Friday, March 21, 2008

Obama's Anger, by Ed Kaitz

Obama's Anger, By Ed Kaitz

A very interesting article that everybody, regardless of race, should read, because it makes a lot of sense.

Once again it explains why, while many blacks are haves, many more are have nots.

Here's an excerpt:

In Bayou country I lived on boats and in doublewide trailers, and like the rest of the Vietnamese refugees, I shopped at Wal-Mart and ate a lot of rice. When they arrived in Louisiana the refugees had no money (the money that they had was used to bribe their way out of Vietnam and into refugee camps in Thailand), few friends, and a mostly unfriendly and suspicious local population.

They did however have strong families, a strong work ethic, and the "Audacity of Hope." Within a generation, with little or no knowledge of English, the Vietnamese had achieved dominance in the fishing industry there and their children were already achieving the top SAT scores in the state.

While I had been fishing my new black friend had been working as a prison psychologist in Missouri, and he was pursuing a higher degree in psychology. He was interested in my story, and after about an hour getting to know each other I asked him point blank why these Vietnamese refugees, with no money, friends, or knowledge of the language could be, within a generation, so successful. I also asked him why it was so difficult to convince young black men to abandon the streets and take advantage of the same kinds of opportunities that the Vietnamese had recently embraced.

His answer, only a few words, not only floored me but became sort of a razor that has allowed me ever since to slice through all of the rhetoric regarding race relations that Democrats shovel our way during election season:

"We're owed and they aren't."

In short, he concluded, "they're hungry and we think we're owed. It's crushing us, and as long as we think we're owed we're going nowhere."

1 comment:

michele said...

I don't think the author of the email below even read Senator Obama's speech before drafting his criticism. Here is the link:

I think that Obama would agree that some of the author's anecdotes are probably true, but would disagree with the author's interpretation of what he, Obama, actually said in his speech. Obama might also agree with me that you can find (or make up) an anecdote to support any theory, but even if they are true, they are not a safe basis for generalizations.

I would suggest that for each of the author's anecdotes about how Asians have succeeded, there are true stories (anecdotes) about how blacks and Asians are still discriminated against (and worse) which continue to affect their ability to succeed (and survive). I think it is great that the Asian community has adapted so well to life in this country, but that doesn't make it right to discriminate against blacks or Asians or Hispanics, or anyone else, and the author surely doesn't suggest that discrimination or racism are dead. He stays away from this topic. In avoiding this truism, he is really only saying "wow, look at how well the Asians have done, irrespective of how disadvantaged they are and how unfair we are to them, isn't that great." I agree with the author's enthusiasm for the successes of the Asian community, but am not impressed with the author's sense of right and wrong. Success in the face of unfairness doesn't justify continued unfairness.

The author's assertion that "the Vietnamese community leaders didn't complain about the Katrina response is nonsense." Is he saying that the government did a good job after Katrina, or that the Vietnamese are a very quiet people, or that blacks are too loud? There is no question that the government bungled the Katrina response, and that the primary impact was felt by the black community. The fact that he even brings this up makes me question the author's objectivity when it comes to his own experiences at CU. Is the author racist, maybe not, but we all see what we want to see, at least to some extent.

Besides, if the only people in the CU library on Friday night are all Asians (not blacks or whites), as the author contends, what does that say about why whites continue to outperform blacks and Asians in the job market. Is it more likely that whites are so smart that they don't have to study or that they are just better connected? The author didn't express any surprise that there weren't any whites in the library on Friday night. Should we expect blacks to study on Friday nights, but not whites? After all, they have a lot of catching up to do. Who has the sense of entitlement? Again, I think the author may not be objective.

I think that Obama would agree with the author's implication that there are cultural differences that contribute to economic disparity in this country. In fact, in Obama's book he cites bad welfare policies as contributing to despair and erosion of the work ethic in the black community and the erosion of the black family. But does anything ring true about the author's story that an anonymous black student came into his white professor's office and said "My mom told me that the white people at this university owe me this..." I went to CU and cannot imagine this scenario. If the author is making this up, or even exaggerating it, to support his implications, what does that say about his motives?

The author concludes with the claim that we shouldn't trust "Obama's anger." This conclusion is based on a false premise. What anger? Obama's whole speech was about how anger is understandable but counterproductive. Obama was anything but angry in his speech.

In Obama's speech, he was not saying that Reverend Wright's continued anger about the effects of past slavery and discrimination was the right approach, only that it was a real human reaction to a perceived injustice. Just like the resentment of the white who lost his job to a black because of affirmative action is real, but probably misdirected. The world isn't fair, and it is easy to blame "the other guy" for that unfairness, but that will only contribute to the spiral of resentment.

In fact, Obama's speech suggests that the only solution to the race problem in this country is for each side to 1) understand the other side's grievances and acknowledge them as real, 2) continue to strive for fairness, and then 3) get over perceived injustices without resenting any other race. Obama is very different from Wright in this respect.

The author can't even get to step one because he has a problem acknowledging the fact that most black people in this country were born poor, at least in part because many of their great grandparents were the children of slaves and in part because their parents, until very recently (less than 50 years ago), blacks were legally discriminated against. Obviously, the effects of those factors continue to diminish with each generation, but they still exist. Obama recognizes that there are other cultural factors that contribute to the disparity between blacks and whites and blacks and other races, but understands the psychological significance of the "old" factors. It is human nature to blame "others" rather than ourselves for our own individual failures and sorrows, no matter how loosely connected, especially, when those "others" committed true atrocities...look at the cycle of violence and revenge in North Ireland or the Middle East. I think Obama's message to blacks is "insist on fairness now, but get over the past." How can anyone argue with that.

Specifically, Obama condemns what Wright said:

....we've heard my former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that rightly offend white and black alike....the remarks ...expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country - a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with such, Reverend Wright's comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity...

He acknowledges black weaknesses, including cruelty, ignorance, bitterness and bias:

Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety....The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.

He acknowledges that in some ways welfare has been a cause of the problem, not a solution:

...and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one's family, contributed to the erosion of black families - a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened.
He suggests that even though anger isn't the solution, whites must understand why some blacks are angry:
That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.
He understands, and suggests that blacks must understand, why some whites resent blacks:
In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience - as far as they're concerned, no one's handed them anything, they've built it from scratch. They've worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they're told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.
He assesses the situation:
This is where we are right now. It's a racial stalemate we've been stuck in for years. Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy...
The author claims "With his race speech, Obama became a peddler of angst, resentment and despair." This couldn't be farther from the truth. Obama suggests solutions (blacks should demand equal treatment now, but forgive and forget past injustice) (whites should admit that slavery and discrimination have a current impact, and strive for an America where everyone has an equal shot at success):
But I have asserted a firm conviction - a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people - that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice is we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.
For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life. But it also means binding our particular grievances - for better health care, and better schools, and better jobs - to the larger aspirations of all Americans -- the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man whose been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family. And it means taking full responsibility for own lives - by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.
In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination - and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past - are real and must be addressed. Not just with words, but with deeds - by investing in our schools and our communities; by enforcing our civil rights laws and ensuring fairness in our criminal justice system; by providing this generation with ladders of opportunity that were unavailable for previous generations. It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.
Obama acknowledges that we have made great strides towards equality already:
The profound mistake of Reverend Wright's sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It's that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country - a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old -- is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know -- what we have seen - is that America can change. That is true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope - the audacity to hope - for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.
Obama's conclusion is unarguable:
In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world's great religions demand - that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.