes, I’m Still Pro-Life. Are You?

So in light of my black Republican yet pro-Obama stance, the number one question I’ve been asked of late is “I thought you were pro-life?” My stance on the issue isn’t that different from Senator Obama’s. I fear a ban would force women to seek unsafe abortions. I am also not going to be the one to tell a woman she can’t have an abortion in the case of rape or her life being in danger. I would rather reduce the number of women who feel the need to have abortions in the first place. But I don’t stop there.

A lot of those babies folks work themselves into a tizzy to see born are put up for adoption, enter our foster system, or otherwise become neglected. It’s like most folks quit caring for them once they are here. If we’re to be true pro-lifers, we need to always be about the “least of these”, the poor, the exploited, the abused, the abandoned. For those focused on their Christian duty to have as many kids as possible, to “have a full quiver” as it were, if you have room in your quiver we need to be the first to be adopting babies.

None of my pro choice friends cheer for more abortions though they are demonized as holding that position. The abortion issue is not my litmus test for politicians because I don’t see Roe vs. Wade overturning or necessarily want it to be, if I’m being completely honest. I am very much about letting people have choices, and a bad choice should be folks option (and back alley abortions does no one any good).

However, in this day and age, with contraception being so easy and relatively inexpensive, it’s far more safe and humane to prevent pregnancy rather than terminate one. The whole abortion as contraception thing bothers me to the core. Late-term abortions are pretty much indefensible.
Abortion is a moral issue, a battle that needs to be waged on the level of the individual, not legislatively (though if folks want to be done with it as an issue, it should be put to amendment vote).

So yes, I’m still pro-life. I still believe life begins at conception, but being pro-life means that I don’t stop worrying about kids once they’re born. Being pro-life means I don’t get to move away from all “the problems” of the city and build personal compounds in the suburbs. It means that all life is valuable, the unborn, the underserved, the abandoned, the forgotten. Here’s the bottom line, a nuanced position is hard to encapsulating into a bumper sticker.

Black Republicans and Obama

I’m a black Republican. I know what you think that means (<–). Politically I think I lean to the right, though apparently my love for social justice and environmental concerns doesn’t allow me to exist there comfortably. I believe in personal responsibility and the community taking care of its poor. I’m a capitalist who believes that with great wealth comes great responsibility, and spending has to be tempered with compassion. I think that Democrats take the black vote for granted and the Republicans have written off the black vote. And I want my taxes cut.

Here’s the thing: apparently the Republicans don’t want my vote. Despite the fact that the country rapidly diversifies, the Republican convention far from reflected that. Only 36 of the 2,380 delegates seated on the convention floor were black, the lowest numbers since they have been tracked. We saw visual evidence of no black Republican having served as governor, senator, or house member in the last six years. On a personal level, the historical significance of casting a vote for the first legitimate black presidential candidate hasn’t been lost on me.

But I’m not going to vote for someone just because of their color. I could only imagine the outrage if a white person, regardless of party, announced they were voting for a white candidate because of a white pride moment.

I still find myself comfortable with the idea of voting for Obama since his message of change and hope resonate with me and I’m a big fan of intelligent candidates displaying their intelligence, not condescending to play at being “the average Joe” when clearly anyone running for the Presidency has long been removed from the story of the average American. It’s not like I have abandoned my values. I’m still pro-life, lower taxes, strong defense and strong families. I think the main reason I’m comfortable with the prospect of President Obama is because I’m tired of political labels over-simplifying people’s positions. The label put on me is pro-life, but that simplifies my more nuanced position. I don’t know anyone who advocates America having a weak defense. And I don’t know any candidate that runs on a weak family platform.

President Bush captured 8 % of the black vote in 2000 and 11% in 2004. Maybe the Republicans are writing off the black vote moreso than usual this year. Still, if they’re not going to try, they have less room to complain when we don’t show up at the table. I’m a black Republican, but I’m more than my label. Memo to both parties: black votes count.

It Ain’t No Lie … Bayh, Bayh, Bayh

Since I live next to my television, it should come as no surprise that I see plenty of parallels between this election and the last season of The West Wing. Wiley Republican veteran, with a leftist streak which get him oft-labeled an independent going up against a younger, less experienced but idealistic Congressman (whose lack of experience makes him seem both naïve or untainted) cut from the cloth of a minority group.

On the show, the young minority candidate was going to lose, except the actor that portrayed his vice presidential choice died in real life. So, the election story essentially turned on the choice of vice-president.

After today’s rally, I’ve really been thinking about what could have been. Barack Obama needed to choose an experienced political hand to be his vice presidential candidate. Joe Biden was an alright choice, prone to the occasional gaffe, but I still wish it could have been Evan Bayh. Bayh once again is a bridesmaid and not the bride: he’s been talked about being a vice presidential nominee since the early 1990s when Bill Clinton first ran. Indiana is a largely Republican state, yet he managed to win the top job, putting a key Republican state in play. More fiscally conservative, still out of the Clinton mold without having the last name Clinton (but was so supportive of the Clintons that his presence could win over their supporters).

On the other side of the aisle, I’d have loved to have seen J.C. Watts be the vice presidential nominee for McCain. He’s conservative and black and would both solidify his lukewarm base as well as signal a more progressive Republican ticket. Instead, though true to the mandate of remaining historically relevant, John McCain went with the Republican version of a rock star in Sarah Palin. Love her or hate her, she’s gotten the base energized.

So the campaign continues to play out in West Wing season 7 fashion. Maybe the economic crisis will prove to be McCain’s equivalent of the October/Nuclear Power Plant crisis. So part of me is pretty much rooting for the best storyline.

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The Obama Rally – If I had Tweeted It

8:20 a.m. My brother arrives to pick me up and immediately hates that my Obama shirt is cooler than his.

9:00 a.m. We arrive at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. Slight hitch in our plan: we were hoping that black folks would be on C.P. time. But no, everyone was on white people time today.

9:10 a.m. We found the line.

9:20 a.m. The line is still going.

9:25 a.m. I stopped to have my picture taken for the 4th time.

9:30 a.m. The child behind us proclaims “Daddy! The line finally ended!”

9:35 a.m. My brother threatens to kick a kid in the head for not liking his shirt as much as mine.

9:40 a.m. Gates open early. The volunteers are thorough. We were checked every five feet for stickers, tickets, and voting early.

10:15 a.m. Seated. After more pics were taken of me.

10:30 a.m. I’m enjoying George Pelecanos’ Down by the River Where the Dead Men God. Nick Stefanos isn’t as cool as his Derek Strange character, but it’s an all right ride.

10:45 a.m. Random “Yes We Can” outburst. I figure it’s the equivalent of doing the wave at a Colt’s game.

10:50 a.m. Waiting for folks to notice that the crowd on the bleachers behind where Obama will be speaking is too white.

10:51 a.m. Made that observation aloud and got Amen-ed.

11:00 a.m. Come on now. Didn’t we agree on a moratorium on playing “Celebration” at events?

11:10 a.m. Andre Carson waved to the crowd. Crowd goes nuts.

11:25 a.m. I’m really craving deep-fried anything at this point.

11:30 a.m. The handlers took a few soldiers (of color) from the Obama Mosh Pit and put them in the bleachers.

11:45 a.m. The Obama bus pulls in.

11:47 a.m. The Obama Mosh Pit starts changing “Jerry, Jerry, Jerry” prior to Col. Jerry leading us in the Pledge of Allegiance.

11:55 a.m. The Democratic Gubernatorial nominee spoke. A lamb to the Mitch Daniel’s slaughter (my casual straw poll indicated that no one around me was sure of her name). We’ll see just how long Obama’s coat tails are.

12:00.m. Andre Carson continues the legacy of the Carson Family Juggernaut. Young. Handsome. Charismatic. Great speaker. And his wife’s the vice principal at my boys’ school.

12:30 p.m. Evan Bayh is greeted like a rock star.

12:45 p.m. OBAMA!!!

12:50 p.m. Loud anti-Obama guy gets seriously shouted down (and apparently escorted out)

1:03 p.m. We’re having church now.

1:10 p.m. Obama holds back the rain with a wave of his hand.

1:20 p.m. Obama wraps it up.

1:30 p.m. More pics are taken of me.

1:45 p.m. Stuck in the Obama jam.

Take home lessons: Lyndon Johnson was the last Democrat to carry Indiana. Our state is very much in play this year (a bad sign for the Republicans). The economic crisis may be John McCain’s October surprise. And getting folks high on good will and a positive vibe definitely beats playing to folks’ fear and racism. Hope is a powerful aphrodisiac. My brother is still nursing his man-crush on Obama.

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