Tuesday, March 18, 2008

It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back

Sen. Obama gave a speech today on race, faith and his own personal journey to figure out his identity. He did what I would have done if in the same position; he faced the issue directly. Race is something that white culture doesn't want to talk about. It is also something that black culture almost can't escape from. And there are reasons for this. The generation that pushed white culture to end segregation, to end Jim Crow and the repressive policies of the states and the federal government was only able to go so far. By the end of the 1960s King was dead, Malcolm was dead and the deaths of to Kennedy's bookended the decade. Government policy toward blacks had changed and blacks were finally able to taste some of the freedom they had so long been promised.
But something else happened. Government policy changed but people didn't. White culture, once the laws were rewritten, decided that the subject was closed to debate. We didn't need to talk about race any more; the institutional problems had been solved. Yet the real problems of race and racism had gone pretty much untouched. The New Left kept agitating but their attention went other ways as well. So black culture was left with some new laws, some new freedoms, but the same racism as before. The anger and resentment one finds in black churchs and communities is unsurprising then. Where was the promised land King spoke of? Where was the equality? Where were the leaders to take them there? White culture had turned the page on racism and wasn't going to turn back. What were blacks to do?
White culture continues to ignore race. When the subject is brought up whites quickly swing to the opinion that they aren't racists and thus the subject is moot. But the truth is different. The truth is racism still lingers in subtle ways that white culture hasn't dealt with. You see it when the self-appointed leaders of the black communities speak--the Sharptons, the Jacksons and now the Jeremiah Wrights of black culture. When they speak of race it is tinged with anger because whites have steadfastly refused to face the issue directly. So white react with their own anger, their own arguments that racism is now the product of black communities and not of their own refusal to deal with the racism that still exists in the way we cross the street when we see a black man, in the way we accept a prison population of mainly blacks, when we move away from the inner cities, the urban and 'crude' cultures of black communities who have no choice but to stay. White culture refuses to admit any fault in the continuing struggles of blacks to make a place in this nation.
So that attitude has festered. It has festered on both sides. Blacks become angry as they see their communities fail, but they forget to see the motes in their eyes. Their own refusal to admit that race keeps them locked in this cycle of death and decay is not something that white culture can fix. It is their own blindness to the hopes and inspirations, to the paths to the promise land King and Malcolm opened for them that have left the black communities in the clutches of those who recognize and revel in political power. And whites have yet to look past those leaders, those blowhards that rival the Pat Robertsons and James Dobsons of this nation. We have yet to realize the only way we can help the black communities is by refusing to give those leaders our attention and turn to new leaders like Sen. Obama who offer us a chance to further heal this imperfect union. Whites and blacks need the kick in the head Sen. Obama is giving us, to recognize where we have all failed and how we can correct that failure. But we need to pay attention, or else all we will have is a continuation of the black leaders that cry racism and the white culture that believes itself already purified.

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