Sunday, September 20, 2009

There is WORK to be Done!

On this Sunday morning I sat reflected on one of my favorite parables from the Bible. It is the story of the rich man who was a fool. Found in the twelfth chapter of Luke, verses 13-21, it recounts the all too familiar story of a man who is only concerned with himself and while he wades in the waters of self-righteousness and selfishness, he famously extols that he will build bigger store houses for himself then he will relax, “eat, drink, and be merry.” That parable is still apropos today.

Over the past few months it seems that many of the one-time “die hard” supporters of President Obama have become that rich man in one way or another. They say that he is not as progressive as he should be. They question whether or not he is cowering too much to corporate interests and the associative lobbies. They wonder if the GOP has his number, as they search for meaning themselves. Some have even gone as far as to question Mr. Obama’s integrity not just as a politician, but as a man. I think this pessimism and doubt is misplaced.

Where are all the teary eyed, inspired folk who came to see Mr. Obama sworn in on that frigid day in January? Where are the folks who stood transformed by that moment whether they watched on television, computer, or listened to the radio (yes, radio)? I’ll tell where they are. They have retreated back to the safety and warmth of passivity and inaction, governed by a spirit that has, for all practical purposes, given up the very hope that got our president elected in the first place.

I was there too in January and for the first time I actually sang the national anthem, not as a stepchild of democracy, but as one of its standard bearers. I still feel that same way (minus the frost bite). With a more than checkered history of maltreatment and inhumanity born out of the peculiar institution of slavery, I still stand as proud now as I did on that day of this nation for what it can be, and understanding the debt owed to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice to ensure that we would enjoy brighter tomorrows.

Now, that is not to say that I have donned rose colored shades to give me the impression that Barack Obama’s Presidency is some post racial moment, a signal for neo-Black Nationalism, or some kind of reincarnation of the New Deal. It is not. President Obama’s election is merely a watershed moment but requires work of all of us to see the “change” we voted for.

As a boy growing up, I spent many days outside with my father working around our property. We had a few acres that were used primarily to house his horses and that takes work to maintain. I mean WORK. We would go into the fields repairing fences, gates, refurbishing the barn, painting barns, mowing grass, stacking hay…you name it we did it. We would spend all day outside especially on Saturdays. One Saturday, during the middle of those humid Missouri summers, I asked my father, “Daddy, will we ever get all this work done?” He looked back at me and simply said, “Son, there is ALWAYS work to do.”

A democracy works no different. I once listened to one of England’s greatest progressive politicians, Tony Benn. Commenting on how democracy works he simply stated, “If you don’t keep up the pressure for democratic control you lose it…it’s use it or lose it.” Expounding further he warned, “there is never a final victory for democracy it’s always a struggle in every generation and you have to take up the cause time and time again.”

At this moment it is time to take up that struggle. President Obama mentioned during his inaugural address, “as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job, which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.”

During his oration, Obama constantly referenced “we”. Remember his campaign slogan, “Yes WE Can!”? It is high time we recommit those words to memory and engage it through word and deed and not sit back like the rich man who was a fool to relax, eat, drink and be merry. In the Christian Gospel according to John, he recounts Christ telling his disciples “he must work while it is day for night cometh that no man can work,”(John 9:4 KJV). Similarly, we must get busy while the sun of social change is shining, for the darkness of ignorance, intolerance, and bigotry is always looming and lately those shadows seem even more ominous.

We must understand that President Obama is not some messiah sent to wash our sins away…he is man. And as a man he has limitations, just as we all do. We elected him to lead, and to his credit I believe he has tried his best to do that. He will not always succeed, nor will he continually fail. He is leader who is accountable to the citizens, but we all must work just like I did on my father’s ranch. There will not be some great day that we can sit back and reminisce about how “we made it over.” There is no “Promised Land”. That notion, like democracy, is an ideological construct that takes sustained diligence to make manifest. There is always work to be done, now let’s do it!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

President Pryor Knew How to Handle Hecklers

Sheer Genius! Pryor was a man before his time.

President Obama had a similar look when he was heckled, but couldn't react as "President Pryor" did, but I'm sure he wanted to. Would this be life imitating art?

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Audacity of Ignorance

Historically, South Carolina is known for showing incredible audacity to do what others will not, no matter what the circumstance, for what they believe is right, no matter how wrong it is. On December 20, 1860, South Carolina passed an ordinance of secession. This was the pivotal step that paved the way for the strategy of separate state secession. South Carolina was arguably the most extreme pro-slavery state in the Union and it seemed logical to Southern Democrats that any fight over maintaining the peculiar institution should be fought in one of their strongholds. Not surprisingly, it was also in South Carolina at Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861 that the first shots were fired in the Civil War.

Another shot was fired tonight during President Obama's speech to the nation regarding healthcare. The shot rang from the mouth of Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina. During the President's speech, Wilson yelled, "You Lie!" to the top of his lungs, mirroring a recent trend of hecklers that we have all witnessed on the news during the summer, as members of Congress and even the President himself have held town hall meetings around the nation. Such outbursts have been viewed by those from the conservative circles as their right to speak in a public forum or "free speech" in some kind of twisted "the voices of the masses must be heard" ideology. The reality is that this type of thought is the ideology of dissent, the specter of unrelenting fear, governed by ignorance, and baptized in the waters of white supremacy. Can one ever voice a concern that does not agree with the majority? Of course, but there must be some civility in the discourse.

Discourse. Some Republicans and Democrats should look that word up. Sadly this nation has markedly been about choosing one side of the political aisle or another...there has never been any meaningful political dialogue. Even when we have declared war (unjustly), no one wants to discuss peace. Ironically enough, the declaration of the War in Iraq was the last time we heard about bipartisanship during the Bush administration--particularly, when everyone wanted to know after 9/11 which members of Congress did not vote for the war. The quote “American people" wanted to know who was not being patriotic by dare I say it...thinking (what a novel idea). Years later those votes came back to haunt both parties during the last election cycle (especially Hillary Clinton).

Wilson's blatant disrespect, however, is deep. Yes he apologized but that apology is as worthless as the apology Congress issued for the institution of slavery. It means nothing. No action is taken. No retribution given. There is no remorse, just empty words. And just like the Congress, Mr. Wilson can keep his apology. He needs to be reprimanded and disciplined. I would even entertain him loosing his seat. His supporters (a la Rush Limbaugh among others) will argue that Wilson's actions hearken back to Patrick Henry's "Give me liberty or give me death" oration. Most of these clowns would love for you to think that.

The reality is that Rep. Wilson’s actions last night fall more in line with former Gov. George Wallace's thoughts about segregation or Senator Joseph McCarthy's witch-hunts for communists. Actually, I think it is both. Certain segments of the American population do not want progress if an African American will usher it in, even if it means that it will help them enjoy a better standard of living. The liquor of white privilege is just that intoxicating.

Worse still, Wilson's actions totally throw out any argument Bush supporters had about respecting the executive office in America. That was their line for all criticisms of Bush. "You don't have to agree, but you must respect the office." In all of my study of American History, I have NEVER and I mean NEVER heard of anyone interrupting or heckling the President of the United States while addressing the legislative branch of our government. The last time I saw anything close to that it was the Iraqi journalist who threw the shoes at President Bush. We all know what happened to him. This is just more of the same white backlash to a black man being in the oval office.

Let us be clear, racism is alive and well and here to stay. Any ultra left leaning persons who thought that President Obama would wash their hands of slavery and if nothing else create a post-racial watershed moment are sadly mistaken. No more tip-toeing around the subject, we all know that even as much as folk hated "Dub-ya" he NEVER got that type of disrespect in the chambers of Congress.

As I listened to the heckling again and seriously thought about it, the utter insolence reminds me of the Dred Scott Decision of 1857, where Chief Justice Roger B. Taney coldly remarked in his opinion of the case that African Americans "had no rights which the white man was bound to respect." While we are not dealing with the issue of slavery, we still engage the vestiges of the institution. The Republicans now are as desperate as their Southern Democrat forefathers were in 1865, and are willing to do anything to stop any type of progress by their opposition. They are willing to denigrate the audacity of hope, to the audacity of ignorance, as Mr. Wilson so callously displayed.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Obama Speaks to the Kids...The Horror! (Guest Post)

Seems Like a Parenting Problem To Me

by Mark Anthony Neal

President Obama’s planned address to the nation’s school children on Tuesday has generated criticism as some of his political opponents argue that he is using the opportunity to, at best, infect America’s classrooms with partisan politics and, at worst, indoctrinate them with a radical and “socialist” agenda. Never before has such an address been subject to the kind of scrutiny that the president’s rather innocuous call for good grades and a stay in school mentality has. There is little doubt that the uproar over the president’s address is just further evidence of efforts by some to try to delegitimize the presidency of Barack Obama—like those in the birthers movement—and a desire by political opponents to deny Obama any political goodwill in the midst of a heated debate over health care.

I’d like to suggest that some of the apprehensions surrounding the president’s speech are also the product of a general feeling among America’s parents that they have lost control of the message when it comes to instilling their children with homegrown values.

The idea of a sitting president addressing school children should be openly embraced by all citizens as an opportunity for the ultimate civics lesson. Yet some parents are planning to boycott schools the day of the president’s speech and some school districts are offering parents the chance to opt-out of the nationwide event. As one parent recently told “The Michael Berry Show,” a conservative talk radio show in Houston, TX, “my rights as a parent are being circumvented so this president can speak to my children. My children will not be going to school.” Rights as a parent being circumvented? Is the president discussing religion or some other issue that is clearly out of bounds in the nation’s public schools? What gives? Why is the president given a power that, Oklahoma State Senator Steve Russell describes as a “cult of personality… something you'd expect to see in North Korea or in Saddam Hussein's Iraq?” What explains such irrational responses?

Read the rest @ NewBlackMan.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

"WAKE UP": A Sunday Morning Reflection on the Last Scene from School Daze

I think I was in sixth grade when Spike Lee’s film School Daze came out around 1988. I vividly remember reenacting, with as much precision as I could muster, the steps of the “Brothers of A-Phi-A”, not knowing what a “fraternity” was. Ironically enough I ended up joining that most distinct brotherhood of Alpha Phi Alpha once I went to college (shout out my bros from Zeta Alpha Chapter). What I found most perplexing about the movie, aside from filling my head with notions of the social and intellectual promise of higher education, was trying to figure out what the last scene in the movie meant. “Wake up? Huh? What does that have to do with anything,” I wondered.

As a twelve-year-old kid I didn’t know…even when I got to high school I still did not understand what Spike’s vision was for the last scene of the movie. In it, just as the sun breaks through the clouds rising over the eastern sky, Laurence Fishburne’s character, “Dap” rings a historic bell at the center of campus and screams “WAKE UP!” several times. One by one, all the characters in the film awaken from their various slumbers and come to the central campus quadrangle, aided by the frenzied and insistent “Dap” to open their eyes.

It really wasn’t until I got to college that I started to understand what Spike was trying to capture. Often times, I think we as an audience don’t catch what Spike is doing until well after his films have left the theater, because they usually don’t stay long if they make it there at all (go check out Bamboozled again if you haven’t in a while).

As I engaged in my Sunday morning multitasking ritual, of watching CBS’s “Sunday Morning” with Charles Osgood (which is celebrating thirty years), ESPN’s “Sports Reporters” and simultaneously reading several newspapers both hard copy and several via my iPhone (check out the new NPR app), I came across several op-ed pieces on right wing opposition to President Obama’s speech this Tuesday to school age children. Then too, I read about Van Jones, Obama’s “Green Jobs” advisor resigning under the pressure from recent controversy over past statements he allegedly made about 9/11 and Republicans. The most outrageous thing I read was some pastor in Arizona that said President Obama should die. Huh? (again).

As I think back over these so called news headlines I just shake my head at how the intersection of race, politics, and religion is coming together, as they usually do, to keep this country back. Back from progress; back from addressing its history, or just keeping it back far enough that we continue to NOT have a political discourse. What we are left with is a bunch of “I’m right and your wrong” mentalities where neither side is situated, nor wants, to do what is best for the citizenry and the republic as a whole.

President Obama’s speech to school age youth is about them staying in school, his attempt at addressing an alarming national drop out rate and even scarier international educational rankings. Regardless, conservatives are crying fowl, such as Florida Republican chairman Jim Greer, who called Obama’s speech an attempt to use "our children to spread liberal propaganda" and "President Obama's socialist ideology."

The shocking thing is not that he and others are voicing such concerns; it is that they genuinely believe this moronic nonsense. I seriously doubt Greer or others like him even know what socialism is. I wonder do they think about socialism when they have to dial 911 or when pay taxes to help fund their local zoos or libraries?

George Fredrickson’s classic historical text, The Black Image in the White Mind, is playing out all over again. His analysis was about how America subjugated progressive thought during early decades of the twentieth century, rooted in the systematic ideology of racism and white privilege. In a more contemporary era, the political climate lends itself to embarking on a neo-McCarthyism Era where fear and ignorance are the governing forces. More than ever folk need to know American history, or be doomed to repeat it.

It is ironic that the same flag waving, bible thumping, so called "nationalists" who voted for the imperial president, George W. Bush (twice) said not a word when Bush went into classrooms. In fact, he was in a classroom when the 9/11 terroist attacks occurred. To be fair, however, Democrats did voice some concern about his father, President George H.W. Bush’s speech in the 1980s, but it was a far cry from parents declaring their “rights” to withhold their children from school because of a speech about staying in school given by the elected leader of our nation. Some have even ventured to say that Obama is playing on the "cult of personality". If that be the case how do you explain "The Great Communicator" President Ronald Reagan? His entire political career was a "how to" book on the cult of personality.

President Obama is just seeing the beginning of the storm that he will have to endure. I just hope that those persons of good will, no matter what the political affiliation, religion, or ethnic background will act responsibly for the sake of future generations. “One of the great liabilities of history,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., reminds us, “is that too many people fail to remain awake through a great periods of social change.”

Hopefully we each can channel our inner “Daps” to ring the school bell and cry out “WAKE UP!” to those of us who are sound asleep warmed by the blankets of indifference and comforted by the pillows of appalling silence.

Friday, September 04, 2009

CNN's Roland Martin goes at GOP about uproar over Obama Speech to Youth

Roland Martin faces off with Jim Greer, Chairman of Florida GOP, about Obama's speech to American's youth. I do not recall the same type of "enthusiasm" about any other president speaking to school age children in our nation...EVER. In the calls for socialism, where is the cry for nationalism? Oh, that's right we have a "subversive" in the White House now. I'm just waiting for the new McCarthy Era to begin...maybe it already has. My country is such an interesting place. Gotta love it.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

The Green Revolution

Amidst the urban decay of post-industrial centers like Detroit, someone is meeting a need for revolution. It is a revolution of access and opportunity. It is a revolution of the body and what we put into it. It is a revolution of lifestyle. Across this nation, large numbers of folk who live in the most depressed urban areas have access to plenty of liquor and non-healthy food (if you want call it food).

Again in Detroit, and similar cities, there are plenty of liquor stores, and no grocery stores...places that call themselves groceries do not have the type of produce that is needed to provide folk with quality diets. Such situations are ripe for those who are socio-economically dispossessed to continue to be so. But this is how capitalism works right? There are "winners" and "losers", are they not?

Despite the lack of federal and state support, "Five days a week, the Peaches & Greens truck winds its way through the streets as a loudspeaker plays R&B and puts out the call: "Nutritious, delicious. Brought right to you. We have green and red tomatoes, white and sweet potatoes. We have greens, corn on the cob and cabbage, too." So instead of the ice cream truck coming through the neighborhood there is fresh produce.

I am glad to see "Peaches and Greens" step up to the plate to start the revolution that began with the election of the 44th President. Now if we could just get the true "Green Revolution" to catch on in other cities...St. Louis, Pittsburgh, New York City, Roxbury, etc.

Read more about Peaches and Greens" HERE.

Damn shame. No revenge for Hip-Hop Pioneer

If you haven't already heard, hip-hip pioneer, Roxanne Shante's so called "revenge" where she allegedly got her record label to pay for her education is a farce. She still has my respect for what she contributed to the music and the culture of hip-hop, but this situation leaves me shaking my head in disillusionment.

Read the story HERE (
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Negrointellectual by Vernon C. Mitchell, Jr. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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