J. Soltys's Weblog

March 21, 2008

Obama’s Speech Not Necessarily Honest

barack-obama.jpg       Normally I don’t dwell into racial politics, but lately, like everyone else, I feel that I have become drawn into. And the reason why I will write about it now is because of the similarities I see between black leaders and feminist leaders. Both groups demand others hold themselves accountable for any “ism”, whether great of small. At the same time, both refuse to offer apologies and hold themselves accountable when some “ism” is found embedded within themselves or within their own groups.

I read Barack Obama’s speech he gave on racism earlier this week and I walked away feeling Obama is a greater idealist rather than a sincere leader for racial healing. More importantly, I feel Obama is starting to show similarities to what I’ve seen in other black leaders who, when faced events resembling racism and hate within their own circles, find someone else or something else to blame for the behavior. Also, many black leaders refuse to apologize to those harmed by their false accusations or invectives when over a period of time, the evidence brought forth concerning an incident proves their zealous assumptions were wrong.

It was Obama’s minister and spiritual adviser Jeremiah Wright and his racist, anti-American sermons that forced Obama into addressing the complex and insidious nature of racism in this country. In his speech he said,

I suppose the politically safe thing would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork. We can dismiss Reverend Wright as a crank or a demagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine Ferraro, in the aftermath of her recent statements, as harboring some deep-seated racial bias. But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now.

This is what raised the first red flag for me concerning Obama’s sincerity. Consider this: Rev. Wright’s inflammatory comments and Obama’s relation to him were brought to Obama’s attention almost a year ago. He made an attempt then to ignore it, and try to distance himself from the controversial minister.
Fast forward to this week, and Obama conveys to the American public that race is such an important issue in society that it shouldn’t be ignored. To the contrary, when confronted with this same information almost a year ago, he chose to ignore it. And it should also be noted that he chose not to address this “serious” issue of racism until he felt compelled to. Only when he was forced into it by the surge in public awareness of his pastor’s controversial remarks, and more importantly, when his popularity polls were suddenly taking a nose dive due to his relations with the pastor, did he begin to assume the role of St. Obama, harbinger of racial healing.

And it should be noted that this presidential candidate, who strongly vocalized how racist behaviors can no longer be ignored, and must be dealt with directly and honestly, actually denied last week that he ever heard such language come from the mouth of Rev. Wright. But in a stunning change, during his “historical” speech, he openly admits to being present and listening to Rev. Wright’s inflammatory sermons.
Is this tackling racist behavior “directly and honestly”?

I remember Mr. Obama being attacked last year by the Rev. Jesse Jackson for acting “too white”. This accusation was made due to Jackson’s frustration with Obama’s slow reaction and commentary to the racially charged Jena 6 controversy. It took Obama and his staff longer than expected to weigh in on the controversy.
Again, a man who is telling others the implications and impact of racism cannot be ignored, had to be goaded into a response concerning Jena 6 with a racist remark from a fellow black leader. Talk about irony!

However, when it came to Don Imus and his infamous “nappy-headed hos” remark towards the mostly black female Rutgers basketball team, Obama chose not to ignore it, and immediately called for NBC to fire Imus.
Talking to ABC News, Obama said,  

“There’s nobody on my staff who would still be working for me if they made a comment like that about anybody of any ethnic group. And I would hope that NBC ends up having that same attitude. He didn’t just cross the line, he fed into some of the worst stereotypes that my two young daughters are having to deal with today in America.”

 BIG red flag!

The remarks by Don Imus were very offensive to his daughters, but the hate-filled racist rants by Obama’s own Rev. Wright were a weekly ritual for Obama and his family. And a black man, who made a name for himself spewing virulent racist remarks, was Obama’s first choice to baptize his daughters – the two people he claims he is trying to shield from such damaging rhetoric. 
For over twenty years he listened to this racist behavior along with family and friends, but not until now did he make an effort to condemn it. In other words, he chose to ignore it – the opposite of his position in his “historic” speech.

So let’s reflect.

If you’re like me, you begin to see some serious bullshit being flung your way. Most notably, you see that when Obama is faced with having to address racism or hate coming from black people that is directed towards white people, he is hesitant to address it. When the racism or hate comes from white people and is directed towards black people, his hesitancy disappears.

This is not unusual behavior for black leaders. When faced with having to condemn one of their own for serious racial divisiveness – just as Obama had to do – blame is always shifted back onto someone else or something else – just as Obama did – and the offender(s) walk away without any serious consequences for their actions – just as Obama allowed for Rev. Wright.
Black leaders protect their own. If we are seriously going to address racism in this country, them we must be willing to understand that just like any other “ism”, it is always a two-way street. While black leaders can hold white people responsible for their racism, when the tables are turned, to prove the sincerity of their cause, they must hold black people just as accountable for their nefarious actions.

Here are some racially charged events where black leaders have avoided holding themselves, or others in the black community, accountable for their actions:

  • In 1987, Tawana Brawley, a black teenager, accuses six white men of raping and beating her. It turns out the allegations were false, but not before the Rev. Al Sharpton unleashes numerous racial inflammatory accusations against the men, particularly Steve Pagones. Pagones eventually sues Sharpton for slander and defamation of character and wins. To this day, Sharpton has openly refused to apologize for any of his remarks, beliefs, or the harmed he caused Pagones and others associated with the Tawana Brawley case. 
  • Sharpton’s National Action Network became involved in tenant-landlord dispute involving Jewish and black building owners in Harlem. Sharpton incites racial overtones into the dispute claiming the Jews and racism are to blame. Some protesters stand outside one Jewish store threatening to burn it down. Sharpton’s own colleague, Morris Powell states, “We’re going to see that this cracker suffers.” Eventually the store is burned down and seven people are killed. Sharpton and his organization deny any responsibility for the incident. 
  • When New York Knicks coach Isiah Thomas is video taped saying white men calling black women whores is wrong, but black men calling black women whores is not as bad, during a sexual harassment deposition, Rev. Sharpton calls for a boycott of Thomas at first, but then forgives Thomas say he was too quick to judge.
  • When female broadcaster Kelly Tilghman, who is white, uses an insensitive remark about “lynching” regarding the play of Tiger Woods, Tiger reviews the context of her comment and accepts her apology saying, “We know unequivocally that there was no ill intent in her comments.” However, the Rev. Al Sharpton refuses to accept Tigers forgiveness, or Tilghman’s apology, and demands she be fired for her irresponsible behavior. He stated in a CNN report, “it is the word — not the person or their history — that matters.”
  • When asked about Rev. Wright, whose daughter also happens to be president of Sharpton’s National Action Network chapter in Chicago, Sharpton told the Chicago Sun-Times that the judgments against Wright are “grossly unfair.” “He has a right to express his views,” he said. “This is ridiculous. I think Jeremiah Wright has been totally distorted.”
  • The Rev. Jesse Jackson positions himself as an ally of the black female accuser in the Duke University rape scandal against a group of young white men. Jackson helps promote the belief that the men accused are guilty based on evidence of historical racism in this country. After the young men are cleared of rape charges, and the original story appears fabricated, Jackson never offers an apology to the accused men. However, the false accuser was given a free college education by Jackson and Operation PUSH. 
  • After the Don Imus controversy, both the Rev. Jackson and Rev. Sharpton come under criticism for their outrage at Imus’ comments towards the Rutgers women. Critics began to question the duo as to why the same outrage is not directed towards black hip-hop artist and black rappers whose words and images of women in their music and videos is much more offensive than Imus’ words. Both Sharpton and Jackson acknowledge this disparity and vow to put pressure on those in the music industry guilty of the same behavior. Within days, they both announce the real blame for the degrading attitude towards women in rap and hip-hop music belongs to the white record producers, not the black artists.
  • Last May, a deer was found in a Baltimore fire station adorned with an afro wig, gold tooth, gold chain, and a cigarette hanging from its mouth.  Marvin “Doc” Cheatham, president of the Baltimore chapter of the NAACP, immediately accused the Baltimore Fire Department of institutional racism. He stated, “There is now and has been a culture of racism and white supremacy within the Baltimore City Fire Department”.  After a black firefighter came forward and admitted he was responsible for the behavior, Cheatam refused to apologize for his harsh words against the white firefighters, and stood defiantly by his original statement.
  • In November of last year, at the same firehouse, a noose was found with a sarcastic note referring to an EMT cheating scandal within the department. Marvin “Doc” Cheatham pounced on the opportunity to prove white racism is rampant in the Baltimore Fire Department, and he demanded the incident be handled as a hate crime – which after the Jena 6 controversy, did result in a federal investigation into the matter. Later, a disgruntled black firefighter confessed to be the perpetrator of the incident, but Cheatham refused to blame him. Instead, he blamed white racism within the fire department for the man’s actions. Cheatham stated, “It really saddens us to hear that evidently things have reached a stage that even an African-American does an injustice to himself and his own people as a result of a negative culture in that department.”

As someone who was schooled, has always worked, and currently lives in a diversified community, it is with confidence that I can say that many middle-class African-Americans do not identify with the current black leaders. They too, have been appalled and disillusioned by some of the actions of these men, but at the same time, they conclude, these men are the only powerful black voices looking out for their people and their issues. This is why Obama has become so popular for them. Not only does he have the opportunity to become the first black president, but besides all his faults, he has become the first black powerful voice of reason for the black community. 

And for that I cannot fault them. I too see Obama as a better leader because of his ability to reason, to understand, and his apparent greater flexibility than the traditional black leaders. But what I saw from him is something that has been present in the equality movements for sometime. I have to challenge what I see as the continuance of the inequality of responsibility that exist in America today. What I mean is the constant need for minority leaders to excuse themselves or those close to them while austerely demanding full accountability and penalties for those who are perceived to have harmed them. 

As a white male, I am willing to hold myself accountable for any “ism” I manifest consciously or unconsciously, but I am not so stupid as to think that only my recognition and accountability of these “ism” is the gateway to harmonious diversity. Sadly, many minority leaders feel the serious work and change belongs with the “other guys”. They truly believe that they are devoid of any “isms”, that somehow they are superior human beings that didn’t succumb to the powerful evils of hate, contempt, and humiliation when they were the targets of those forces. Every time one is brushed by those forces, it leaves its stain, and the power of those emotions become embedded in ones soul. Therefore, to truly reverse these “isms”, everyone must be responsible for their doing their own laundry. This means everyone must be held equally accountable. The past is no excuse for the present; it is only an understanding of how we got here.

I think this is the message Obama was trying resonate. However, I believe in actions not words. If he wants me to believe  in his message, then it must show that it starts with him, and transcends to those close to him. If he begins to hold himself, and those around him as accountable as he did Don Imus, then I will believe him. If he challenges the traditional black leaders in this country concerning their volatile racial messages, then I will stand with him. If he truly wants to help fathers become more involved in their children’s lives, something stated in his speech, then he must address the “isms” in feminism. Only then will I see a man who is sincere about our nation’s future.

Until then, I will reserve my position that Obama is a better politician, than a genuine racial healer.





1 Comment »

  1. Strongly agree! As a young AAF, I can truly say that this was a fair analysis. You know some would disagree, but fair is fair. In order for us to trust each other & move towards any type of healing (whether it’s based on race, gender, or class), we have to be honest, and we have to be ready to expose the ‘wrongs and rights’ on all sides. I don’t trust any politician, & I’m still skeptical about Obama. I’m hoping to see more honest, accountable figures in leadership (no matter what their race, gender, or religious preference is). Who can admit their wrongs before they point fingers? Who can start doing & stop talking?

    Comment by Naomi Martin — March 21, 2008 @ 1:18 pm | Reply

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