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How’s That Postracial Thing Working Out For You?

by Jose Vilson on February 18, 2009

in Jose

Eric Holder

Eric Holder

O, humans. After Barack Obama was elected, some of you seriously thought that the color barrier had officially collapsed. Some of you were grinning extra hard since you thought all the problems of the world were laid off your shoulders, as if we were only one John Hancock away from true world peace. Evidently, someone didn’t send the memo to Eric Holder, the first African-American US Attorney General:

“Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot in things racial, we have always been, and we, I believe, continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards,” Holder said at the Justice Department in Washington, D.C. “Though race-related issues continue to occupy a significant portion of our political discussion, and though there remain many unresolved racial issues in this nation, we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about things racial …This is truly sad. Given all that we as a nation went through during the civil rights struggle, it is hard for me to accept that the result of those efforts was to create an America that is more prosperous, more positively race-conscious, and yet is voluntarily socially segregated.”

Tough talk coming from a man born and raised in Bronx, NY. But that’s for the majority of Black people, right? I mean, white people consider a neighborhood less desireable if Black people live in it, and most people, Blacks and Whites included, don’t truly know the reason why Black History Month was created, right? There’s still higher poverty rates amongst Blacks and Latinos than Whites even though we’re “all” going through an economic crisis, but that’s OK, because there’s a Black man in the White House. He’s smart, athletic, polite, conversational, and articulate, so he’ll be attacked on his policies, not on his ethnicity, looks, or background right?

NY Post Editorial Cartoon (2/18/09)

NY Post Editorial Cartoon (2/18/09)

BANG!

Apparently, even cool, calm, and collected Obama, the same Obama who won the millions (and millions) of people’s votes (and minds) fairly through a really tight election, who galvanized many Americans throughout the United States to become more active in their communities, who within a month of being inaugurated has made tremendous strides towards bringing normalcy to this country, can still be easily compared (not so much contrasted) to an angry “uncivilized” primate who wouldn’t stop ripping people’s faces off until two presumably White cops put him in his place.

Some have contended that there’s a double standard associated with this comparison because, while we’re outraged at the aforementioned cartoon, we were fine with the Bush monkey cartoons and the Condoleeza Rice as House Nanny references. While I see what they’re getting at, I also think that highlighting the President of the United States getting shot and killed and simultaneously showing a Black man getting shot “like the monkey he is” raises the stakes to degrees that underrepresented people are all too accustomed to in this country. I’m not excusing the Bush monkey stuff or the Condoleeza stuff because, frankly, I disagree way more with their policies than their person. But this comparison is shallow at best. I just don’t think comparing George W. Bush’s facial expressions to a monkey’s carries the same implications to, say, Barack Obama as a shot-down angry monkey. You can disagree with the policies, but this takes it to a whole ‘nother level.

And again, I’m not the racial polemicist usually. I’m not saying that race relations haven’t come a long way from, say, 100 years ago. Yet, we humans are foolish to believe that people like Obama and Holder symbolize such a revolutionary shift in our national thinking that we no longer, for instance, need affirmative action or have check boxes for race / ethnicity. Until this dynamic changes, then the artist isn’t just representing an isolated case. He is not an isolated case; he is a representative of a significant portion of Americans’ thinking. Until we ALL have those conversations (and not just talking points we regurgitate from whoever we decide to idolize as our racial savior), we won’t get anywhere.

So to those of you who love singing Kumbayah around imaginary campfires, how’s that postracial thing working out for you? The grass over there must be really green.

Jose, who still doesn’t see everyone’s voices fully integrated into American history right?

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I Shall Fear No Man (Y’all Don’t Hear Me Though)

by Jose Vilson on January 19, 2009

in Jose

Backstage at the Democratic National Convention

Backstage at the Democratic National Convention

My favorite speech from the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King has been called “I’ve Been To The Mountaintop” and it ends something like this:

And then I got into Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

And so I’m happy, tonight.

I’m not worried about anything.

I’m not fearing any man!

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!

The thoughts swirling through my head with the recent release of Notorious and the pending inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama all have a focal point of the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. Particularly, I’m always concerned with a few parts of his legend that have turned into fable, and have almost made it impossible for the younger generations to feel empowered by the Civil Rights Movement. (Some of the inspiration for this post came at the behest of CNN’s Soledad Brown’s interview with Fred Gray, Rosa Parks’ lawyer during the pivotal bus sit-in, who is still quite sharp.)

These are a handful of things everyone can take to the younger generation in case even we forget what’s truly possible:

1) Rosa Parks was neither lazy nor stubborn. She was a protester who knew what she was doing when she sat on that bus, and she knew who had her back.

2) The movement may have had male figureheads, but the movement wouldn’t have even been possible without the women in the movement, and everyone who’s anyone knows it.

3) From some reports, MLK Jr. was actually reluctant to even get into the movement, but eventually felt it was the best thing to do.

4) Most of the movers and shakers of the movement were really young. Some of the Black Panthers were late teens or college students. The same can be said for the Brown Berets, Young Lords, Yellow Fist, etc. MLK Jr. was still a preacher at 25, but he was assassinated at 39. Malcolm X was also assassinated at 39. Rosa Parks was 35 during the infamous bus incident.

5) Despite videos and tales to the contrary, the people who marched, protested, and made noise were relatively few. Thus, it only takes a few to shake millions.

6) Unlike many rappers who have professed their suicidal thoughts to the masses, MLK Jr. didn’t say the aforementioned “Mountaintop” speech because he was somehow depressed or disillusioned with the world around him. He, like other Civil Rights leaders, actually feared for their lives because they were HELPING ADVANCE EQUALITY FOR ALL!

Now some of these facts might come off as a little morbid, but the residuals of these ideas have almost made many of our young brethren ostentatious when unnecessary but timid when it comes to civil action. Rather than actually feeling some inspiration about these awesome figures in this country’s history, many of them cower and shun those times in favor of more individualistic goals and a lavish lifestyle.

Thus, tomorrow’s inauguration is truly symbolic not simply because Barack Obama’s a Black man in the White House or because it comes at the heels of MLK Jr. Day, but also because this president’s whole campaign was about igniting the younger generation, and relying on their expertise. Maybe percentagewise, it may not have been much of a difference, but the people who took to the blogs and the streets is impressive, and maybe then, too, we’ll have a new generation who finds value in giving life and limb for a cause that benefits the greater.

Jose, who doesn’t believe in this post-racial business, you need more people …

p.s. – Dick Cheney hurting his back moving out of the office? Wow. Not that coincidental.

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