Barack Obama · culture/multiculturalism · Hispanics/Latinos · homosexuality · immigration · Jesus · Jews/Jewish/Judaism/Orthodox Judaism · religion

Obama’s First Anniversary Celebration

Obama has (almost) survived his first year in office unscathed—the anniversary of his election was Nov. 4–and how better to celebrate that than a bunch of juicy articles on racism….you know, that crisis, the mini-daily civil wars, most people thought he’d solve (before healthcare, before wars in distant lands) by entering the oval office.
Do I sound cynical? It’s probably because someone just said something slightly racist to me. Someone who probably also voted for Obama. And then someone said something about how strange white people who touch my hair without permission is like…too graphic, I can’t tell you. Sigh. On a regular basis when I tell someone racism is still alive and well, they respond with some version of “Well, Obama was elected president so get over it.” I’d love to.
But enough about me, I wanted to write about an illuminating experience. A reader emailed me that something I had written had triggered an unfortunate response. Words that I had written carelessly and quickly had left her shell-shocked. At first, I was confused then, very quickly to my surprise, angry. Was she accusing me of being racist? Insensitive? Me? I let these thoughts play around in my head before I responded.

After a while, I realized this was a teachable moment for me, a good lesson. This is “those white Jewish college students” feel when I sit them down and talk about how things they say carelessly and quickly are, in fact, racist or at the very least, “racial.” (People freak out when you say things they are doing are racist even if they are so now we dance around the word “racist.” Mention white privilege and they’ll get REALLY pissed!) They’re floored at having to think about things like “word choice” in every day conversations because of how they could seriously do damage to other people. This goes against the thinking: “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Oh, words do hurt. Do they ever hurt!

I changed the words I used in the offending blog post. I realized that those words weren’t very important to me but they were of immense important to my reader. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t meant them in a hurtful way because they had hurt someone nonetheless. And it was more important that my words not hurt that reader and readers like her than that I get to throw them around carelessly and quickly.

Mostly, I’d rather be politically correct and “over sensitive” than be an —hole any day. (And if you flinched despite the bleeped out section, you should know, that was my intent.)

Here is a great comment on the blog, “Stuff White People Do,” which has illuminated a lot of things for me in dealing with particularly stubborn whites on anti-racism stuff. Now, I can spot almost every attempt to derail the conversation: from questioning whether or not something is really racism to (my personal favorite) calling out minorities on their own racism (because let me get this straight, some white people would like the same rights as blacks to call each other the n-word?).

This is how I try to look at these sorts of things: How would I feel if someone did something to me that really legitimately hurt my feelings, in a public setting, and that they completely did not understand why it hurt my feelings, and tried to excuse their behavior? What if they insisted I was crazy or somehow in the wrong for having my feelings hurt?

I think that as a human being, it is my job to step back and think and not do things that could potentially hurt someone. Not to do things that I could logically reason out might hurt someone’s feelings, and then go ahead and do them anyway and put the onus on them to come to me and tell me.

Sometimes, we’ll all do things that hurt people by accident. It happens. And then we have to step back and think about what we did and why it was hurtful. But if you have something presented to you openly and are asked to think about whether something may be hurtful, and some people say that they might be personally hurt or affronted by it, then to me, it’s time to stop rationalizing it and listen to the person who feels like that behavior hurts them.


And now those articles!
“A Job Too Big for One Man” (NY Times)

The uniqueness of Mr. Obama provides both obstacles and opportunities. My students have found that many young inner city blacks, while they admire him, find him too remote from their lives to be a role model. His policies, if properly carried out, might very well improve their chances in life, but in the end he is more likely to influence the racial attitudes of middle-class blacks and younger white Americans. This is all we can reasonably expect. It will take far more than a single presidency to fully end America’s long struggle with race.

You know, guys, it’s totally possible that ending racism in America is a job too big for one man. It’s a job for all of us. Now let’s get on with it.

“Racial hope fades despite Obama” (Chicago Tribune)

It is a sign of our progress that racism has been driven underground, if not eliminated. But racial suspicions rise to fill the gap. For example, it is hard for me to read about church pastors like the Rev. Wiley Drake of Buena Park, Calif., or Pastor Steven Anderson of Tempe, Ariz., who have both proudly prayed for Obama to die soon and not wonder about how race might be a motivating factor in their prayers.

But race is such a touchy topic these days that you can be accused of being a racist just for bringing it up. Obama’s thoughts on racial profiling led Fox News star Glenn Beck to call the president “a racist” who “hates white culture.” When CBS’ Katie Couric later asked Beck, “What is white culture?” he looked surprised. He accused Couric of trying to “trap” him and refused to answer. That’s too bad. I, too, would like to know what he means by white culture.

Race, Psychology, and Family Dynamics” (The Angry Black Woman Blog)

“Someday someone will explain to me this fascination America has with the idea that Michelle Obama has white relatives like it’s remotely unusual for a descendant of slaves in America. I notice with all the talk of “So and so was impregnated by X slaveowner” and the rush to interview the white relatives so they can say the obligatory “I’d love to reunite with that side of the family and talk about our history” no one discusses exactly how so many mulattoes came to be born during and after slavery. I know the story of the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings has been played as very romantic, but I sincerely doubt that even if it was that way for them, the same is true of Michelle Obama’s great great great grandmother’s relationship with the man that bought her when she was 6 and impregnated her at 15.”

Shakes head.

“Neo-Nazi Rallies Provoke ‘Anger, Fear'” (NPR)

The National Socialist Movement, a neo-Nazi group, is holding two rallies in Arizona and Minnesota on Saturday to demonstrate against illegal immigration. Similar rallies in Riverside, Calif., near Los Angeles, have led to violent clashes with counter-protesters.
Late last month, a rally near a day-laborer site in Riverside attracted about two dozen members of the National Socialist Movement (NSM), who wore World War II-era Nazi garb. They were outmatched by about 700 counter-protesters.

Mouth hanging open. Wait a minute…we give neo-Nazis equal rights? Obama is president and Neo-Nazis can march in California where there are a million of those “Mexicans, Jews and homosexuals” Neo-Nazis hate?! G-d bless America! WTF! So damn scary I can’t even write about this coherently.
“In this race case, it’s not always black and white” (Variety)

Among the latest fracases in a media sphere with an unquenchable appetite for them, a Catholic group expressed outrage over a broadly comic scene in HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” in which Larry David’s character inadvertently splashes urine on a painting of Jesus. The conservative lobbying organization the Catholic League pounced on this indignity, yielding headlines like “Catholics PO’ed at Larry David.

Seriously, I don’t believe in Jesus but I wouldn’t pee on him either. Um, duh. Please G-d, I truly hope no one thought Larry David was representing the entire Jewish people in that moment. In fact, in case there’s any confusion, I would like to apologize to my former brethren the Catholics right now for Larry David. Obama, I hope you’re watching…after you end racism, you can get to ending insensitivity and stupidity in general.

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