Why the Furor?

May 6, 2008

Why the Furor?

Two or three months ago Michelle Obama said: “For the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country. And not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change.” She also said: “Things have gotten progressively worse, throughout my lifetime, through Democratic and Republican administrations, it hasn’t gotten better for regular folks.”

Why the furor? Is everyone in denial? How would you like to be black in this the land of the free where you comprise 13% of the total population and 49% of the prison population? I’m not black; I’m a run of the mill white guy but I’m not blind either by circumstance or by choice. I absolutely understand why a black, Princeton and Harvard Law School graduate would say this.

We in America have swept our bigotry against blacks under the rug but it’s still there and I believe that in our incredible capacity for denial we have made believe that it’s over. It’s far from over and I believe that, unless we talk about it and admit it, it will continue to fester and get worse.

I used to consider myself racist because of my thoughts. When watching an athletic event I look for the white guy in the lineup. If I happen to see a boxing match I begin to root for the white guy. I used to see cars double parked and assume their drivers were black. I would be more wary of a group of black teenagers than white ones in similar situations so, I thought, I must be racist.

I am not racist because I choose not to be in spite of these thoughts which were long ago implanted in my mind. I grew up in a time of blatant racism against blacks and I was imprinted with many lies about their intellectual inferiority. “Quarterbacks were white because blacks weren’t smart enough.” “Offensive lines were mostly white because these positions required people to think.” Millions of families, mine included, left perfectly good neighborhoods because they were “changing”.

I believed these lies as a young boy and continued to for years regardless of contrary evidence. Finally, something happened, I began to wake up to this evidence and to question premises which had been fed to me for years.

I’ve learned that even though these thoughts continue to pop up into my consciousness I am not a racist. But I would have continued to be racist if I did not admit that thoughts like this still come and, if I had not questioned them, if I had allowed my imprinting to continue to guide me. Now, when they come I simply notice and dismiss them and if they persist I ask myself where’s the fear that has me in this wrong state of mind.

This kind of imprinting is very difficult to get rid of and, in my case, never seems to leave. So I simply remain aware of it and accept it when it comes; not beating myself up for it; just accepting it as one of the many lies taught to me as a youth.

I wonder how many of us go through life without questioning the teachings from our childhood.

Posted May 6, 2008

2 Comments

In Obama we have an honest candidate who is being whipsawed by a jaded press, cynical campaigners and a public habituated to feeling victimized and fearful. Clinton is looking more and more like a Democratic version of Bush - the end justifies any means. It’s what we are all familiar with. The public feels undeserving of something better or purer.

Nevertheless, the nation has a wonderful opportunity to move society in a direction that is founded upon real spiritual principles like honesty and charity, instead of the fear, paranoia and intolerance which has ruled the nation for nearly eight years and which has its roots in the arrogance and mass insanity of Fundamentalist Christianity (a powerful guiding force in the current administration).

We have a choice between hope and fear. Obama inspires hope and Clinton counters by fanning the flames of fear. All the other stuff is not all that important. After eight long years of creeping despotism the nation needs a refresher course in democracy, human rights and more importantly, the Golden Rule. One could argue that Obama is not tough enough to be President since he appears to be somewhat dumbfounded by the obsessiveness of his critics. Perhaps. Or perhaps we are looking at a man of principles. One could argue that he is inexperienced. But look at where experienced politicians have led us. One could argue that it’s up to us as voters to realize that there is a true opportunity to bring together the diverse peoples of the nation in a productive way that leads to peace, prosperity and freedom for all.

This topic makes me feel like a blind dinosauer heading towards a tar pit. I sense danger, but I’m not sure where it is coming from.

I grew up in a hick town 8 miles from - and 8 decades behind -Princeton, NJ. Almost no one had a college education. Segregation was the rule. Catholics went to the Catholic school. “Negroes” lived on 2 blocks of Columbia Ave or in the hills outside of town. Nobody knew what a Jew was.

In the late 1940’s my mother created a huge uproar in town by demanding that the Girl Scouts, which my (much) older sisters were involved with, integrate. Apparently one of my sisters had dared to acknowledge the existence of a “colored girl,” and wanted her to be a part of the Girl Scouts. After a considerable stench over a long period of public and non-public meetings and after many enemies were made, the local Girl Scout troop became color-blind (yeah, right).

So that’s great, right?? Well, one of the other teachings drilled into me as a kid was don’t trust surface appearances. Check for the motive, especially concerning good deeds. So, more important than what my mother did was why she did it. Why, in the face of vitriolic opposition, did she force the issue on integration? Because it was the right thing to do? Because she became a good person by doing it? Because she would be seen as a good person having done it????

The short answer is that I have no way of knowing what motivated her. And,it’s quite possible she hadn’t examined her motives either. But I do know that I have spent far too much of my life questioning motives. It’s as much of a knee-jerk reaction for me as being wary of a group of black teenagers. It makes one suspicious, fearful of intimacy, and ultimately it begins to undermine one’s “self.” For the logical extension of this is the questioning of one’s own motives. The next question becomes are you being honest with yourself? And then… Areyou being honest about being honest???

The follow-up question to that is Zoloft or Celexa?? Just let it be.

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