Monday, September 14, 2009

The Race Question

At what she calls the Million Mob March in Washington on Saturday, Daezy (I presume) poses in front of a FoxNews truck before posting the picture and many more of the event at her blog, US Liberty Journal .

How many things do you say just to make an impression on others? What are you really achieving when you try to make an impression? If you didn't do things for merit or advancement, or if you didn't act with motives at all, what would life be like? At work? In bed? Alone in a room. Even alone in a room you can be consumed with wanting other people to see you in a good light.

---John Tarrant

How shall I grasp it? Do not grasp it. That which remains when there is no grasping is the Self.


The mountains, rivers, grasses, trees, and forests are always emanating a subtle, precious light, day and night, always emanating a subtle, precious sound, demonstrating and expounding to all people the unsurpassed ultimate truth.


Since I "joined" the Civil Rights Movement in the late 1950s, I've been caught making racist remarks many times. Like everybody, I wasn't prejudiced of course. Hadn't I protested the plight of black jazz artists since I was a little boy? Or Negro jazz artists...or Afro-American jazz artists... Well anyway, whatever it is, hadn't I been against it? With my white friends, I picketed Woolworth's in Lewiston, Maine. But it wasn't until nearly 10 years later, after some backlash, that I got close enough to other races to get really taken apart. There were things I said and things I did that I had no idea offended other people. These behaviors were in my upbringing and needed to be rooted out. It was not easy. It was painful.

Yes, my dream too is to live in an America that is "post-racial." But I doubt that, after 40 or 50 years of working on it, my cleansing is finished yet. For others of all races, it may not take as long. For those who think about racial prejudice in this country at least, the work is obvious. But what of those who don't think about it? What about people who believe with all their hearts they aren't prejudiced...but have not gone through the real fire of being the only one of their own race in a group of another race? What then? The presidency of Barack Obama, whom I never have considered a "black man," is providing an opportunity I have tried to avoid. I've wanted us to be post-racial...but I'm afraid I've been on cloud 9.

Naomi Klein hasn't written anything for Harper's in a couple years. In 2007 she published an essay called "Disaster Capitalism" in there. The book that came out at the same time was a thunderbolt and best-seller. Last month another article by her turned up in Harper's, this time titled "Minority Death Match." I have a feeling another book is going to show up too. The article is about the United Nations Durban Review Conference on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. Since the October issue now is on the stands, you can read Ms. Klein's thoughts on the subject online.

Over the weekend though, she updated a very edited version of the article in the UK Guardian. She takes on the Summer of '09 and zeroes in on the Obama presidency and all this opposition. As usual with Naomi, you get it full in the face~~~

"Americans began the summer still celebrating the dawn of a 'post-racial' era. They are ending it under no such illusion. The summer of 2009 was all about race, beginning with Republican claims that Sonia Sotomayor, Barack Obama's nominee to the US Supreme Court, was 'racist' against whites. Then, just as that scandal was dying down, up popped 'the Gates controversy', the furore over the president's response to the arrest of African American academic Henry Louis Gates Jr in his own home. Obama's remark that the police had acted 'stupidly' was evidence, according to massively popular Fox News host Glenn Beck, that the president 'has a deep-seated hatred for white people'.

"Obama's supposed racism gave a jolt of energy to the fringe movement that claims he has been carrying out a lifelong conspiracy to cover up his (fictional) African birth. Then Fox News gleefully discovered Van Jones, White House special adviser on green jobs. After weeks of being denounced as 'a black nationalist who is also an avowed communist', Jones resigned last Sunday.

"The undercurrent of all these attacks was that Obama, far from being the colour-blind moderate he posed as during the presidential campaign, is actually obsessed with race, in particular with redistributing white wealth into the hands of African Americans and undocumented Mexican workers. At town hall meetings across the US in August, these bizarre claims coalesced into something resembling an uprising to 'take our country back'. Henry D Rose, chair of Blacks For Social Justice, recently compared the overwhelmingly white, often armed, anti-Obama crowds to the campaign of 'massive resistance' launched in the late 50s – a last-ditch attempt by white southerners to block the racial integration of their schools and protect other Jim Crow laws. Today's 'new era of "massive resistance",' writes Rose, 'is also a white racial project.'

"There is at least one significant difference, however. In the late 50s and early 60s, angry white mobs were reacting to life-changing victories won by the civil rights movement. Today's mobs, on the other hand, are reacting to the symbolic victory of an African American winning the presidency. Yet they are rising up at a time when non-elite blacks and Latinos are losing significant ground, with their homes and jobs slipping away from them at a much higher rate than from whites. So far, Obama has been unwilling to adopt policies specifically geared towards closing this ever-widening divide. The result may well leave minorities with the worst of all worlds: the pain of a full-scale racist backlash without the benefits of policies that alleviate daily hardships. Meanwhile, with Obama constantly painted by the radical right as a cross between Malcolm X and Karl Marx, most progressives feel it is their job to defend him – not to point out that, when it comes to tackling the economic crisis ravaging minority communities, the president is not doing nearly enough."

Reflecting on this, I suggest, is best done alone, in a quiet room. Then go out in humility and try it.


Quinty said...

Or the "one million moron march," as Bill Maher described it. Klein has done other good work, too, recently, such as raising attention and support for the international boycott of Israel. She has not forgotten the suffering Palestinians who, like so many today, including the American poor, have pretty much been swept under the rug. There are so many, many problems facing the country today, many of them enormous. And here we have this noisy 20 or 30 percent minority raising up a firestorm of hate filled fantasies. To go back to George Bush, yes, he helped fuel all this with the fear he whipped up against terrorists in order to build support for his war and unconstitutional activities. Xenophobia was dormant and no one cared about illegals before Bush.

As for the far right...... I had trouble sleeping last night so to have some company I turned on talk radio - rightwing, of course: there's nothing else - and heard one Bill Cunningham interview a "birther" who outlined his elaborate "fact based" explanation of how Obama never had any US citizenship.

The beat goes on.

I wouldn't be so hard on yourself, Jazzo.... As Samuel Butler said, "Life is like playing a violin solo in public, and learning the instrument as one goes on." I speak as sinner to sinner.......

Quinty said...

And now the producers for a film on Darwin can't find an American distributor because Darwinism is "too controversial," there being only %39 of Americans who believe in evolution.

Oy vey. Oy vey.

jazzolog said...

Interestingly, Amy Goodman achieved interview with Naomi Klein on today's broadcast~~~

AMY GOODMAN: As we wrap up, I wanted to go to your Guardian piece in London, the piece that you call—or that they called for you, “Obama’s Big Silence.” Has the President turned his back on Black America, dealing with all of the latest issues, even in these last few weeks in the Obama administration?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, this is—I think we know this summer really has been a turning point, that the myth of post-racial America is, I think, definitively buried. This was the sort of euphoria after the election of Barack Obama. We heard again and again that the country had entered into a post-racial era; it was no longer important to talk about race. This whole summer has been about race, starting with the accusations that Sotomayor is a racist, then turning on Obama for telling the truth that the police actions in the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. in his home—that the police actions were stupid or had acted stupidly, whatever the phrase he used, that that made him a racist. I mean, this summer has been obsessed with race.

And the undercurrent of the protests against Obama around healthcare, really a lot of them use this language of, you know, he wants to take what’s ours and redistribute it. And there’s often discussion—you know, people like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, often invoke reparations to accuse Obama of being obsessed with race and that he has this covert agenda, apparently, of taking white wealth and giving it to black people. And I think the phrase that Limbaugh used was “secret reparations.” And what’s so ironic about this, actually, is that, in fact, Obama has completely turned his back on the entire reparations discussion, which is what was happening in 2001.

And John Conyers, as we know, has tried to get HR 40, the resolution that would open up a discussion on what kind of reparations are due to African Americans. You know, often people think that people are talking about a check in the mail. And, in fact, what most reparations activists are talking about, overwhelmingly, are group solutions, investments in communities, in education, in healthcare, precisely the programs that are missing from the Obama administration in its response to the current economic crisis, which, let’s remember, began because of the enormous wealth gap, the net worth gap, between minority communities and the dominant sectors of society, because people did not have access to traditional credit.

And this is a direct legacy of slavery and Jim Crow. They turned to subprime lenders and were discriminated against by traditional lenders, and that this is really the root of the current crisis, was those terrible loans that then were bet against. So what we see is that the failure to deal with the income gap, the continued income gap, which is the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, actually is at the very heart of our financial crisis. So we have a collective interest in addressing that gap.

Not only has it not been addressed, but the economic crisis has affected blacks and Latinos disproportionately. I mean, you’ve covered this on the show very, very well, again and again, that it is these communities that were already facing this discrimination, which is why they had those bad loans, overwhelmingly had those bad loans, that are overwhelmingly facing the foreclosures, facing the job losses.

Quinty said...

I watched a rerun of the recent giant “Tea Party” rally in Washington on SPAN for a couple of hours last night. The crowd there appeared to be overwhelmingly white, small town, rural, very workingclass, a few Republicans from the better parts of town: these being the kind of well off folks you might see at a Republican National Convention. The camera caught almost no blacks with the exception of one small teenage girl who looked out of place. Not because she was black but because there was a sensitivity and aspect of intelligent well being about her which didn’t fit with this crowd. Like most rallies, they cheered whatever was offered them. Rather thoughtless. But they weren’t there to think: they wanted to make their point.

The speakers mostly harped on economics. The specter of tax and spend was heavily present and in their eyes the opposite of laissez faire capitalism is Socialism. They appear to have whipped themselves up into a fervor of free-enterprise anti-government budget saving. On the healthcare issue they misrepresented what is being offered by harping on how “Obamacare” will include illegal aliens and funding for abortion. Congressman Joe Wilson had his admirers there. The head of the Ayn Rand society said that if anyone wants healthcare insurance he should get a job and pay for it himself. In their world any sense of the commons is simply “Communism.”

Naomi Klein is right in that this far right view of the world includes a great deal of fear and hatred of the “other.” That can be illegal aliens, the French, American blacks, so-called “elites,” Hollywood, Hugo Chavez, Arabs, gays, anyone who rubs wrong with them. Were Obama white they would find some aspect about him which they could link to in order to bring him down. His blackness just happens to be one of the instinctive handles they have: Jeremiah Wright was his mentor and soul brother: the Chicago ghetto is a scary place: Harvard educating a black who lived in Islamic Indonesia is un-American. And he is apparently not serious about “right to life” issues or, in his elitist way, Second Amendment issues. All that is there in a giant boiling stew pot.

Though this may not be a resurgence of the Klan this is definitely a rising of the right, which sees its world slipping away. The Christian right had many complaints about Bush since they believed he didn’t offer them enough. He offered them plenty. But with Obama..... and his tax and spend deficit policies. Many of them truly do believe he is leading the way toward Socialism.

As someone said about Nixon, it is the dark reaching out to the dark.

Jeremiah said...

Why they were there:
- straight from the horse's mouth.

jazzolog said...

Things continued active at the Yahoo Group Athens Grows yesterday on the topic of racism in American life. Here is a compilation of comments~~~

To: Richard Carlson ; AthensGrow Yahoo Group
Sent: Monday, September 14, 2009 10:50 PM
Subject: Re: The Race Question

I know a lot of folks who dislike President Obama, and many others who like him. I only know one or two for whom race is an issue. Overwhelming, the disagreement is over his vision for America.

Bill Pursley+

Dear Father Bill,

Thank you for your comment and the Reply All indicating you wish to share. I have held the same view that you represent, and I'm not sure I have changed it. There are 2 reasons I posted this material however, and 1 as to why I sent a copy to you at St. John's in Lancaster.

The first is my respect for Naomi Klein's vision of America. Born in Montreal in 1970, she's close enough to us Yanks to really get under our skin. Sometimes the best way to deal with relentless criticism is finally to welcome it and see what good can come. I've decided Ms. Klein represents the prophetic tradition in the very best and most authentic sense.

That brings me to the 2nd reason, and why I thought someone of the clergy might find what I had to say interesting. The thrust of my own personal comments is that I find out very different things about who I am when in an evironment that is, if you'll excuse the expression, foreign. This is true especially if I am alone in representation of my traditions, nationality, or in this case race. Jesus had much to say about this kind of situation if I'm not mistaken.

After the August demonstrations in this country, I think it would be a good idea for all of us, in opposition or not, to seek out some similarly "foreign" situations in which we purposely explore and inventory what prejudice may have crept into our perceptions during the everyday of our lives. What comes out of us, without our conscious recognition, may be the worst sort.


The article "The Race Question" is the most recent entry at .

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Tuesday morning this reply came from Professor Munsup Seoh whose bio and credentials are available at this Wright State University link.

Dear Richard and Bill,

My own perspective is quite different: The race matters, based on my own experience of living in US for 33 years and teaching statistics in a university for 26 years.

My experience on racism has been very, very subtle. Racism is denied by everyone around me in my daily life. But people around me tend to pick my faults very quickly and to penalize me more severely whenever feasible, without much willingness to give me enough water and fertilizer for me to grow --- or any bread, even crumb for me to live --- strong and healthy.

Consequently, as an Asian American, as many people perceive and also as a hard-to-prove fact, I have been working much, much harder than others, to keep myself abreast with colleagues around me in my life of teaching, research and service at even universities.

Munsup Seoh

jazzolog said...

Guido Stempel is Professor Emeritus of the Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University.

-----Forwarded Message-----
>From: guido stempel
>Sent: Sep 15, 2009 10:23 AM
>To: Richard Carlson, AthensGrow Yahoo Group,
>Subject: Re: The Race Question

I also know only one or two people who will admit that they don't like
Obama because he is black. However, the test that the Fox News folks and
other harsh critics can't pass is this: "If Obama were white would you be
saying these things?"
I think, for example, that Representative Wilson of South Carolina would
not have done what he did last Wednesday to a white speaker. It was a
racist-driven outburst. Obama was a black and therefore inferior, thinks
Wilson, and not entitled to respect.
Or consider the situation with the Harvard professor. If a black policeman
had arrested a white Harvard faculty member in his own home, and a white
politician had said it was "stupid," would there have been criticism?
I'm 81, and all my adult life I have been hearing the excuses of racists
and the apologists for racists. When I was a student at Indiana University,
it turned out that the best high school basketball player in that
basketball-crazy state was a black. But blacks didn't play basketball in
the Big Ten then, so I heard all the racist garbage about why blacks were
not fit to play Big Ten basketball. Coach Branch McCracken didn't agree,
and Bill Garrett came to Indiana and became the career scoring leader at
that school and an All-American. The only problem was the cheap shots that
some white players took because Bill was black.
I watched as the Nixon crowd invited Southern racists to join the
Republican Party, thus making racism respectable.
I have at various times held viewpoints that were racist, but holding such
views is not the problem. There are in fact two problems: First, not
recognizing that it's racist and second refusing to change the viewpoint.
Guido Stempel


My wife Dana offered this link for photos of signs at the anti-Obama rally in Washington over the weekend~~~


Sent: Sep 15, 2009 2:32 PM
To: guido stempel , Richard Carlson , AthensGrow Yahoo Group ,
Subject: Re: The Race Question

Thanks, a good stretch of the mind is always a fine thing.


Quinty said...

I suppose everyone has seen what Jimmy Carter had to say? He must definitely be one of the best "ex presidents" we have ever had.

Race is certainly a component in all this. But I think that if we traded Obama for Roosevelt there would be much of the same outcry. They - the far right - see their world slipping away from them. And if Obama were a rightwinger, pushing the Christian right doctrine beyond Bush, pushing Reaganomics beyond Reagan, he would have quite a few fans over there.

But since he is progressive (even if cautiously, modestly) many of them will find his basic humanity distasteful, not excluding being black. And his liberalism will bring out the racists.

Notice how they are accusing Obama of many of the things we accused Bush of.

"Bush lied, kids died." Now they can't get enough of Obama as a "liar."

Many of us claimed Bush was the worst president in US history. The tea baggers are claiming Obama is he worst. (Jimmy Carter comes in second, often enough.)

Many of us worried (illegal wire tapping, Guantanamo, torture, warrantless searches, etc.) that Bush was bringing fascism to this country. In the tea baggers' eyes Obama is bringing fascism. (As well as Communism. Many don't appear to even know the differences, or care.) I'm sure I could think of more.

The beat goes on.

jazzolog said...

When I started our discussion about racism and the presidency, I was unaware of the coincidental discussion of the topic all over the place. Replies and comments continued to show up yesterday, and I think you'll agree the variety is astonishing~~~

Bob Sheak put the question in a larger context. The last few times I've tried to credit Bob's credentials and experience, he's had to correct me. I think he said he prefers to be referred to as a retired, private person who still reads a lot, particularly in the areas of sociology, economics and world politics. In his comment he refers to an attachment, which I won't duplicate here...but I'm sure if you write him he'll send it to you. It's Chapter 4, entitled Case Studies of the Poor and Employment Opportunities, from June-July 2002~~~

I'll ramble. From one important perspective, the problems of "race" are rooted in, for example, the lack of opportunities for adequate employment and wage supplements (Earned Income Tax Credit), education, health care, subsidized services for child care, an income-floor (i.e., unemployment compensation). It goes on. All of these problems are, in turn, rooted in the economic and political structures of the society. The higher rates of poverty and other problems in African-American communities, and now in many Latino communities as well, indicate further the institutionalized racism that compounds the problems for these groups.

As I see it, there is little support in the US for meaningful reparations for the horrors and exploitation of slaves and subsequent generations of African-Americans. The employment markets and government programs continue to fail an increasing number of people, including disproportionately African-Americans and Latinos, along with a growing number of white Americans.

As time passes, an increasing number of jobs that are appropriate for the working class are being automated, away or shifted overseas, or negatively affected by banks and corporations that seek every opportunity to maximize their profits regardless of the consequences to the society and the most vulnerable parts of the society. Increasingly, those jobs that remain are low-wage, no benefit jobs, without union protections, and, with some exceptions (e.g., fast foods, hazardous work in environmental clean ups, low-wage service), are not located in areas of high poverty. You can get a sense for the problem from the information I gathered back in 2002 (see attached).

There are other problems. Some years ago Jonathan Kozol detailed the educational problems of inner-city youth in his stirring book, The Shame of the Nation.

It is also clear that families that lack of decent opportunities because of racism, discrimination, paltry education sometimes generate counter-productive family dynamics. Rebecca Blank provides some answers in her book, It Takes a Nation..

In short, the growing interrelated problems I refer to require structural and institutional responses. Jeff Madrick's book The Case for Big Government, offers an historical analysis and some ideas and proposals for the present. We need what progressives have long called for and what many European countries have long had. But, as Naomi Klein emphasizes, the problem is global and must also address the enormous and growing inequalities that divides "rich" (without all of their internal disparities) and "poor" countries.

The challenge is then one of how we create structures and institutions that diminish inequalities, including racial inequalities, domestically as well as internationally, and do this in a world that is depleting resources, polluting the environment, changing the climate, favoring banks and the big corporations, and, in the US, expanding an already wasteful but dangerous military forces of the country.

jazzolog said...

Individual testimonies of discrimination certainly add personal and emotional dimensions to the larger issues
of racism, poverty, and inequality, but they don't really illuminate much about the fundamental sources of these problems and often have little to do with "solutions."


I have an British online friend in Scotland who used to work for the BBC. She takes a kindly interest in us Yanks, and found this incredible poll over here yesterday~~~

Poll: One in Three New Jersey Conservatives Thinks Obama Might Be the Anti-Christ
By David Weigel 9/16/09 12:20 PM

Public Policy Polling’s habit of asking revealing, bizarre questions continues with a survey of New Jersey voters that finds—as President Obama’s approval rating dips slightly—only 79 percent of voters ready to rule out the possibility that their president is the Anti-Christ. Eight percent say he is, while 13 percent are not sure.

Further breakdowns on that question:

- Twelve percent of McCain voters think Obama is the Anti-Christ. Twenty-one percent are not sure.

- Fourteen percent of Republicans think Obama is the Anti-Christ. Fifteen percent are not sure.

- Eighteen percent of “conservative” voters think Obama is the Anti-Christ. Seventeen percent are not sure.

The big surprise here–the group of voters most likely to think Obama is the Anti-Christ are … Hispanics, who solidly backed Obama in 2008. Only 58 percent of them say, for sure, that their president is not Satan come to wreak havoc here on earth.

Caroline Dempster
Press Officer
Heriot-Watt University
Tel: 0131-451 3443
Heriot-Watt University is a Scottish charity
registered under charity number SC000278.

I like the first comment to that article, where the guy says he voted for Obama because he's the Anti-Christ.

Since our home still struggles with dial-up Internet, I never recommend YouTube and other videos. But today I make some exceptions. There's just so much! The main reason is this message from Carole Womeldorf and the Dolly Parton selection she is sharing. Find the tissue box because this is going to move you~~~

Okay - so what do we do about it? I think it might help to reach out to artists, country artists, who can
help reassure and demonstrate that the world is not ending. Dolly Parton is a wonderful example.
Take a look at and share her version (and vision) of John Lennon's "Imagine" (Another song/video of hers that I
found impressive was "You better get to Livin'") Rodney Atkins, Clint Black, and Montgomery Gentry are
other artists that push back against stereotypes and narrow thinking. Others?

As an undergraduate I spent a semester at Tougaloo College in Jackson, MS. It was a great experience.
I think Richard's suggestion is a great one - walk a mile in the shoes of the "other". Live for a little
while on someone else's ground. And when you think you have figured out "racism" - then turn around
and walk in the other direction. Have lunch with a "Tea Bagger," don't mock or denigrate them. Don't
think you are superior. Share a smile. Make a friend. Strive to understand why they are sooo angry
and scared. Share with them Dolly's vision, your vision. Relationships across the "divides" are what can
heal these wounds - not all of them - but many, and maybe enough.

In an active and engaged sense of love & peace.

Carole Womeldorf, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Mechanical Engineering
276 Stocker Center
Ohio University
Athens, OH 45701

jazzolog said...

Another fascinating video was posted Tuesday by one of my favorite bloggers, MadMike. This isn't about race so much, unless you believe the Anti-Obama rally in Washington was race driven. What we see is a guy walking through the rally flying a banner that says "Public Option Now." Take a 5 minute look at how those people treat someone with a different viewpoint.

Let's keep imagining Dolly's dream anyway.


PS By the way, the White House gave a comment on this racism discussion yesterday~~~,0,4980703.story

jazzolog said...

Several more comments worth sharing arrived on racism in the current climate of political protest. As reported yesterday, the President said

“race is such a volatile issue in this society” that he conceded it had become difficult for people to tell whether it was simply a backdrop of the current political discussion or “a predominant factor.”
“Now there are some who are, setting aside the issue of race, actually I think are more passionate about the idea of whether government can do anything right,” he told ABC News. “And I think that that’s probably the biggest driver of some of the vitriol.”

Most people who have replied agree with that assessment, including John Schmeiding whom we know through his years of service with

I'm glad to see this discussion and want to add a thought. It does us all a disservice if we respond to the topic of racism by labeling people and pointing fingers. It would not be correct to suggest that only poor, working class republicans have a problem with race and the rest of us are oh-so-enlightened. We're all inevitably confused about race as a result of growing up and living in this society. For those of us who are white, a big part of the work is to be honest with ourselves about the struggle to recover from the confusion and fears that we inherited. One organization I know about has a goal to eradicate racism from this planet by the end of the century. I think it makes sense to work toward that goal without kidding ourselves about how much progress has been made (a lot) or how much needs to be done (even more).

in community, John (I'm white, German-Catholic, raised working class in a small midwestern town)

The rector of Good Shepherd Episcopal Church Bill Carroll, here in Athens, thinks similarly~~~

I think it's obvious that racism plays a role. Certainly in the level of vitriol and implicit and explicit threats against the President and his family. Also in the fantasies that Obama's rather moderate policies are somehow radical. But more fundamentally in the way in which some opposition movements on the far right center around fears of lost white privilege. Sadly, this kind of visceral argument still has traction among many Americans. Wait till we get to immigration reform. Bob Dylan had it right. The poor white person is "only a pawn in their game."

I don't believe that focusing on racism as a property of individuals is much help. Far more helpful to focus on racism as a property of systems, in which we all partcipate, from which some of us benefit more than others, and which we are all responsible for fighting. (Guilt is another matter and rests squarely with those who benefit.) Ultimately, I believe, only a very small minority truly benefits from racism and other interlocking oppressions.

That said, it is also obvious that not everyone who opposes this or that policy of the president is doing so out of racism. Obama himself invited a vigorous public debate. Nevertheless, the very real threat of political violence to undermine the policies of the first black president is thoroughly racist and truly frightening. Members of both parties and of neither need to insist on civility and on moving the focus away from ad hominem attacks that have nothing to do with reality and on to the issues, many of which call for fundamental changes in our economy and our society.

jazzolog said...

Friend Dr. Richard Strax practices diagnostic, interventional, and vascular radiology in Houston~~~

As a doc, my attention has lately been on this healthcare reform mess swirling around us, but I can't help but notice the tempest around Mr. Obama that has lately provided 24/7 news channels with something to discuss. I'm no policy wonk but I have made an observation or two of my own that I haven't seen prominently displayed.

Mr. Obama is a fascinating character on the American scene, and it may have something to do with race.

From where I stand, his policies seem decidedly middle of the road, boring if nothing else. This man is no Teddy Roosevelt, FDR or LBJ who is going to move the country to a decidedly new place by sheer force of will. Whatever he is doing, he is no Trust Buster and he is not ushering in a New Deal or Great Society over and through the objections of the supporters of the status quo. Maybe is more like a Harry Truman or George H. W. Bush, but a much better orator. Everything he touches must be bipartisan, moving in inches per hour rather than miles per second. In healthcare he will be satisfied to get "something" passed. Forget universal healthcare or bringing corporate medicine to heel. If we get mild insurance reform passed this year, even if it does not go into effect until 2012 or 2014 and brings no one much relief right away, he will claim victory for his administration. His first supreme court nominee hardly seems to be a liberal firebrand. Forget packing the court. He hasn't ended our belligerent and extended foreign policy, he is just more pleasant and articulate than W, and has simply moved Guantanamo and the Iraq war to Afghanistan, using many of the same absurd arguments used by Bush and Co.

Nothing strange there. Most US Presidents are boring, middle of the roaders. That is considered political wisdom. TR, FDR and LBJ were unique, able to break heads and bully the opposition to see their vision of the future become enacted.

What I find fascinating is the reaction to Mr. Obama. He may be middle of the road politically but he is nevertheless unique among Presidents for an obvious reason.

Color is clearly bending the prism of our vision, on the left and right. I think that liberals tend to see Mr. Obama as their liberal savior. Conservatives on the other hand see him as heralding the coming of American socialism. Of course, neither is true. As a black man all sides seem to view him as much more liberal than he has actually been. I think in large part that is because his skin color has both sides blinded or muted.

I think that both left and right see in Mr. Obama what they expect to see, rather than what is right in front of them. To some extent, this really may be about racism after all.

jazzolog said...

John Silvius is Senior Professor of Biology at Cedarville University in Dayton, and sees race as a distraction in the discussion~~~

I think it is unfortunate that the dialog about how much more government control we want in the areas of health care, the auto industry, the housing and banking industry, etc. has been sidetracked by the "race issue." The debate has been heated, citizens on both sides have arisen and become involved in town meetings (Obama and McCain both deserve credit for emphasizing the townhall format) and our system is working to let lawmakers of all stripes know that they are accountable to the people, not the other way around. So, I'm inclined to believe that racial discrimination is tiny compared to the prevailing ignorance and ideological bias that is reigning in our land. I close with an example provided by Mindy Beltz, columnist in WORLD magazine (Sept. 12):

[When] John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, wrote an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal arguing for healthcare reform pegged to Medicare reform, tort reform, more high-deductible insurance plans, health savings accounts, and other changes—all suggesting a responsible way to avoid a "massive new healthcare entitlement," Loyal customers quickly let him know they could buy their purple-headed cauliflower and acai berry juice elsewhere. They vented via the blogosphere and Facebook, where one Whole Foods boycott group quickly amassed 14,000 members. The posted photos were telling: Toned women toting designer handbags who exercise their private option to buy organic each week were telling a corporate exec that when it comes to healthcare it's public option or else. Never mind that the exec started his business in his garage and now operates in three countries and won an award this year for "socially responsible retailing." Never mind that the extravagant lifestyle purchases Americans make, large and small, are in no small part driving our desperation for a government remedy.

Friend Paul Quintanilla, who never would argue for fewer government remedies to big problems, refers to Carole Womeldorf's comment in a previous post~~~

Professor Womeldorf is certainly right. If some of these rural, high school educated folks who attended the giant Tea Bag rally in Washington could walk into the home of an Upper West Side New Yorker to be treated to some courtesy and tea they may not see them within the framework of their rightwing stereotype. That is, if you could get an Upper West Sider with his graduate degrees and New York sophistication to consider taking in such simple rural folk from the deep south.

But I think we are all to one degree or another susceptible to envisioning an "other" with all kinds of strange personal habits and attributes. I know I have done so and life for me has been, among other things, a moving away from such easy stereotypes, which make dealing with distant strangers easier. And actually getting to know other people from different backgrounds is a great help, discovering, with time, a greater common humanity. Travel truly is, yes, broadening.

jazzolog said...

This is Richard again, in case all this change of fonts hasn't been enough to prevent confusion...and I'd like to try a final comment. I'm probably romantic about race and nationality---and sexual orientation too sometimes. I'm curious about backgrounds and traditions, I hope in a welcoming way. I like differences. I come from the "melting pot" upbringing. I'm Swedish on both sides, but my parents celebrated things American---and I had little knowledge of what life was like in the Old Country. This was the case even though Swedish was spoken prominently in my hometown, and offered as a subject in high school. It was after I left Jamestown, New York, that I began to become interested in my Scandinavian ancestors...and only very recently that I took a liking to Swedish folk music. I may have gone through a fairly common transition for young people in the United States of actually being ashamed on those kinds of roots. Thoughts about race and nationality may change through one's life.

Paul is right about travel, but mine has been limited. The places I have lived though have offered a great variety in traditions and backgrounds. Athens, Ohio, has tremendous diversity of people, especially due to the increasing admission rates from other countries at Ohio University. I think it's wonderful when people feel and are free to display ethnic distinctiveness. I don't like uniforms myself, but I understand the point of them for people who do. I don't like to be coerced to be something that I'm not. If I turn into something else, I wish it to be because I want to change. I love to see people as we really the best of our abilities.

I say this may be a romantic view. A college friend wrote me yesterday...and she might want to be remind me of ongoing horrors of racism in our society. She said her understanding is that black Americans have been denied mortgage opportunities in our history. The bottom line has prevented these people from getting the financial independence others achieved in the past century to enter the mainstream of American life. I suppose banking wouldn't take blame for such a policy, instead declaring the "risk" has to do with who gets the worst jobs and who gets laid off and fired first. Corporate CEOs probably have their excuses too. Father Bill Carroll thinks immigration policy is where we'll confront all this next. And of course "You lie" had to do with immigrants. Well, who isn't an immigrant? Thanks to all for your interest this week.

Quinty said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Quinty said...

(A slightly edited, by me, version of the deleted above.)

Still speaking of the “other,” I remember sometimes watching black and white Charlie Chan films on TV when I was a kid. Did I question this portrayal of the exotic Oriental dropping his pearls of wisdom to a young humorous Chinese sidekick? Not really. I must have been somehow aware this was all merely fiction, as a kid, but how much did this influence my overview of Asians? I remember that at one time I actually believed they, the Chinese, believed “life is cheap” and didn’t mind dying en masse on the battlefield. Talk of swallowing propaganda! But I will hastily point out I was still a kid at the time, in my own defense. And as a kid putting a mental grip on the world became easier by accepting generalizations. It filled the gap of my ignorance. As we grow we learn the overall picture of a generalization has to be approached cautiously. Quite cautiously, in a limited way.

Decades ago a famous writer (I’ve forgotten who. Was it Huxley?) claimed we lived in the most superstitious time in history, for we believe more on faith than ever before, there being so much more to know out there. And can’t actually immediately touch or see all the facts and truths we live by.

By the way, John Mackey is a Libertarian who refuses to allow Whole Foods to be unionized. Employing a self serving argument we have all heard before, he claims he can do more for his workers than any union can. Richard and I had a small contretemps with an old college friend recently who, over the years, turned to the far right. He chastised us as hypocrites for accusing the Tea Partyers of racism merely because we were losing the argument over healthcare. This being a common leftwing ploy, insulting our opponents when we begin to lose the debate. Which brings up another aspect of all this which I think we should already be familiar with. How much self-serving rationalization goes into forming our opinions? One could write a book about this, and I’m sure someone has. But the small businessman, for example, who rationalizes cheating his customers by saying “everyone does it” comes to mind. A lot of rightwing thinking displays this form of self serving flexibility. I remember the segregationist southerners who called integration “Communism,” as another example. All kinds of myth and fantasy come together in an accommodating way.

I found Dr. Strax’s overall description of the Obama presidency fascinating. My own attitude is “wait and see,” but I wonder just how right Dr. Strax is? Personally, I believe (and certainly hope) Obama will be more ambitious. His opposition, though, is enormous. Some uglier aspects of human nature have certainly emerged in these recent protests, but a fear of change, of moving toward government solutions of large societal problems, will certainly be a great block to change. And I wonder how much all that may currently influence Obama’s thinking? Whatever his inclination, his thinking seems to be broad and sweeping. Considering he is walking across a high tightrope he has to be very careful about his balance. And he is only six months into the job. No one forced him to become president. But are we asking more than is humanly possible?

I have a wait and see attitude toward his administration at this time, partially to rebuff the 24/7 news cycle, in which the slightest detail becomes an emergency, or the ultimate significant insight which sums up the success or failure (more often failure) of his administration.

jazzolog said...

I never liked the Chan movies. Sidney Toler just wasn't believable to me. Like Karloff or Christopher Lee doing Fu Manchu. It was even more ridiculous than Italians playing Indians in the Saturday matinee Westerns---which is where I spent my time. Our ignorance of the Far East certainly wasn't helped by the War...and really continues to this day. I read Charlie Chan in book form though, and loved them.

Sidekicks always were weird, but you needed them for radio---and maybe the movies too---until film noir when suddenly detectives started narrating. Otherwise there was no way to hear the inner thinking of the hero. But why did we choose boys and other races? Tonto. Cato, for the Green Hornet. (Cato's an interesting case, having first been Japanese...then suddenly he became Korean.)

You certainly didn't need them for comic books (because of the thought balloon over his head) nevertheless we got Batman and Robin. What the heck did it mean to be Bruce Wayne's "ward"? What's a ward? Was he actually an orphaned nephew or something. That part's hazy...but how could this Wayne guy make his ward wear those tights and cape? I wondered it back then, but still Batman was my favorite comic book (after Donald Duck---and how come Mickey and Donald never married, but had those nephews instead of kids? So strange!).

Our introductions to the physically and mentally challenged may have been Mortimer Snerd and Goofy. Mortimer and Charlie McCarthy weren't friends I think, nor ever really referred to each other (Edgar Bergen had enough trouble with one at a time) but Goofy seemed completely accepted by Mickey.

I'm most concerned about things like Amos 'n Andy...and the infamous NAACP protest against the Uncle Remus characterization in Song of the South. The film has been withdrawn by Disney for 40 years now...and the Brer Rabbit animations are just some of the best ever drawn. Which I guess brings us back to Obama. Our ambivalence---and when I say "our," I mean both black and white---about the Negro is the most baffling cultural issue of my lifetime!

I was remarking to my wife just yesterday how the all-white Benny Goodman band (Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton were special "acts" brought out for small group features only. Another 10 years would pass before BG put black musicians in the band itself.) achieved its fame and popularity through arrangements from Fletcher Henderson, Jimmy Mundy, Edgar Sampson. The all-black Count Basie band used charts by white arrangers during a couple of its most successful periods. In our teen years the most popular dance band still in existence was Ray Anthony's...and his arranger was George Williams, who had worked for Jimmy Lunceford. There are many other instances in jazz and popular music in this country of this kind of interracial collaboration. Did it make any difference to the performers? It sure did, I think! But how does that work...and why?

I believe it proves that unlikely combinations provide wonderful results! And that's why I love integration. I hope you had the chance to follow Carole's recommendation and watch the Dolly Parton video of John Lennon's Imagine---a song that made me quite uneasy when John sang it. Dolly's performance is about as unlikely as you can get out of Nashville. But it is so moving it brings ya to your knees. We're a strange country, and I hope we gain some coherence with ourselves...before bin Laden "bleeds us dry," as again he vowed to do the other day. Now there's a man who understands us!

jazzolog said...

But fortunately, so does Frank Rich---who views the whole political scene with the eyes of a media critic. Also strange, but it works. Don't miss today's column, which concludes~~~

"To mark the anniversary of Lehman’s fall, the president gave a speech on Wall Street last Monday again vowing reform. But everyone’s back to business as usual: The Wall Street Journal reported that not a single C.E.O. from a top bank attended. The speech sank with scant notice because there has been so little action to back it up and because its conciliatory stance was tone-deaf to the anger beyond the financial district.
"That same day a United States District Court judge in New York, Jed S. Rakoff, scathingly condemned the Obama Securities and Exchange Commission for letting Bank of America skate away with what Rakoff called an immoral and unjust wrist tap to settle charges that it covered up $3.6 billion paid out in bonuses when it purchased Merrill Lynch. How is this S.E.C. a change from the Clinton-Bush S.E.C. that ignored all the red flags on Bernie Madoff?

" (Glenn) Beck frequently strikes the pose of an apocalyptic prophet, even insisting that he predicted 9/11. This summer he also started warning of domestic terrorism in the form of a new Timothy McVeigh. On this, one fears he knows whereof he speaks. For all our nation’s unfinished business on race, racism is not Obama’s biggest challenge during our unfinished Great Recession. He — and our political system — are being seriously tested by a rage that is no less real for being shouted by a demagogue from Fox and a backbencher from South Carolina."

Quinty said...

"Friend Paul Quintanilla, who never would argue for fewer government remedies to big problems..."

Well, just to be clear... And I hope you don't find this apology boorish... it's not really "big government" I'm in favor of. But, rather, that I oppose the complete opposition we have in the United States against any government solutions of the overwhelming social problems the private sector can not solve. And in that respect we are unlike most other so-called “advanced” industrial countries. It's a simple matter of pragmatism, in my opinion. And a basic loss of national balance, what with Reaganomics, Libertarianism, the tea parties, etc.

Capitalism has become an orthodoxy here in the United States. The roots of that orthodoxy go way, way back. And encompass the struggles between labor and capital in the nineteenth century. We may not be, as some Europeans see us, a “wild west” nation. But that form of individualism is also very real. And whereas a sensible pragmatism may help move along progressive, needed changes in some other societies, we here in the US stand against them because they are perceived as a threat against individual freedom.

I somehow don’t think the French, Canadians, Dutch, Swiss, Spanish, Taiwanese, and others see a national health program which provides for everyone’s medical needs as a threat to individual freedom. The reason why I harp on the subject is because we have gone so far in the opposite direction, to the point that we deny ourselves a broad and necessary solution to a basic need.

To cite one extreme, the head of the Ayn Rand society at Saturday’s Tea Party rally in Washington said that if someone wants health insurance he should get a job and buy it. An extreme point of view, wouldn’t you agree?

I’m actually a capitalist, and don’t believe in government dominating the economy. I don’t believe in the Marxist solution to the very real problems of Capitalism, which, unchecked, can be a predatory system. But there things the private sector can not provide, such as national healthcare for one and all: a basic, in my opinion, right. And our overboard orthodoxy stands in the way of providing this basic need. Which is why I sometimes harp on it.