Monday, August 18, 2008

Obama Needs the Courage to Support Black Issues, Too

We must really be desperate to have a black person elected President.

We seem ready to sacrifice everything just to get this done--our community's issues, our dignity, our self-respect and, even, our good, common sense.

But, how long can we continue to rationalize this, particular candidate's every insult, every slight, every condescending comment?

How long can we take the stern, black-only, public tongue lashings from a man who never spent a single day in his life having been raised in an African-American household?

What kind of Kool-Aid are we drinking?

Over the past couple of weeks, for example, there was an incident in St. Petersburg, Florida, wherein a group of young black men had the courage to stand up at an Obama speech and ask him why he has never specifically addressed several, key, African-American issues during his campaign. In his response, the Candidate told the young men that, if they didn’t like his position on black issues, they certainly had the option "to vote for somebody else... or run for the presidency yourself." I don't remember Senator Obama ever telling Hispanic voters to "vote for somebody else." Does he say that to Jewish, gay, Native American or Christian right-wing audiences? Why is it alright for this man to talk to black people in this way? And, even more important, why do black people feel the need to accept it? Are we that desperate?

On July 29th, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution to officially apologize to African Americans "for the wrongs committed against them and their ancestors who suffered under slavery and Jim Crow." Congress had already, in years past, apologized to Japanese Americans for having been locked up in concentration camps, here in the U.S., during War World II. It had already apologized to Native Hawaiians for overthrowing their kingdom in 1893. The U.S. Senate, in 2005, had even apologized for failing to pass anti-lynching laws. In addition, six states, including Florida, Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, New Jersey and Virginia, have already offered their own, separate, formal apologies to black Americans, and politicians in Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska are thinking about doing the same thing.

Forty-two of the 43 members of the Congressional Black Caucus supported the Slavery Apology resolution. Only one of those 43, Barack Obama, has continued to express reservations about whether the resolution was necessary, in the first place. Before and after the resolution was passed in the House, Barack Obama made it clear, in public forums and in interviews with the Associated Press and other media outlets, that he believes that an apology for slavery would not "be particularly helpful," and even more, that he opposes reparations to descendants of slaves-- a logical "next step" in the process of offering national and state apologies.

Despite the clear evidence written into the Congressional Resolution that slavery's legacy includes "enormous damage and loss (for African Americans), both tangible and intangible, including the loss of human dignity and liberty, the frustrations of careers and professional lives, and the long-term loss of income and opportunity," Obama still says that the best "reparations" we can provide are "good schools in the inner city and jobs for people who are unemployed."

Has he lost his mind?

And why do Obama and his supporters still treat the word "reparations" as if it were the "N-word?" The U.S government and other similarly involved nations seem to have no problem in incorporating the concept into rehabilitation programs for other victimized people who have not been black. Why is it so distasteful a subject when we're involved?

In 1952, for example, when Germany provided $822 million in reparations to Jewish Holocaust survivors, did the Germans say they could have "jobs and schools" or $822 million? Or did they get both? In 1971 when the U.S. provided $1 billion and 44 million acres of land as "reparations" to Alaska's native peoples, were the Alaskans told that they wouldn't get the money and land, after all, because what they really needed was a job? When the U.S. in 1985 and 1986, paid $105 million in reparations to the Lakota tribe in South Dakota, $12.3 million to the Seminoles, $31 million to the Chippewas and $32 million to the Ottawa tribe, was there any discussion about simply sending those tribes to "better schools" rather than giving them the economic reparations they deserved? When the United States, in 1990, provided $1.2 billion in reparations to Japanese Americans, did they make them choose between the money and getting a job, or have Japanese citizens gotten both?

In 1997, three large Swiss Banks created a $200 million reparations fund to reimburse Holocaust survivors for the banks' laundering of Nazi profits gained from looting Jewish assets during the war. Does Obama think that was inappropriate?

And what, other than reparations to Native Americans, can you call the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which has facilitated the creation a of about 360 "Indian gaming" establishments in the United States, whose annual revenues were estimated at $15 billion in 2002. By the way, the largest Indian Gaming casino in the country is that owned by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe from Connecticut. Their casino company, called Foxwoods, is engaged in a long-running battle for development rights on the Delaware River waterfront, even as you read this. By Barack Obama's logic, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe and the other Native Americans should not have been provided economic reparations; schools and jobs would have been enough for them.

The most aggravating thing about all of this is the tired, self-defeating refrain from the Obama supporters in our community that he is not running to be "president of the national black community," he's running to be elected president of the entire United States, in a “post-racial society.” They go on to say that if he speaks directly to black issues, he'll be branded as a "black candidate" and he won't be able to win the "big prize."

My response to all of that is this: If we were really living in a "post-racial society," as they like to claim, then black people and political candidates should not still be terrified to talk openly and honestly about black- specific issues.

My greatest disappointment with Senator Obama is that I believe he is certainly intelligent enough to take appropriate, strategic advantage of the "bully pulpit” the campaign has provided to him to REALLY talk about "change," and to do so in a way that simply includes our issues, along with those he's already clearly adopted for other ethnic and special interest groups. Deep down inside, I can't help but believe that he has the ability to carry that off. I'm disappointed that he simply doesn't even try to do so. As Vernellia Randall, a law professor at the University of Dayton, said in describing Obama's ongoing aversion to black issues, "I think he's dead wrong. People say he can't run and get elected if he says those kinds of things. I'm, like, well does that mean we're not ready for a black president?"

The great dilemma for black voters is that we are faced with the choice of Senator Obama, who doesn't have the courage to stand up for us, or Senator McCain, who doesn't have a pulse.

Maybe we can all get together, chip in, and send Senator Obama to see the Wizard of Oz so he can finally get the courage he needs to appropriately represent important issues in the black community.

Other than that, if he wins, what will have actually "changed" for us?


1 comment:

Merretazon said...

Great analysis!

This painful scenario of Obama's failure to recognize Blacks as part of the human family as reparations paid to others did, is a direct result of those who took the individual road to self-repair, sold-out their ancestors, sold-out their culture, sold-out their media, sold-out their future generations, instead of using self-repair to strengthen Black hands to fight the good fight of justice and repair of their people to re-gain standing in the world as contributors instead of laborers for the elite.

Never forget, reparations are the cross-road solution to our human capital development. Infrastructure development comes with a reparations accord for Blacks in America which will outline the how to of repairing the damage.

We can still turn this around, but it will take not only bottoms up approach, but also a top-down approach. This dual approach is modeled when resources and the masses link to put our people before profits. This is the due order necessary to regain recognition as a contributing people in the world with culture, language, and all the attendant human capital possibilities. In a concept, let’s call it “Influence and Education for Reparations.”

The Black elite, locally and nationally must initiate this approach. Education about where we were, what happened to us, and which way forward now, will provide the foundational linkage and the influence of the elite will create the synergy for reparations. Therefore, the question now is who will man-up and step-up to negotiate and codify it. Can you identify anyone in Philadelphia, the Delaware Valley even, who is willing to take on this mission of influence and education? If not us who? No excuses!

Elder Ari S. Merretazon, M.S.CED
N'COBRA Board Member
Northeast Regional Representative
Co-Chair, Case Against Wachovia Committee
Member, Philadelphia Chapter