I watch the television news and I am in awe at the shallow political reporting being done about Barack Obamas church membership. It brings up a fascinating set of questions. Did Obama only attend that church to use the anger of inner city Blacks as his footstool to high places? Does he subscribe to their anger? Did he attend as part of his role as community organizer and politician? Is the American public suffering shock and awe at the level of rage still alive in the Black community, especially in the face of the widespread readiness to accept a Black man in the ultimate US leadership position?
Wow thats a lot of questions for one little post isnt it? If I miss one here I will get to it later. I am white, that should be made clear in this discussion. I was raised in a white neighborhood in Southern, California.
My family even moved to a rural northern county when I was a teenager where cowboy hats were worn to school, chew rings were fashionable in blue jean pockets and where old pickup trucks were the norm.
Needless to say, I wasnt raised with Black people and neither was Barack Obama from what Ive read. Years ago I was hired as a teacher in the inner city where I taught mostly Black children. I experienced serious culture shock there. For the first time, I was on the receiving end of Black anger toward white people.
I am a witness to the rage. It is easier to discount this rage as unfair, misplaced or out of touch with the present than to understand its causes and try to help lead people out of it. But whether you want to acknowledge it or not its still there and pretending it isnt or isnt justified wont make it go away.
I suspect that Barack Obama being raised in a white culture and attending Harvard was similarly taken aback by the level of anger present in the inner city. The following passage is from Barack Obamas book, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, Crown, 2007. I was stunned when I read this passage because it hit such a chord of truth for me. I could tell that Barack had worked in the same kind of place I had and that he understands it well. Barack kept his eyes and his ears open during his work.
The stories that I had been hearing from the leadership, all the records of courage and sacrifice and overcoming great odds, hadnt simply arisen from struggles with pestilence or drought, or even mere poverty.
They had arisen out of a very particular experience with hate. That hate hadnt gone away; it formed a counter narrative buried deep within each person and at the center of which stood white people; some cruel, some ignorant, sometimes a single face, sometimes just a faceless image of a system claiming power over our lives. I had to ask myself whether the bonds of community could be restored without collectively exorcising that ghostly figure that haunted black dreams. Could Ruby love herself without hating blue eyes?
The three of them only reflected the attitudes of most of the people who worked in Altgeld [the name of a housing project [a Crankyblog note]: teachers, drug counselors, policemen.
Some were only there for the paycheck; others sincerely wanted to help. But whatever their motives, they would all at some point confess a common weariness, a weariness that was bone-deep. They had lost whatever confidence they might have once had in their ability to reverse the deterioration they saw all around them. With that loss of confidence came a loss in the capacity for outrage. The idea of responsibility; their own, that of others; slowly eroded, replaced with gallows humor and low expectations.
You see Obama could not work with the people of the inner city and deny the reality of their rage. He could not work with them and deny that white people were at the center of their rage. I doubt he would say that a Black person today is destined to live in poverty, or that some ladders out of the pit have not been constructed.
But it takes belief to climb the ladder, it takes courage. It takes the support of other people who believe. What I found to be true in the inner city was that the belief wasnt there, not in the parents and not in their children. People there didnt give support to others who were attempting to climb out. To even say that it was possible to climb the ladder out of the pit of poverty was seen as naiive.
It was ghetto heresy; it was caving in to the white propaganda. There were no ladders, no way out in the minds of many; it was seen as a lie. As Obama says in his book, the low expectations and gallows humor were very evident in the schools where potential was often assigned by achievement of the parents. After years of struggling to teach, it often became easier to assign the responsibility for teaching to Jamals parents. Jamals parents didnt read well, didnt make him do homework, so why should Jamal be expected to achieve? The rage and the low expectations combined to leave the children another generation deep in the pit.
Obama joining that church makes sense to me.
He worked with the people in their community. He could not do that and deny their rage. He could not work with them and not be in full understanding of their circumstances, their history and its legacy. It does not mean he shared all of it. But Barack had to understand it in order to help them see what they could not see.
Barack has to understand that they could not see the rungs on the very ladders he was climbing. He knew they were not sharing the high expectations of his life. There was rage, no gentle understanding of peoples struggles. If anything, I applaud him for attending that church and I applaud him for working in the inner city.
So in answer to my own questions, I believe that Obama wants to be President because of what he experienced in Altgeld.
I believe that he is better qualified to understand the needs of people in poverty than the other candidates because of the work he did there. He experienced the rage of the people because he didnt shy away from the ugly realities he witnessed. I do not think that most white people can understand why poverty is such a trap - I was similarly ignorant before I worked in the inner city. I think that the airing of angry rhetoric in Baracks church has placed the rage front and center in a way that is new and shocking to the general public.
White people are learning there are still people who feel trapped in poverty and that they are angry.
I think it is a shame that the media has spun this church issue in such a bone-headed way. We are losing a great opportunity. There has been no reasoned attempt to understand the anger or why Barack would have attended there in the first place.
I dont know Barack, but I feel like I know this much about him, he understands the people he went to church with whether he agreed with them or not. Perhaps he felt that the most significant thing he could do for them was to ascend as high as he could up the ladder so he could look back down into the pit of poverty and say, Look everyone, it can be done, follow me!
Id love to have a bottle of wine with Barack Obama and ask him, Will Ruby be able to love herself without hating my blue eyes if you become President? I hope it will be so.
About the Author (text)A Sacramento curmudgeon who writes daily at http://crankyblog.com.