April 28, 2009
I carry copies of the magazine, First Things, to have something to read when waiting at the doctor’s office, or oil changes on the car, etc. That is how I happened to read an item from last summer by Richard John Neuhaus, in his regular column, “The Public Square.” The presidential campaign was going strong, and Senator Barack Obama was the focus of everyone’s attention. I laid the article aside at the time, but came across it again in last few days. Mr. Neuhaus died last January, and I am sorry we have lost an editor with his insight. Here is what he said at that time about Barack Obama and his roots:
The senator lends his prestige to the claim promoted by sundry race hustlers that Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Clarence Thomas, and Bill Cosby, along with millions of other black Americans, are not black enough to be part of “the black community.” One can understand why a Harvard Law School graduate born in Hawaii with a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas would, for political and perhaps personal reasons, seek the street credentials of having “roots” in a militantly black sector of the intensely race-conscious city of Chicago. But complicity in the explicit slander of America and the implicit slander of most blacks in America is a very high price to pay for a ticket of admission to “the black community.”
Twenty years is a long time to attend a church where the Pastor preaches incessantly his version of black liberation theology. I wondered at the time, when Jeremiah Wright’s sermons were being passed around, the degree to which Obama had been influenced by them. It is a curious thing how different cultures present a different face at home from that which they present to the world. Too many people, for example, think that the English language pronouncements of Arab leaders are an accurate and consistent picture of who they are. Not so. Their speeches to their own people, in their own language, reflect an entirely different world view. I suppose I should not be surprised that the same pattern repeats in the Black community.
I was puzzled at first by what has been called a “snub” of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom is an important part of our history. I was also surprised that President Obama returned the bust of Winston Churchill to the British. Then, he traveled to England and met the Queen, giving her a trivial gift, and showing little or no deference to her stature. This, followed by the deep bow he offered to the King of Saudi Arabia, was jarring.
But I did understand what happened, because I had read up on two concepts: Black Liberation Theology and Afrocentrism. There is a deep resentment in the black community toward “white Europeans.” It seems to be shared by the president of Brazil who blamed the economic crisis on “white men with blue eyes.” Barack Obama may be influenced more than he knows by his immersion in the black culture of a black Chicago church. The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the Queen, were white Europeans. Deference to such is anathema to the racists on the black side of the aisle. Neuhaus went on”
Sure, gangsta rap celebrates unbounded violence, drugs, and the raping of young women. But, we are told, black folk love it. And they don’t really mean it, not really. In cheering the outrageous statements of the Rev. Wright and his like, McWhorter writes, “they weren’t listening to them as logic, but as atmosphere.” He concludes: “I, for one, am still ready for a black president. I wonder if the rest of America is.” I’m afraid that a very large part of America is all too ready to accept this stereotype of blacks and is therefore not ready for this black American to be president.
Well, they seem to have thought they were ready, but it seems apparent to me that they simply did not understand the whole package they were buying on election day. But there is an error here. The issue is not race, it is culture. More from Richard John Neuhaus.
Conceding to him the best of intentions, Senator Obama inadvertently launched, and some of his supporters have backed, an exercise in the demeaning of black America that could have lasting impact. It’s true that white people have spent decades learning the -protocols of respect, sensitivity, and fair-mindedness in dealing with race. But you expect black folk to reciprocate by “acting white”? The argument that people, because they are black, should be given a pass to indulge in what McWhorter calls “crazy stuff” is an instance of what George W. Bush has called the soft bigotry of lowered expectations.
And right here, Richard Neuhaus puts his finger on our problem. It is not color, it is culture. And someone back in history told black people that to maintain their self respect, they should not “act white.” I never thought of what I do as “acting white.” I thought of it as acting civilized. Neuhaus went on to say,
I don’t know what all this means for the presidential election. Maureen Dowd of the Times wrote some while back that the choice between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama depends on whether Americans feel more guilty about their sexism or their racism. It seems now that Obama will be the Democratic nominee. Most Americans, one is inclined to think, do not feel guilty about either sexism or racism, and are -thoroughly tired of being incessantly nattered about both.
Yes, we are. But for better or worse, we have elected a “black” man as president of these United States. Most people seem to think we have passed an important milestone in race relations. Now, if we can just ask the President to ease past that same milestone, maybe progress will be made. So far, not so good.
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