Posts tagged ‘Lynn Sweet’
It is July 22, 2009 and President Obama is holding a press conference on health care reform. As the press conference nears its end, reporter Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times asks the president what he thinks about the arrest of Professor Henry Louis “Skip” Gates outside of his own home in Cambridge MA.
Obama replies, “Lynn, first of all we’re here discussing health care reform so what’s with the off topic question? Second do I look like the friggin Mayor of Cambridge to you? Or even the Governor of Massachusetts? I’m the president of the United States. I don’t spend my time worrying about local issues. Or maybe you think you get to ask me my opinion on anything black? Is that it, Lynn? Stupid question, next.”
Sadly that is not how it went down. Obama answered the question and inserted himself into a local issue he didn’t belong in.
My preferred answer would have come from Chris Christie. Folks call Christie a bully but he calls out stupid when he sees stupid whether from a reporter or a potential voter.
“Bridgegate” will be hard for Christie to overcome if for no other reason then it shows his incompetence if not outright dishonesty. That’s a rotten shame because I would love to see a straight talking president who actually does inspire some fear in our enemies and even our Congress.
I LIKE the fact that Christie intimidates people. Perhaps he can overcome the bridge fiasco and we can get a much needed bully in the White House.
My friend and fellow blogger The 800 lb Gorilla, has been quite upset with reverse racism of late. He wrote a long exasperated post that boiled down to (and I paraphrase), “black folk need to stop whining and take responsibility for themselves. The time to blame white people for their ills is over.”
There is no doubt that on some level, Gorilla is correct. Self reliance is the fastest route to success. Success is achieved through winning strategies that transcend race. If we compare successful blacks with successful whites, I submit we will see many of the same behaviors. If he left it at that, there would be little in his post to refute. However, G used enough rope to hang himself. Let’s look at three examples G used to make his point
First, he critiqued an excerpt of a speech by Michael Eric Dyson, renowned author, professor and preacher.
Gorilla had a problem with the following statement: “white Americans have never been taught to think of themselves as a specific ethnic formation in the broader context of American ethnicity or race”. Where is the problem here? This is a fact. When we talk about “Americans” the default is white Americans. We will sooner identify someone as Irish, Polish or Italian before we will identify him as white, even though his ancestors came from those countries generations ago. That is a simple fact. We do not identify people of color in this country as Kenyan, Ethiopian, or Nigerian unless they just got off the boat yesterday. Otherwise they are called “black”. Why is that? It is because when Africans were brought to this country against their will centuries ago, they were stripped of their heritage. They did not come here to lend their ethnic background to the melting pot. On the contrary, they were objectified as if they were the pot itself, part of the infrastructure of a growing nation. They had no more rights than the wagons that crisscrossed this country with white settlers making homes for themselves. So no, Gorilla, white folk don’t walk around thinking “mmmm I’m white”. Nor do they refer to each other as “white”. They do however refer to people of color as “black”. Blacks whether they like it or not are faced with being “a specific ethnic formation in the broader context of American ethnicity or race.”
The quote that should have blown Gorilla’s gasket was this one: “I don’t want to stop being a black man … now we can be very circumspect and also much more sophisticated about what that blackness might mean but I don’t want to stop being black. I just want people to overcome their bigotry and violent stereotypes about what it means to be black.” Now we have a problem. Who defines what “black” is? Dyson likes being identified as black so long as it fits some definition he finds uplifting. But I’ve got news for Michael. Much of what passes for acceptable in “the black community” is total nonsense, most of rap music being at the top of that list. I much prefer being Rutherford as opposed to being a black man. I don’t know what a “black man” is. This ties back to my first observation. Being black in this country is not the same as being of African heritage. Being black in this country is being the product of the legacy of an evil institution. Even if you don’t have a single slave in your family tree, your dark skin or other physical features (in my case large lips and nose) associate you with that shameful legacy. So much like Morgan Freeman, I’d be happy to dispense with the whole “black thing”. The problem is that evil leaves a nasty stain that is hard to ignore. As much as I’d like to agree with Freeman to just stop talking about race, I’m not sure ignoring it cleans up the stain.
Never letting an opportunity to bash Barack Obama slip by, Gorilla brings up that old chestnut about Obama taking sides in the Cambridge Police vs Skip Gates case. Apparently Obama is a racist because he called the white Cambridge policeman “stupid”. Guess what? He was stupid. Once you know a man is trying to get into his own house and is not robbing the house, you don’t arrest him. Why did Officer Crowley arrest Gates? He arrested him because Gates was talking smack. Gates was being stupid and the two of them got into a “who has the bigger dick” contest. Professor Gates was too stupid to remember that be you white or black, the dick contest is always won by the cop.
But this is where Obama went wrong during that infamous press conference. The press conference was meant to be about health care reform. At the end of the presser, journalist Lynn Sweet asked Obama his opinion about the Cambridge incident. What Obama SHOULD have replied was “Lynn, would you have asked a white President that question? Why do you think I have an opinion about a local police matter just because it involves a black friend of mine? Next question.” Instead, never one to pass up an opportunity to pontificate, Obama got race-baited and bought it hook line and sinker. Gorilla’s problem should start and end with Gates who unnecessarily injected race into the incident. As for Obama, all he did was answer a question that was really beneath his dignity. Gorilla should also wonder why Sweet would ask such an inappropriate question. The question was racially charged and she knew it. The nasty stain strikes again.
After a couple of paragraphs of railing against affirmative action, Gorilla shows off a video of a black man he respects. The fellow is an ex-President of a Texas chapter of the NAACP, and now a conservative Tea Party member. C.L Bryant conjectures that he could have been Ben Jealous (National President of the NAACP) or even Barack Obama. The phrase “I coulda been a contenda” comes to mind. What stopped Bryant from becoming Barack Obama? It was liberal whites and blacks who wanted to define him.
He calls this attempt to define him “socialism”. Like a typical Tea Party member he does not know what socialism is. But more to the point, he shares the same blind spot as Gorilla. Both of them criticize affirmative action out of context. Is it “fair” to take race into account when choosing candidates for a degree program or a job? Absolutely not. As G so proudly quotes Martin Luther King Jr. it is the content of our character and our qualifications that should rule the day. But G ignores the fact that King hoped that day would come in the future. At the time of his death, it had not yet come. King no doubt believed that measures had to be taken to ensure equal opportunity for blacks. Favoritism? No, not in light of the rich and lengthy history of racism in this country. Is G aware of the studies done where identical resumes were reviewed with only the names being different and Bob Smith’s resume was favored over Leroy Jackson (or something even more obvious like Mousa Mtumbe). Great strides have been made but racism still exists and efforts to counteract it are still needed.
I feel bad that Gorilla thinks he is persecuted by society for being white. He is indeed the innocent bystander in the consequences of history. No white man living today should be saddled with the blame that his slave-holding ancestors should have borne. No black man living today should live under the cloud of shame and under-achievement simply because he comes from an American heritage so cursed. But history has consequences. Both Romeo and Juliet on their own were good hopeful people. Their families, the Montagues and Capulets were rivals for generations and the star-crossed lovers paid for that rivalry with their lives. History has consequences. Shakespeare understood that.
A white politician came to my house when I was a boy and asked to see “the lady of the house” when my mother answered the door. History has consequences. My seven year old daughter was threateningly referred to as “black girl” on the school bus. History has consequences. A classmate of hers told her that she couldn’t be good at gymnastics because she is black. Out of the mouths of babes … history has consequences. Blacks struggle between self-reliance and victimhood. History has consequences. Objectification and indignity breed hatred and so a black man stands in the street advocating “killing whitey”. History has consequences.
I have proposed in the past that it takes 300 years of correction to wipe out 100 years of slavery. As long as folks like Gorilla choose to ignore history, they will feel justified in their own sense of persecution and oblivious to their natural advantage in American society. History has consequences and evil leaves a nasty stain. Both whites and blacks will continue to struggle with these consequences for the foreseeable future. The stain soils all of us. That’s just the way it is.
No one is. Being black is an individual experience shaped by the events of an individual’s life. There is no universal “black experience”. There are blacks who for one reason or another have emerged from the “adventure” of being black in America relatively unscathed. There are others for whom life has been a living hell and the extent to which their race contributed to that hell is imprecise at best.
Many blacks, myself included, have encountered well meaning whites who think that just by virtue of our being black that we are an authority on all things African-American. “Rutherford, that Puff Daddy sure is talented isn’t he?” Well, actually, I don’t listen to Puff Daddy (or P Diddy or whatever he’s calling himself right now). “Rutherford, which do you like better, the writings of Toni Morrison or James Baldwin?” Eh, I haven’t read either of them.
I’m beginning to think our first black president is falling into this trap and is no longer acquitting himself admirably. After contributing to an over 200 comment thread on this very blog and after watching a week’s worth of coverage I am having somewhat of an epiphany concerning Barack Obama and race. Let me explain.
Had police Sgt. Crowley arrested Professor Henry Louis Gates last year while George W. Bush was President, W would never have been asked his opinion on the matter. This is a hypothetical upon which I’m 99% positive (I’ll grant my opponents a 1% margin of error). So what possessed Chicago writer Lynn Sweet to ask Barack Obama about this local police matter at the conclusion of a press conference that had NOTHING to do with local politics or local police behavior? It is simple. The Crowley-Gates throw-down was swimming in racial controversy and it goes without saying that our black president MUST have an opinion on it. Obama, who has mistakenly taken on the roll of social science teacher-in-chief took the bait. Not only did he use the moment to remind us about racial profiling (which incidentally did not happen in this case), he shared his opinion of the arrest as though he was our enlightened educating black best buddy.
Obama, at least this past week, seems to have forgotten what made him such an appealing presidential candidate. With the exception of the “Race Speech” which had to be made to explain away Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Obama ran a basically race-neutral campaign. While it was clear that if he won, he would be our first black president, he did not run as the black candidate. He ran to be president, not the black president. Obama got himself in hot water this week because he allowed himself to be cornered into being the black-expert-in-chief. The proper answer to Lynn Sweet should have been, “Lynn, with all I have on my plate right now do you really think I’m going to weigh in on a Cambridge, Massachusetts arrest? For what it’s worth, Skip Gates is a friend of mine and I wish him well. Next question.”
I think the time has come for Barack Obama to become ice cold when it comes to race in America. Being black does not make you an expert on being black. Obama is a smart man who likes to show his expertise on a number of subjects but race need not be one of them. If Obama wants to “teach” us about being black, let him do it simply by example. To my knowledge, Obama has never screamed at a police officer to the point that the officer was sufficiently offended to arrest his ass. That alone should be evidence of what Obama really thinks of Gates’ behavior in this incident.
So to Obama I say, stop teaching us and continue leading us. To the press I say, Barack Obama knows no more about being a black man in this country than any other black guy. Stop asking him race related questions thinking he somehow owes you an answer. He’s not your social science experiment. He’s the leader of the free world. Treat him that way.