Sunday, January 22, 2012

Race, Gingrich, and South Carolina

I love living in the south--the mild winters, the summer heat, magnolia trees with those impossibly large white blooms nestled among glossy green leaves. I like iced tea, collard greens, and watermelon. I can make a sweet potato pie that will make you forget that there is such a thing as a pumpkin. I'm southern to the core and while I love my southern heritage, I also know that it includes a dark side, a little problem that has to do with race.

Please don't misunderstand, I know that race is not an issue only in the South. I've seen enough manifestations of racial prejudice in my lifetime to be certain that it is not limited by geography. The South just has a peculiar love/hate affair with its perceptions about race. The white guy with a confederate flag on his bumper and who would disown any child of his that dated outside of his race will stop to help a lone black woman standing by the road next to her broken down car.

This dichotomy of feelings about race is what fuels someone like Newt Gingrich, what allows him to make a statement such as the following with a sincere belief that it does not reflect racial stereotyping and should not be construed as offensive or racist.
I'm prepared, if the NAACP invites me, I'll go to their convention and talk about why the African American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps. (Gingrich Singles Out Blacks)
Gingrich conveniently ignores that  28% of American households receiving food stamps are black and 59% are white. About 78% of American households are white and about 13% are black. (U.S. Census Bureau)

NAACP President and CEO Ben Jealous points out, the majority of people receiving food stamps are not African-Americans and have jobs. (Gingrich Singles Out Blacks) Gingrich is fond of referring to Obama as the food stamp president. (Id.) More people are receiving food stamps under this administration. Of course more people are unemployed or under employed. The country is, after all, in a recession.

However, in spite of all my discussion of Newt and food stamps, my point isn't really about Gingrich's dissemination of misleading and down right false information. I'm more interested in Newt's win in South Carolina. 

This ability to hold on to racist ideology and simultaneously and sincerely believe that you are not acting in a racist manner is at the core of South Carolina's enthusiasm for Newt Gingrich. Gingrich responded with indignation when moderator Juan Williams dared inquire at the GOP presidential candidates debate in South Carolina:
Speaker Gingrich, you recently said black Americans should demand jobs, not food stamps. You also said poor kids lack a strong work ethic and proposed having them work as janitors in their schools. Can't you see that this is viewed, at a minimum, as insulting to all Americans, but particularly to black Americans?
Gingrich's response was swift and direct, "No. I don't see that." The audience in the debate hall also responded, standing and applauding Gingrich's snippy response.

Huffington Post reporter Jon Ward sums it up succinctly: 
From the moment that Gingrich slapped down Williams' questions about his attitude toward low-income blacks and thousands in the debate hall stood and roared their approval--several voters this week told The Huffington Post that Gingrich "put him in his place"--Gingrich was on fire. (Gingrich Wins Big in SC)
Newt Gingrich speaks southern, and he is particularly fluent in the dialect of white southerners. It sounds the same as regular southern on the surface but it includes all sorts of code words and phrases. Neighborhood schools is a euphemism for maintaining segregation. Putting paychecks in the hands of black people is code for, those people don't want to work and live to receive government handouts. Put him in his place is used to speak of putting down an uppity Negro who has forgotten his place. Juan Williams at the debate and President Obama in general, as he is the most uppity Negro of all time. Angry black woman refers to any black female who articulates her opinions and doesn't shy away from controversy. Example: First Lady Michelle Obama. (I'm proud to say that I have also been designated on more than one occasion as an angry black woman.)

Newt knows how to make southern whites who refuse to confront their own issues with race feel good about themselves. A discussion about race and racism is immediately ended when the focus becomes on declaring that one is not a racist, although no one has declared anyone to be a racist. Talking about racism is not the same as calling someone a racist. The discussion that needs to be done about lingering racist beliefs, attitudes,and practices rarely takes place in this country which is why Newt really doesn't get why there is anything wrong with declaring that black people need to seek paychecks instead of food stamps. The key word is seek,which assumes that black people are more likely to be low-wealth in America because we choose to be so.

Gingrich believes that he has the vision to lead low-wealth black folks to the promised land. All he has to do is show us the light so that we understand that we need to work and not just sit around waiting for government handouts. Newt, and his eager supporters in South Carolina function on the presumption that it is lack of effort and inherent laziness on the part of black people that makes for a disproportional number of African-Americans living at or below the poverty level in the U.S.  Lack of opportunities, systemic and institutional racial exclusion, and a continued fostering of racial stereotypes have nothing to do with it. 

The reality is that the concept of racial equality is relatively new. Following emancipation in 1865 was a hundred years of Jim Crow, discrimination,restriction, and persecution based on the color of your skin. I grew up in a society in which where I could go and what I could do was determined by my skin color. I had to learn as a child not to display anything that could be construed as attitude or impudence to any white person regardless as to what that white person may have done or said to me.  I was denied access to schools, restaurants, hospitals, swimming pools, wherever there was a sign that designated "white only." Although there are days when I feel ancient, I'm only 56.

It remains to be seen if Newt Gingrich's bilingual abilities will make him the GOP presidential nominee. His substantial victory in South Carolina, 40.4% to Romney's 27.9%, may not translate well to other parts of the nation which are not as adept at self deception when it comes to matters of race. 

There are those who insist that the intense anti-Obama sentiment expressed by some has nothing to do with his being a black man. He is, by every definition that this country proposes about determining one's race a black man.  So when someone says to me, what's race got to do with it, my answer is "everything."

Monday, January 16, 2012

Remembering Dr. King, the Bearer of Dreams

A Black Child Remembers Dr. King
by Sheria Reid

He came bearing dreams,
a drum major for truth,
peeling back layers to reveal
the beauty of our blackness.

Mama says I can't go to Selma,
so I find it on a map,
a small dot that may as well be in Timbuktu.
Montgomery is out of the question. 

I march around the back yard
singing "We Shall Overcome,"
imagining that I feel the heat rising 
from black pavement
and the hoses washing me down.
      We shall overcome someday...

Let's play freedom march!
Slyly I entice my younger brother and sister.
You can lead the march!
But my legs are longer.

I follow him
marching ever onward,
a dark skin black child
reaching for the dream,
believing deep in my heart
     we shall overcome
     we shall overcome
     we shall overcome someday...

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Religious Fascism: The Faith Masquerade

"When Fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross." (generally attributed to Sinclair Lewis)

I grew up in eastern North Carolina. My immediate family converted to Catholicism when I was seven. Some of our relatives were convinced that we were going to hell for worshiping statues, praying to the Virgin Mary, and not being baptized in the name of Jesus only. In other words, I grew up with crazy fundamentalists in my family. However, I never feared their beliefs. They talked a lot but didn't appear to pose a threat to others who did not believe as they did.

But today I came across an organization known as the  The Liberty Counsel and their stated goal is Restoring the Culture by Advancing Religious Freedom, the Sanctity of Human Life and the Family.

Doesn't sound so scary in and of itself, but the Liberty Counsel doesn't literally mean freedom to believe or not believe as you wish. The Counsel believes that it is its mission to advance our freedom to believe in a Christian God. The anchor of the Counsel is its fully accredited law school, Liberty University School of Law, located in Lynchburg, Virginia. Its web site touts its "40 years of training champions for Christ." From its mission statement: "The proficient use of reason informed and animated by faith and a comprehensive Christian worldview is the means to revitalizing what is central to the American legal system--the rule of law." (There are 202 attorneys in the 112th US Congress out of a total of 535 members of Congress. Washington Wire, 1/5/2011).

The web site also features a video with a special message from Newt Gingrich. Presumably Gingrich is comfortable with the law school's blend of law and religion, and its goal of injecting that blend into the rule of law.

The document that lead me to the Counsel was a piece entitled Declaration of American Values, with excerpts posted to Facebook by author Pam Spaulding. (I count on Pam to lead me to interesting material and she never fails to do so.) The Declaration appears to be the Counsel's proposal for a new Declaration of Independence and contains such gems as the following:
  • To secure our national interest in the institution of marriage and family by embracing the union of one man and one woman as the sole form of legitimate marriage and the proper basis of family.
  • To secure the free exercise of religion for all people, including the freedom to acknowledge God through our public institutions and other modes of public expression and the freedom of religious conscience without coercion by penalty or force of law.
  • To secure the moral dignity of each person, acknowledging that obscenity, pornography, and indecency debase our communities, harm our families, and undermine morality and respect. Therefore, we promote enactment and enforcement of laws to protect decency and traditional morality.
  • To secure the individual right to own, possess, and use firearms as central to the preservation of peace and liberty.
There are ten declarations in all, plus a preamble and a closing vow asserting that an unidentified "we" pledge their names, their lives, and their honor to upholding this declaration of American values. 

The Christian fundamentalists of my childhood were goodhearted people for the most part who sincerely believed that it was their duty to try and save the souls of sinners. They were not interested in controlling the government; they sought their guidance from their churches and did their proselytizing via their churches. Today's Christian Right is a different breed. They are not not necessarily fundamentalists; they adhere to a literal reading of the Bible only when it suits their purposes.  As a whole, they are better educated than their fundamentalists predecessors, churned out by private religious colleges and universities.  They encompass middle and upper class demographics. They seek power and control, and view religion as a tool to achieve both. They are dangerous. 

It is not enough that they share their beliefs with those who embrace the same values. What they want is to impose their beliefs, their will, on the rest of us. Fanaticism begets a rabid vigilance to convert or destroy all who would dare walk to a different drummer. There is no group more dangerous than those who believe or profess to believe in some mythological anointment of their cause by a supreme being. History is littered with atrocities perpetrated in the name of someone's God.

Please understand that it is not genuinely held personal faith or spiritual belief that I'm speaking of, but a rigid fanaticism in which one group insists upon imposing its views, its beliefs, its will upon others. I'm speaking of groups such as this Liberty Counsel, which adorns itself with the trappings of law, wraps itself in the American flag, and with its Bible clasped in one hand is as dangerous and frightening as any fascist.

Such groups must be revealed, dragged into the light if necessary. Their power lies in their chameleon like ability to blend in, to appear to be simply promoting sensible values that will benefit all of us. We must be vigilant and unafraid in shouting to the rafters that not only does the emperor have no clothes on, the emperor is also a liar and a fraud.

Definition of FASCISM

often capitalized : a political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition
: a tendency toward or actual exercise of strong autocratic or dictatorial control 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Necessary Evil

In a comment to a recent post by a friend of a video interview of journalist and author Chris Hedges, I offered my observation that "Entities and systems are rarely good or evil."

Hedges, who identifies himself as a socialist, is a harsh critic of what he perceives to be the betrayal of America by the liberal Left. Hedges chastises the Left for failing to adhere to its own ethical beliefs and work towards achieving meaningful and radical change to restructure the social and economic infrastructure of America so as to perpetrate true equality and access to resources for all Americans.

I agree with Hedges that liberalism hasn't exactly made radical changes in America but I don't view the Left as a sellout, in cahoots with corporate America to trample on the heads of the little people. Hedges believes in absolutes; he is quick to classify institutions, businesses, and economic systems as evil.

I found that to be an oversimplification; hence my observation that entities and systems are rarely good or evil.  My statement wasn't readily understood by other readers and I feel compelled to further explain my line of thinking.

The terms good and evil denote some type of intentional and chosen path of behavior. I reserve those terms for descriptors of human behavior. A lion kills a gazelle.The act is neither good nor evil but an instinctive desire to feed.

I think that it allows humans to absolve ourselves of responsibility for our actions when we attribute intent and desire to non-human creatures or things.

For example, variations of the declaration that "War is a necessary evil" have been repeated throughout recorded history. It allows us to declare that some wars are good wars. The Roman Catholic Church went so far as to declare that some wars had God's blessing and were indeed, holy wars. It has also allowed us to regard war as inevitable and devote very little energy to the avoidance or prevention of war. After all it's a necessity, can't be helped. We totally avoid tackling head on that we create wars and what we create, we can choose not to create. We continue blissfully fighting these "necessary" wars as if there really were an Ares who decides when humans shall engage in wars.

When we attribute anthropomorphic qualities to systems and events, declare them to be good or evil, we abdicate human responsibility for control of those systems and entities. They are neither good nor evil, they are simply what we permit them to be and if we want them changed,we first have to accept our collective responsibility for allowing those systems and entities to get out of control in the first place.

We have met the enemy and he is us.--Walt Kelly