Monday, January 26, 2009

Racism is dead! Long live racism!

Many have said that with the election of President Obama, racism is now dead. I beg to differ. First of all, there is the resurgence of racist jokes that I've heard recently. And all the jokes about the new president relate to race. Yes, I understand that there will be jokes at the expense of President Obama. I'm fine with that. Joke about his smoking. Joke about his views. Hell, joke about his pool or basketball. But jokes about his race are off limits. And those are the ONLY "jokes" I've heard. The mildest is "can they still call it the White House?" They get worse from there.

If you care to read the story, a Greenwich Village bakery is selling "Drunken Negro Face" cookies. I just don't even know where to start on these cookies, yummy though they do look. Is it the drippy gobs of chocolate that form caricatured features? Is it the maraschino cherry eyes giving the appearance of someone who's been on a three-day bender? Or maybe it's the exaggerated grin that perpetuates the "they're such a happy people" stereotype.

The proprietor has apologized and insists he's not racist. He can't be, see, because he has a Cuban in his family.

However, I don't see this as the problem. I see it as a symptom of the problem. The problem is that racism is bubbling just beneath the surface of the psyche in the US. As we never address it, it just keeps getting pushed deeper and deeper.

Ever have a splinter? If you can get the splinter out right away, it's not too bad. If you can't get it out, it festers and swells with the growing infection, getting uglier and more dangerous to our health.

The splinter in the US is racism. And for over 40 years, ever since we "defeated" racism with the Civil Rights laws, the splinter has been festering as we have simply refused to deal with it and tried to define it out of existence.

Recently we've seen some places where the ugly infection has burst through, tragically. For descriptions of recent events, see Kit's blog. She sees these events as an "Open Season on Black Men," the title of her post. Her explanation is that there is white frustration and anger at President Obama's election. Perhaps Kit is right. I don't express as well as she does, obviously. I just see it a racism rearing its ugly head again. The festering sore coming to a head.

So what can and should we do? WEll, let's get that damn splinter out. When you hear a racist comment, speak up. "Oh, I don't think that's so," can be an effective phrase. I've said "I just don't see the humor in that" when told a racist joke. You'd be amazed how often white people are assumed to condone a racist joke just because we're white.

I'm often called hypersensitive. "After all, one of them is now in the White House." The fact that there is an "us" and a "them" is telling enough. I'm waiting and working for the time when there's simply an American in the White House, with no qualifiers.

That's all I know how to do. I'm certainly open to suggestions from my sage readers.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Have We Made America Again?

I'm doing a post in the fashion of MacDaddy, but I know I won't do as well as he does. You should read his poetry posts to get a feel for how it should be. Even his posts that are not about poetry are poetry themselves.

Yesterday I woke up with a poem running through my mind. "Let America Be America Again," by the inimitable Langston Hughes. If you're not familiar with him, you should be. If you are, his poems are always worth a re-read.

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean--
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home--
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay--
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again!

Does this sound familiar? Somehow, I think his spiritual descendant, President Barack Obama (GOD it feels so good to type that!), has read much of Hughes. And he has reclaimed America for us.

Last night I brushed past a gentleman at an Obama celebration. He reached out, patted my shoulder and said, "It's Obama Day!" "It's the day we take our country back!" I responded. Then we cheered.

Certainly, there will be struggles. As the President himself stated, we face unprecedented challenges. But America is America again. At least for me.

As I looked into the sky, I could almost see Hughes' face beaming down.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

There Are Still Good People in This World

As some of you may remember, I asked what you thought of a new idea for a blog celebrating the simple acts that people do for strangers. The response was favorable, so I launched it last weekend. Please stop by There Are Still Good People in This World to read the first story and to contribute your stories of kindnesses that you have experienced.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

A Fifty-Year-Old Wrong, Finally Righted

Did you catch the International Bowl today? I know, it wasn't one of the biggies, but in one way it was the most significant bowl of the season. Toronto in January isn't really a draw. But the story here isn't national championships or the draw of a warm locale.

You see, in 1958 the University of Buffalo football team (8-1) got a bid to play in the Tangerine Bowl. The only problem was that the Tangerine Bowl was in Orlando, in the south. And in 1958, the height of Jim Crow days, blacks couldn't play in that area. And UB had some black players. The bowl invitation was extended. The only catch was that the invitation was only open to the white players on the team. So what should the university do?

The coaches put the dilemma to the team. The vote came back unanimous. They were a team. If one member wasn't welcome, the team wasn't welcome. They declined the bid. That was the last bowl bid they got. For fifty years.

Until this year, when UB got a bowl bid to play against the University of Connecticut. UB was finally able to send their 1958 team to the bowl game. And they did. All surviving members of the 1958 UB football team attended the International Bowl, at UB's expense. Seeing those old men in the stands did my heart good. Not one of them regretted their decision.

They say that sports builds character. I've often thought that was just a saying, meant to justify obscene amounts of money spent on sports at the high school and college levels. But when I look at the 1958 University of Buffalo football team, I think they had more character than most of US at that time.

Today UConn beat UB in the International Bowl. But I don't think it much mattered. The University of Buffalo proved they were winners fifty years ago. And they could have taught the rest of us a few lessons, if we'd been of a mind to listen.