Point of View Columns

Land of the Free and the Home of the Blind

When historians look back at the United States of America several centuries from now they will be amazed at how intractable and inscrutable the issue of race was in this country. They will also be amazed at the depth of commitment to self-deception that was adopted by the overwhelming majority of white Americans. And finally, they will be amazed that any white Americans were amazed when the daily grind of racism and racist behavior was brought to light – how they were shocked, absolutely shocked – like Captain Louis Renault in Casablanca was shocked that there was gambling in Rick’s Café, even as he pocketed his weekly payoff.

Let us count the ways in which America’s true color-blindness makes itself known. Consider the eight of the first ten American presidents were slaveholders – to be clear, they owned, sold, beat, raped and killed black Americans. Historical accounts indicate that there were no “nice” slave plantations, only different levels of Hell.

Yet the profitable human bondage presided over by these presidents are either airbrushed out of history or they are given a pass due to the “way things were in those days”. This historical malpractice might be acceptable to white Americans, but it is a cruel and sinful slap in the face for every black American. Indeed, the acceptance of this sad history is so pervasive and perverse that it is a cause for challenge and argument to contemplate the moral bankruptcy of this particular status quo.

Consider that just a few weeks ago a memorial to the wholesale lynching of black Americans opened in Montgomery, Alabama to muted and limited national news coverage. This, despite the fact that this memorial documents the fact that over 4,000 black men, women and children were lynched in these United States between 1876 and 1960.

And consider that while this domestic reign of terror rained true fire and fury on black Americans, white Americans of every political persuasion typically stood by, if they did not actively participate, as these atrocities were repeated with demonic regularity. Every U.S. President during this era from the feckless Rutherford Hayes to the Roosevelt cousins to the inveterate racist Wilson to Truman to Eisenhower to Kennedy, no American president or his supporters ever took a stand against the lynching of black Americans. And clearly lynching should be inextricably linked to slavery, America’s other original sin.

So it really should come as no surprise that when two peaceful black men were arrested for taking up space in a Starbuck’s that white Americans professed to be shocked at getting another glimpse at what a daily dose of racism looks like. Meanwhile black Americans are fully aware that the Starbuck’s treatment is just what the American Way looks like through brown eyes. It is a virtual truth that most black Americans have had their presence questioned – in a department store, hotel, first-class seat on an airplane, standing in the your grandmother’s backyard or just driving an expensive car – and the Starbuck’s Treatment is just part of what James Brown called “Living in America”.

The saddest part of this most recent evidence of the reality of racism in America is that now Starbucks will close all 8000 stores on May 29th for a day-long session on “bias training”. What is so sad is that in 2018 white Americans need to be “trained” to treat black Americans like human beings.

And what every black American already knows is that one day will not be enough. Not at Starbucks. Not anywhere in these United States.

Point of View Columns

Obama’s got a Brand New Bag

When seasons change it is rarely dramatic, but rather it is gradual. We sense a difference before we realize it. And so it has been with President Obama. There has been a change in the man during these last several months. He has spoken with greater clarity, acted with greater boldness and he has transformed his vision into deeds. As the noted poet James Brown might have said:

He ain’t no drag
Papa’s got a brand new bag

Let’s look at the facts. For over a half century this country has pursued the bizarre policy of trying to isolate and destroy Cuba. This policy has been adhered to by Republican and Democratic administrations even while alliances have been forged with countries that have no love for the United States, China and Russia come to mind, and with countries with a bloody and painful history for Americans, Vietnam, Germany and Japan certainly come to mind.

Through much of his presidency Barack Obama has sought to reason with the adherents of embargo and persuade the Cuba deniers. And then, a few months ago, he directed that this country commence formal diplomatic relations with Cuba. And now there will be an American embassy in Havana and a Cuban embassy in Washington. He just did it.

He’s not too fancy but his line is pretty clean

Here’s another fact. When President Obama spoke at the funeral services in Charleston after the Mother Emanuel Massacre, he did something that no American president has ever done. He referenced the Confederate flag and pointed out the obvious, it stands for cause of the preservation and protection of white supremacy and racial slavery and that cause was wrong.

It is not clear which is more amazing – that it took over 150 years for an American president to state the obvious or that President Obama abandoned subtlety on a matter of race and spoke the truth plain and simple. In any event, he just did it.

Don’t play him cheap ’cause you know he ain’t shy

Even before he was elected president, Barack Obama had championed the cause of criminal justice reform. But, with too many in Congress still repeating the failed and hoary mantra of “tough on crime”, no real legislative changes have taken place. But now, President Obama has commuted the sentences of scores of non-violent drug offenders who have been serving decades in prison while killers and robbers and rapists have gone in and out of prison during their time of incarceration. And by commuting these sentences President Obama has sent a clear message that criminal justice reform simply must become a reality.

He’s doing the Fly ev’ry day and ev’ry night

Most recently, upon the announcement of the nuclear arms treaty with Iran, a reporter sought to depict President Obama as “celebrating the treaty while Americans were still languishing in Iranian prisons”. The president spoke truth to the goad and told the reporter that his question was “nonsense” although one could tell that a more graphic and barnyard epithet was very close to the surface. In the past President Obama might have endured yet another in the cavalcade of insults that have passed his way over the past six years, but this time he responded in kind. He just did it.

These changes in President Obama are historically important and will in turn change the way that the presidency functions in the future. He just did it.

Papa’s got a brand new bag