Keep Talking

One of the political beliefs I find most difficult to consider  with any charity or without a great deal of frustration is this: ” When it comes to race, President Obama has been the most divisive president ever.”

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I’m not just troubled by this sentiment because I disagree with it, but also because it reminds me how disparate American views are on race, racism and how to stop our most pernicious and  insidious national problem. How can we harpoon the white whale when we can’t even agree on a definition of  the word “divisive”?

I read something like this:

“But you can easily argue that the President Of The United States is a racist based on his rhetoric and his policies.”  – US Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), on CNN June 2016

And I don’t even know where to begin. I’ve got no way to deal with it because it’s not based in reality.

What rhetoric? What policies?  There’s no there there, as the saying goes.

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There is no measure of standard of  living that exists – not employment, not  income, health, education, dealings with law, life expectancy – nothing – which shows anything other than: Black people in America still do not have an equal opportunity to enjoy American prosperity the way white people do.

This doesn’t mean everyone else has it great. It means that African Americans, as a group, by in large, in huge, life and death ways, do not have equality with American white people.

This is the reality, by the numbers. This isn’t opinion. And when President Obama had the “nerve” to mention this reality and to say, as a Black man, he could identify with the fears of Black parents, this is what he got in return:

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Bringing up reality and forcing a national conversation on racism for the benefit of us all isn’t dividing the country.  It’s leading it.

We cannot solve a problem we do not acknowledge.

As patriotic and rational adults, we should be able to hear that racism still exists and not instantly take it to the bizarre conclusion:   “That means you hate white people!”  Because it doesn’t mean that. 

And, hey, I agree, all people can be as bigoted as the next, white, black, Asian, Hispanic, anybody.. But there is a difference between personal bigotry  between individuals and the destructive injustice and inequality caused by racism.  They are both bad, but the latter is far, far more catastrophic. It is not racist to say that. It is factual. Because, again:  There  is no measure of standard of  living that exists – not jobs, income, health, education, dealings with law, life expectancy – nothing – which says anything other than: Black people in America still do not have an equal opportunity to enjoy American prosperity the way white people do.

We should be able to hear this and not freak out or take it personally. We should be able , for example, to hear that cops aren’t perfect and may in fact be humans with implicit biases like the rest of us (as Im sure most cops would agree…)  and not respond with :

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We should be able to hear tough realities and make positive changes. More to the point, we should want to do so; we should want a president who asks us to do so.

 Shouldn’t we?

There is a man, a candidate for president right now, telling my students he would ban their grandparents from coming to the US to visit because wackos claiming their same religion did horrible things. There’s a candidate right now , running for president, who said a judge is innately biased if he isn’t white and that certain types of immigrants are mainly violent criminals.

There’s a candidate right now whose policy response to my sister’s concern for her Black son’s life is basically  “Stop being anti-cop, you racist!’

There’s a man right now, running for president,  whose entire campaign strategy consists of promising a certain segment of white voters he’ll  return them to  a time when they didn’t have to figure out how to live with Spanish-speakers or headscarf-wearers or Black people who complained.

Make American great again, like it used to be, when there was no one around to be afraid of, because everyone was like you.

This same man, running for President of the United States,is more concerned by the lack of American flags at his opponent’s convention than  he is by the lack of non-white American voters at his own. This candidate has, week after week, month after month negated the concerns of racial and religious American minorities making it crystal clear these concerns, and the lives to which they were attached, don’t, in a word,  matter.

I disagree this is unifying. I disagree this is leadership.

I disagree that making people afraid of my students, my sister, my nephew, my neighbors, my fellow citizens is unifying. I disagree this is leadership.

I disagree that it is productive.

I disagree that  it is patriotic.

I disagree that it is moral, honest or right.

I respectfully, emphatically, completely disagree.

(This man Im talking about, for the record, is not named Clinton or Obama or Obozo.)

If we want a country of equality, we can’t just say it.  We have to admit we’re not there yet, to begin with — because we’re not there yet.

And then in pursuit of that more perfect union,  we of the caucasian brand of American need to do some heavy rewriting and change our traditional script. No more denying  the reality of racism, or falsely making “reverse racism” its equivalent. No more constantly saying anyone who brings up race is “just whining” or  “race baiting” or “playing the race card” or “calling  all white people racists.”

No more saying this:

“Why does he have to call himself African-American or Black? Why can’t he just call himself American. That’s so divisive!”

And then turning around five minutes later and saying this:

“I wish the Black community would  just admit their boys are killing each other. The African American community really needs to get its act together.”

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Because if we want a country that lives up to its ideals, we each have to be part of the engine that gets it there.  We have to know each other’s names, not call each other names. We have to build community, which is hard, and not build walls, which any seven year old with a sand bucket can do.  We have to be brave. We have to be patriotic- meaning we love our country by loving its people, even the ones with whom we struggle to find common ground.

Diversity is not some hippy-dippy dream, multiculturalism isn’t some politically correct construct. We’re talking about the nuts-and-bolts, inalterable,way of the world. We’re talking about “e pluribus unum.”

And we’ve been talking about it since 1776.

Let’s not stop in 2016.

“…we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can do that…That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, “Not this time.” This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children…This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care….This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life….This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag.”   — Barack Obama, 2008.

If that’s “Obozo,”  then make my uber a clown car, people.

‘Cause  #ImWithHim.

Thanks for reading,

Beth

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