Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Then there is the issue of race in America. Republicans have won races through racial division, but Democrats take minority votes for granted. I was asking Anna, my housemate, if it was like that at all in the UK (knowing it wasn’t). She said no because they didn’t have that history of slavery. I didn’t understand at first because I know Britain was heavily involved in slavery and slave trade and had a law that first abolished the slave trade and then later abolished slavery. Then I remembered that there was not mass transport of slaves to the UK. The reason we have our problems is that the US is where we took slaves to be –the Americas: Haiti, U.S., Brazil, Nicaragua, etc.

And all this time we have never apologized for it. I was amazed when I was looking at the list of governments and even the U.S. government and their apologies for past wrongs to different groups. Congress apologized to Japanese Americans for the internment camps during WWII and to native Hawaiians for overthrowing the Kingdom of Hawaii. East Germany apologized to the Jews and the world for the Holocaust; Japan’s emperor apologized for crimes in Korea; the UK apologized to the Irish for not relieving the potato famine. The list goes on.

Apologizing for slavery doesn’t fix everything. But it does send a nice message to our kids about the power in apologizing and what is right to do.

Sadly race is still a big issue today. Look at the words by a writer in the “Black Commentator” (a publication for black journalists) about a Howard Dean speech given in 2003.

“Howard Dean’s December 7 [2003] speech is the most important statement on race in American politics by a mainstream white politician in nearly 40 years. Nothing remotely comparable has been said by anyone who might become or who has been President of the United States since Lyndon Johnson’s June 3, 1965 affirmative action address to the graduating class at Howard University.

For four decades, the primary political project of the Republican Party has been to transform itself into the White Man’s Party. Not only in the Deep South, but also nationally, the GOP seeks to secure a majority popular base for corporate governance through coded appeals to white racism. The success of this GOP project has been the central fact of American politics for two generations—reaching its fullest expression in the Bush presidency. Yet a corporate covenant with both political parties has prohibited the mere mention of America’s core contemporary political reality: the constant, routine mobilization of white voters through the imagery and language of race. Last Sunday, Howard Dean broke that covenant.”

Now look at Howard Dean’s words (some of them):

“In 1968, Richard Nixon won the White House. HE did it in a shameful way—by dividing Americans against one another, stirring up racial prejudices and bringing out the worst in people. They called it the ‘Southern Strategy,’ and the Republicans have been using it ever since. Nixon pioneered it, and Ronald Reagan perfected it, using phrases like ‘racial quotas’ and ‘welfare queens’ to convince white Americans that minorities were to blame for all of America’s problems. The Republican Party would never win elections if they came out and said their core agenda was about selling America piece by piece to their campaign contributors and making sure that wealth and power is concentrated in the hands of a few. To distract people from their real agenda, they run elections based on race, dividing us, instead of uniting us.” He’s connecting racism to poverty here.

Listen to Lyndon Johnson at the commencement speech: “Negro poverty is not white poverty. Many of its causes and many of its cures are the same. But there are differences—deep, corrosive, obstinate differences—radiating painful roots into the community, and into the family, and the nature of the individual. These differences are not racial differences. They are solely and simply the consequence of ancient brutality, past injustice, and present prejudice. They are anguishing to observe. For the Negro they are a constant reminder of oppression.” Black Americans “saw those words as truth” (God’s Politics).

So Dean continued “Every time a politician uses the word ‘quota’ it’s because he’d rather not talk about the real reason that we’ve lost almost 3 million jobs. Every time a politician complains about affirmative action in our universities, it’s because he’d rather not talk about the real problems with education in America—like the fact that here in South Carolina, only 15 percent of African Americans have a post—high school degree.”

[Johnson did a lot of Affirmative Action; Clinton more recently, had lots of “national conversations” on it but to no real purpose, no substantial plan of action]

Wallis writes that Dean was presenting working class whites in South Carolina with the REAL option—vote with your economic interests or vote with your boss’s interests while blaming blacks for problems. “In American history, populist and progressive movements only became possible when middle- and low-income whites make that choice, not only to vote their own interests, but to actually ally with working-class blacks against wealthy and powerful interests that were aligned against them both.” That’s very true, and I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Jesse Jackson was quoted in the same “Black Commentator” article as saying “The big fight in this state [South Carolina] should be trade policy and the Wal-Martization of our economy. . .The challenge is to get South Carolina to vote its economic hope and not its racial fears.” I really like that. I didn’t realize that most low-income Americans are white who “work every day. They work at Wal-Mart without insurance. They work at fast-food places. They work at hospitals where no job is beneath them, where they don’t’ have insurance, so they can’t afford to lay in the beds they make. . .The challenge for South Carolina is to move from racial battleground to economic common ground to moral high ground.”

So Dean continues, “In America, there is nothing black or white about having to live from one paycheck to the next. Hunger does not care what color we are. In America, a conversation between parents about taking on more debt might be in English or it might be in Spanish, worrying about making ends meet knows no racial identity. Black children and white children all get the flue and need the doctor. In both the inner city and in small rural towns, our schools need good teachers. When education is suffering in lower-income areas, it means that we will pay for more prisons and face more crime in the future. When families lack health insurance and are forced to go to the emergency room when they need a doctor, medical care becomes more expensive for each of us. When wealth is concentrated at the very top, when the middle class is shrinking and the gap between rich and poor grows as wide as it has been since the Gilded Age of the 19th Century, our economy cannot sustain itself.”

He reminded that “Americans, black and white, are working harder, for less money, with more debt, and less time to spend with families and communities.” He said most (8 million) of the 13 million American children in poverty were white. “It’s time we had a new politics in America—a politics that refuses to pander to our lowest prejudices. Because when white people and black people and brown people vote together, that’s when we make true progress in this country. Jobs, health care, education, democracy, and opportunity. These are the issues that can unite America. The politics of the 21st century is going to begin with our common interests.”

He also said “If any politician tries to win an election by turning America into a battle of us versus them, we’re going to respond with a politics that says that we’re all in this together—that we want to raise our children in a world in which they are not taught to hate one another, because our children are not born to hate one another. We’re going to talk about justice again in this country, and what an America based on justice should look like—an America with justice in our tax code, justice in our health care system, and justice in our hearts as well as our laws. . .The politics of race and the politics of fear will be answered with the promise of community and the message of hope.”

Sound familiar? Any questions.

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