Saturday, March 22, 2008

racist or not?

(I start this post with bleary eyes and a shaking head after reading dozens of comments to an article on Maybe it's because I have the flu, fell like hell and don't have anything better to do than write about this, but here we go anyway...)

I would love to know who makes the decisions for what airs on the news every night. Who decides what stories to air, who gets to discuss them, and which video clips roll on TVs across North America? Canadians are bombarded with American TV and as a result, hear a LOT of their news stories.

The latest drama in the political circus south of the border has been brewing non-stop for over a week: Senator Obama's inflammatory pastor and his speeches. YouTube now has over a MILLION hits for the videos posted of Reverend Wright - all snippets of his famous "God D.... America" rant, followed by often unintelligible and always angry comments.

Evidently all of the TV stations have been playing these videos non-stop, followed by their two cents about whether this means Obama is or isn't racist, un-American, un-trustworthy, or now un-electable. The Clintons are loving this debacle, not really saying anything publicly, but who wouldn't be thrilled to see their adversary (who is still winning) pummeled in the national media for associating with somebody like Rev. Wright. Interestingly, John McCain was more supportive than Hillary of this whole thing - removing a staffer who posted a highly biased video linking Obama, Rev. Wright, Malcolm X and others to indicate that they all hated white people and were out for Black Power alone. I grudgingly respect him a little bit now - despite the fact that he and Bush are on the same political team.

Luckily for everybody but Obama, the media firestorm over this is relentless and will ultimately cause more damage than anything the other candidates can say. I'd love to see the numbers: how many times have they played Rev. Wright's hateful words vs. Obama's responding speech on race in America? Has anybody actually played Wright's ENTIRE speech for the general public on the News? How about on their websites, displayed so the general public can see it for themselves?

The media should be ashamed of themselves. It's absolutely disgusting that this is even an issue. And even the one place where you can find the whole story - it's buried away from the front page. I'd love to know the reason for that...

On Anderson Cooper's blog, which I dearly love (not just cause he's a total babe) he posted the entire text of Rev. Wright's speech. Interestingly, the very statement that's causing Obama all of this hassle goes like this:

“The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three strike law and then wants us to sing God Bless America. Naw, naw, naw. Not God Bless America. God Damn America! That’s in the Bible. For killing innocent people. God Damn America for treating us citizens as less than human. God Damn America as long as she tries to act like she is God and she is Supreme.”

The first time I read this (and again - this is not the whole speech, you can find that here and the other one here) I was pretty disturbed that this preacher felt so strongly that his government and country had let he and his people down until I really read the words - without thinking about who said them. When you reread the last sentence - it's a very harsh repetition of something I and MANY other people I know have said before: The problem many people have with the USA is the attitude that they're better than everybody else. Who says they get to tell us what to do? Since when are they the boss of the world?

Yes, it's inflammatory. Yes, it's mean. But I didn't see anything racist. Maybe in some of his other speeches (which I have not read in their entirety, so cannot comment accurately on), but not this one. Is he being un-American? That's for each person to decide. But keep in mind that the context of this man's life may explain much of his anger - he has direct ties to people who were slaves. You try to imagine for a moment about actually being a slave and maybe you won't be so quick to judge his anger. This isn't from the 1800s - it's from the 40s. Not that long ago at all... I'm not excusing his words but don't think I'm in any place to judge another person for saying something based on their own life experiences - especially something that painful. Slavery might be a distant memory for some people, but there are people still living in North America today who were slaves or the children of slaves. Not such a distant past, and even though it's over now, I think it's disrespectful to try and tell them that it doesn't matter anymore. We don't need to dwell on it over and over, but we do need to understand that it's still a painful memory for many people.

Take this whole thing another step further to Senator Obama, who is now being attacked by thousands of angry (and from what I've read in the comments: white) people for being un-American and racist. He will be forever linked to this speech made by another person - words he denounced publicly while still embracing the man. I don't think you could be much more Christian than that: saying you might not agree with everything another person does, but you can still love the person. Or at the very least, not judge and disown them for things they do wrong.

All of those angry people who go to Church this Easter weekend, I wonder will they remember: To err is human, to forgive divine?

Obama forgave his pastor. And now thousands judge him for not publicly denouncing him. While I find Rev. Wright's words disturbing and occasionally hurtful, I can't help but feel sorry for a person who is now going to be forever stamped as a hateful, un-American racist. By people who don't know him, have never met him, and have probably only seen a 30-second clip of the climax of one of his sermons on YouTube. The worst part is that the number of people who've taken the time to watch the angry clips of Rev. Wright was almost double those who've watched Obama's answering speech.

People are claiming that Senator Obama focuses only on the situation of black people - that he is racist towards whites. I guess it speaks more about that state of race relations than anything Obama or Wright could have said or written: people all over America are judging him as a black man when he is in fact half black and half white. His dad is African and his mother a white woman from Kansas. If he was racist towards either group it would be equivalent to saying he hates half of his family. The obvious problem to me is that all of these allegedly God-fearing, non-racist people are judging him in the first place - who cares if he's black or not? The fact that this is even a discussion shows how prevalent racism still in in the USA. They say he shouldn't play the race card in his campaign, but I strongly disagree: who better to unite everybody than a person with the blood of both blacks and whites running through his veins?

He made a comment on the radio the other day that's also been repeated ad nauseum by angry Americans - something about "typical white people" having uncomfortable feelings about people from other races. Cue more self-righteous people saying they have never even considered skin colour and claiming they never look at people from different races any differently than they do white people.

That indignant, politically-correct BS (and yes, it IS exactly that) is partly why modern society still has so many race issues. People are too scared to admit that they have eyes to see our physical differences, and that yes, sometimes people who look, speak, or act differently can make us uncomfortable. This does NOT mean they are racist.

I personally have watched an Asian woman change directions on the street to avoid a group of white people - looking nervously at them as she did. A friend of mine admitted to being nervous on the way to the bar one night when we passed a group of eight or nine big black men. Was it their skin colour or their size? If it was their colour, should I have told her off for being racist? Am I racist for being a little nervous too?

When I was living in England, I taught at an inner-city primary school where white people were a minority. One day I was riding the bus home, and upon finishing the newspaper, looked around for a moment at the other passengers. Suddenly I realized I was the only white person on the entire bus: everybody else was black, brown, etc. and speaking all sorts of different languages. While it certainly wasn't scary, I did feel a bit out of place and like I was sticking out as different. None of the people on the bus stared or treated me as any different than the next passenger, but I was suddenly aware of how different I looked. Does it make me a racist that I noticed the colour of my own skin as different from theirs or that I wondered if they noticed me?

Why do we need to say we don't see colour? Or notice different accents or culture? To me, that's what makes us so unique. My students last year represented 14 different countries, and a mix of religion and culture so diverse that it made my white, Catholic-bred childhood seem boring. There were a few times that skin colour came up, but it was usually just the kids comparing how dark their skin was with each other. Once, one of the 4 white children in my class said that the black kids were leaving him out because he wasn't black too - but it turned out that he'd kicked one of them during a soccer match and shouted at another kid before they told him to go away. We had a long talk about colour and race after that, and I was amazed at how little the children actually cared about their own skin colour, despite the fact that they ALL were certain of who was the darkest and who was the lightest in colour. They pointed out their differences without difficulty: T has slanty eyes and is little, A is big and light brown, R is skinny and very white, Z has "funny" (they didn't know the world for olive-coloured) skin and a big smile. They listed their physical attributes without qualm. Because they weren't afraid of hurting each other's feelings - it was just their looks after all. These little kids sure could teach the world something about race: yep, we all look different. We can SEE our differences. We believe in different things, celebrate different faiths, speak different languages, and eat different foods. But I'll be your friend because you smiled at me in the lunch line or asked if I wanted to play football at recess.

One of my best friends in the world is a black woman - born in Ethiopia and one of the most beautiful people I know. She's told me many stories of being called the N-word and other horrible things done just on account of her dark skin. This isn't in the 40s or the 60s - this was the NINETIES. Here in Canada, in our modern times, small-minded assholes made her feel like garbage because she looked different from them. I cried when she told me some of her stories.

Yet, she is in love with a white man, with whom she has a son, has many friends of many colours, and is certainly one of the most accepting people I know. Her little son, now 2 and a half years old, has beautiful brown eyes and cocoa skin - mulatto, I believe they call it. People will look at him though, and see a black person. Just like they see Obama as one.

The reality is both of these people carry the blood of blacks, whites, and people from other nations inside them. Just like almost everybody else who lives in North America. So maybe it's time to look past the skin colour to see the person instead.

Shouldn't it be what we stand for that counts?


  • At 12:40 PM, Blogger said…

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  • At 10:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Oh, I I wonder what that blogger said??!!

    Well said Melinda. I hope your opinion represents your generation for the world will be a much better place.
    Like I said, send this blog to Obama. He'll wish you were a voting Americian.

    Love Mom

  • At 11:24 PM, Blogger Melinda said…

    Thanks Mom!

    The other comment was spam actually - an ad for a t-shirt company. So I deleted it.

    (How fun it would have been to pretend it was something better, I must admit)

  • At 3:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    If you are black you are RACIST that’s that. Seen it every step of the way. If you disagree with me ask yourself this, when was the last time something happened to a black by ANY other race and the black person was actually wrong; in your opinion? When was the last time the black wasn't completely perfect and a victim? Especially if what happened to them did in fact happen to them while committing a crime. You dont wait for the fact to see what happened. You wait for the facts to pervert everything to your argument. Even when others tell you your wrong. As a matter of fact when was the last time someone of another race told you, you were wrong and it WASN'T because they were racists? Just for the record, who on God's green Earth put blacks in charge of deciding who qualifies as a racist and who doesn't. The MAJORITY of blacks don’t have any say in their own lives. Ask them they'll tell you, it's all the White Man & the Jews. These are the people you want deciding who qualifies as what and who doesn’t. I say it should be the majority of America making this decision. Unfortunately majority usually equals "White" and therefore obviously EVIL. This is Democracy. Majority rules is the actual definition of Democracy. MINORITY RULES is the definition of FASCISM!!!! Just cause your black doesn’t mean you can’t qualify as a Nazi. that’s what the Nazis were………. Fascists.
    America believed Hitler would eventually attack the USA. He didn’t but his beliefs and way of life did.
    Now remember the most important part of all of this, if you are black, all you have to say is the White Man is the real racist here. That’s all you have to say to be right

    -Tyler Goines

  • At 12:41 PM, Blogger Suldog said…

    To answer your question in the last sentence: Yes.

    When will it happen? I'd like to think it would happen overnight, magically, but it won't. One of the major problems is that the government of the United States has institutionalized racism, not just recently but for many years.

    When the country began, black slaves were considered 3/5 of a person for purposes of census totals taken to determine representation. After the slaves were freed, government (mostly state and local) instituted laws (Jim Crow) that kept them less-than-equal. Later, in an effort to make reparations for past inequality, the government then made "affirmative action" the law of the land, giving preference to minority applicants for jobs, grants, scholarships, etc. None of these measures resulted in people feeling equal. In some instances, blacks felt put upon; in others, whites.

    The first step toward equality, and less strife between races, IMVHO, should be getting the government out of the business of deciding who is more entitled to the goodies, whether that decision comes down in favor of blacks, whites, or someone else.

    Until we have people deciding for themselves who to like and not like; who to hire or not hire; and all of the other attendant crap foisted upon us by well-meaning government officials; and until we have people who understand that not everybody is going to like you, and that some of the dislike will be based upon irrational thought; the longer it will take for people to just treat each other as people.

  • At 12:59 PM, Blogger Melinda said…

    Well said Sully. Thanks for the comment.


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