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Question for Barack Obama: Do You Feel the Noose Tightening?

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Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas during his 1991 nomination hearings noted that he was experiencing a "high-tech lynching"- because he was asked questions regarding allegations that he sexually harassed one of his employees (Dr. Anita Hill) during his tenure at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  He writes in his autobiography, My Grandfather's Son that a vast left-wing conspiracy used sexual misconduct allegations to raise doubts about his worthiness to the Supreme Court.  Granted, it is not unusual for America to "lynch"- black men literally and figuratively just because they exist. However an argument could be made that his indignation regarding the misconduct allegations was used to deflect any serious inquiry about his legal philosophy or his qualifications to be a justice. 

Thomas' resume until the hearings included a stint at the Missouri Attorney General's office, an Assistant Secretary of Education, head of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and he sat for a year on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, the nation's second most prominent court.  That does not seem like the resume of a Supreme Court justice.  Nevertheless, he was approved to be on the court and has served his white, conservative male advocates well by dismantling affirmative action programs (interestingly enough, conservative president Richard Nixon actually expanded affirmative action during his tenure). 

There is now another version of a high-tech lynching in the person of Barack Obama.  The problem with Barack Obama is that sometimes he lynches himself, not with the illusions of grandeur regarding legal prowess or being  persecuted by The Left (or progressives) like Clarence Thomas (a beneficiary of affirmative action), but by believing that he is a race-neutral figure (because he is "biracial"-) and not openly challenging racists and racist socioeconomic/political systems.  He does not want to realize that political ideology and the issue of race are interconnected.  He rejects or, at least, avoids the notion that race matters.  He believes that he cannot criticize America over race, gender, and class issues.  He recognizes race, gender, and class issues but does not link them to the core American world view.  In short, the more he runs from issues the more he tightens his noose.  Let us explore elements of his noose.

 

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The Race Noose Barack Obama tries to downplay the issue of race in America.  In doing so, he has made race a significant issue.  African-Americans cannot walk away from the issue of race anywhere; we are a walking dichotomy of the promise of America versus the evil of America.  Subsequently, African-Americans are forced to wear several masks.  One mask navigates a racist American society.  The other mask struggles to maintain or deny blackness within an American context.  Noted scholar, editor, and African American activist W.E.B. DuBois was quite aware of the challenges Black people faced in dealing with skin color and being American.  It is an extremely hard, constant exercise and needed a great deal of strength to overcome.  He wrote Black life in America was the fight over "two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder." 

Sometimes Barack Obama appears to stay away from the issue of his skin color. Granted, he was raised by his White maternal grandmother but he plays that up that his grandmother and grandfather "grew up" in Kansas.  In doing so, he says to the virtually lily-White traditionally Republican voting Mountains/Plains states "See, I'm just as white as you.  I have "Midwestern Values,'" which means that he is not like those godless liberals in the Northeast.  Moreover, he tries to distance himself from other Black people, implying that he works hard, he worked for everything he got, and that he does not complain like other Black people.  (Isn't it interesting that when Black people talk to White people about structural racism some White people believe they are complaining?)  Obama's views or lack of views on race tighten his noose because if he wins the presidency he could not put more Blacks in high-level positions (even when qualified) in his cabinet because he would be viewed as being "Pro-Black."  He may have to make his cabinet even whiter as to not offend or even scare White people.  On the other hand, if Obama truly embraced his "blackness" (African lineage) then he has a moral duty to help White America understand that America has grown-up and benefited from racism.  He does not have to use a sledgehammer to drive this idea home but it is o.k. to make White America uncomfortable.  True healing begins in open, honest dialogue on race (beyond Bill Clinton's "Dialogues on Race") and discussions on how racism exists and how it could and should be addressed properly.  Unfortunately, Obama would probably not use his influence to address racism.  His noose tightens now and probably in the future. 

The Religious Noose Perhaps the tightest noose placed upon Barack Obama's neck involves religion.   Unfortunately, America places a Christian litmus test on its political candidates.  I believe all or nearly all elected officials and candidates are forced to become Pharisees (the most influential religious party among the Jews during the time of Jesus).  To satisfy some Christians, their political Pharisees must, as in Matthew 23:5 indicates, "...to do for men to see" in terms of acting out and articulating their Christian beliefs.  (I am sure that atheist or agnostic politicians are forced to play this game as well.)  Sadly, candidates that fail to proclaim their Christian faith are rarely elected.  One wonderful exception can be found in U.S. Representative Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota). 

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Representative Ellison is a Muslim.  However, extremely prejudiced members of the media such as television and radio talk show host Glenn Beck whom, in a tremendous (and proud) show of his ignorance asked Ellison "Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies...I'm not accusing you of being an enemy, but that's the way I feel, and I think a lot of Americans will feel that way."  (When Beck said that I almost lost my religion!)  It is interesting to note that Beck is a Mormon, a religion that could be considered out of the American mainstream.

A noose has been placed around Obama's neck in the name of a Christian God and he has let it tighten and tighten.  Obama has tightened it the most when he distanced himself from Reverend Dr. Jeremiah Wright of Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ of which Obama was a member and where Wright married him and his wife, baptized their two daughters and blessed their Chicago house.  Wright caused a political and religious firestorm when segments of his various sermons and public comments were highlighted by the White "mainstream"- media.  According to Eli Saslow of The Washington Post, Wright has praised Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, said September 11, 2001 meant "America's chickens are coming home to roost" and that "racism is how this country was founded and how this country is still run."  Furthermore, Saslow also featured Wright's most controversial statement from a 2003 sermon in which he talks about how blacks have been treated at the hands of the government:"The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strikes law and then wants us to sing, "God Bless America.' No, no, no, God damn America, that's in the Bible, for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme."

Let us decipher Wright's statement.  He said that the government has not "won" its "War On Drugs" (this begs the question: how can the US "win" "The War On Terror" when it has not addressed domestic terrorism?), announced how our government uses a baseball metaphor to describe punishing drug abusers (those at the very bottom of the illegal drug trade), implied how the government fails to track down real terrorists (those that grow and/or make illegal drugs or the banks that protect drug dealer profits), fake patriotism, American arrogance in dealing with global affairs, fake Christianity, and that there will be an American reckoning for not adequately enhancing the lives of poor people whom Jesus Christ described as "the least of these" (Matthew 25:40).  It seems like Wright was telling the truth with a righteous anger and extremely direct language.  Sometimes the truth hurts.  Wright put America's feet to the fire.  Maybe that Black man's fire burned a few of our White brothers' and sisters' feet.  Maybe White America thinks Black people should be overly grateful for living in America, have no right to criticize it, and complains all the time. 

In distancing himself from Wright he distances himself from a pillar of The Black Church and one of its driving theologies: Liberation Theology.  Liberation Theology, simply put, using faith to assess, point out, and address how our socioeconomic and political structures are based in oppression and domination, which are keys to human oppression and suffering.  Emily Oliver, in her Christianity Commentaries article, describes Liberation Theology further:

...salvation is not merely a promise of Heaven, but justice and freedom from oppression in the present. Salvation is not just individual, but corporate. We experience salvation not just as one person, but in the renewal and healing of the many people in the world.

Black Liberation Theology, which is the essence of Wright, is the mix of Liberation Theology and an affirmation of the responsibilities, action, joys, challenges, and faith of Black people.  Wright scares Obama because the Black Liberation Theology that Wright embodies involves a responsibilty to call White people out on their racism.  Obama believes he cannot win by openly supporting the essence of Liberation Theology and the power of Black Liberation Theology.  Obama provides a curious tension on his noose because he talks around the essence of Liberation Theology without embracing the responsibility or having the courage to let Liberation Theology be his guide.  Consider Obama's emphases in addressing poverty according to his website (http://www.barackobama.com/issues/poverty/):
The Problem   
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Poverty Rising: There are over 37 million poor Americans. Most Americans living in poverty work, but still cannot afford to make ends meet. Minimum Wage is Not Enough: Even when a parent works full-time earning minimum wage and Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and food stamps are factored into their income, families are still $1,550 below the federal poverty line because of the flat-lined minimum wage.
Barack Obama and Joe Biden's Plan
Expand Access to Jobs
  • Help Americans Grab a Hold of and Climb the Job Ladder
  • Create a Green Jobs Corps
  • Reduce Crime Recidivism by Providing Ex-Offender Supports
  • Make Work Pay for All Americans
  • Expand the Earned Income Tax Credit
  • Raise the Minimum Wage to $9.50 an Hour by 2011
  • Provide Tax Relief
  • Strengthen Families
  • Promote Responsible Fatherhood: Obama will sign into law his Responsible Fatherhood and Healthy Families Act to remove some of the government penalties on married families, crack down on men avoiding child support payments, and ensure that payments go to families instead of state bureaucracies.
  • Support Parents with Young Children
  • Expand Paid Sick Days:
  • Increase the Supply of Affordable Housing
  • Supports Affordable Housing Trust Fund
  • Fully Fund the Community Development Block Grant
  • Tackle Concentrated Poverty
  • Establish 20 Promise Neighborhoods
  • Ensure Community-Based Investment Resources in Every Urban Community
  • Invest in Rural Areas

On the surface, the plan is beautiful.  Obama identifies a couple of problems and ways to address those problems.  This reveals his wonderful sensitivity to people's needs.  Let us explore Obama's priorities further.  I highlighted his emphasis on promoting responsible fathers because of a key phrase: "crack down on men avoiding child support payments."  Let us juxtapose that with his vote on the corporate bailout.  He voted for the $700,000,000,000+ bailout and identified the culprits to the problem by blaming the current crisis on greed and irresponsibility in Washington and on Wall Street.  Most importantly, he fails to indicate that corporations need to be responsible to people as fathers are to their children.  There has not been much a definition (beyond a bi-partisan oversight committee) on how he would get corporations to be more responsible. 

Obama is big on talking about responsibility.  In a speech to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Obama took time to say that parents need to be more responsible with their children.  This is a great sentiment.  Sadly, he has not truly addressed the responsibilities of corporations nor has he addressed the failures of our capitalist (when convenient) system.  (Capitalism when convenient means that corporations want all the profits from their products and services and run to government for what they describe as "investment."  In reality, they want welfare in the form of no-bid contracts, tax breaks, extremely low-interest loans, infrastructure support, and large loopholes to allow them to move their corporate offices out of the country to avoid taxes.)  Again, Obama rejects Wright and Liberation Theology.  He continues to tighten his noose all in the name of appeasing some middle-class Whites or those that think they are middle-class (In reality, they are "Working Poor." How can one be middle-class and not be able to afford health insurance?).  Obama, in his recent commercials does not mention poor people but it is o.k. to allow the bailout (with little corporate responsibility).  He has made very few statements on how the bailout will change his national health care, education, and energy initiatives.  He focuses on the middle- and pseudo-middle class.  This suggests that the middle-class is more deserving of getting help.  Now a noose is placed around the necks of poor people.

Ways Obama Can Loosen His Noose

Barack Obama can never truly loosen his noose.  However, there are ways that he could loosen it to be true to himself, true to Black People, and true to America.  Here are a few suggestions for Obama:

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Reverend Reynard N. Blake, Jr., M. S. is an ordained Baptist minister living in East Lansing, Michigan with his wife Karen Kelly-Blake, Ph.D. (Anthropology). He earned his Master of Science degrees in Community Development and Urban Studies from (more...)
 

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