Thursday, January 29, 2009

Conservatives Have Been Right More Often Than Not?

Conservative policies have on the whole worked — insofar as any set of policies can be said to “work” in the real world. Conservatives of the Reagan-Bush-Gingrich-Bush years have a fair amount to be proud of.[1]

When I read the editorial by William Kristol it seemed incredulous to me that anyone living on the planet earth the last few decades could make such a claim. The first thing that I was struck by was the intentional vagueness of his statements. How exactly were the Conservatives right about jihadist, crime. welfare, education, and the family? What specific policies are you referring to Mr. Kristol? It is precisely this type of revisionist history that has kept America from moving into the future. It is these delusional recollections of calling wrong right and losing winning that more and more Americans are repudiating.

Unlike Mr. Kristol who only has fond if somewhat dubious memories of Conservative positions I would like to present the real picture of the Conservative agenda and how it has played out in America and the world. And you can decide for yourselves how right they have been. The problem for Mr. Kristol and the other Conservative apologists is that after you remove the rhetoric and outright falsehoods all you are left with are the facts. And based on the facts I would hardly call the Conservative agenda a ringing success.

The jihadist – I am assuming here that Mr. Kristol is referring to al Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist groups. If this is in fact correct then wasn’t it Reagan who began his administration by trading arms for hostages with one of the current members of the axis of evil? Wasn’t it Reagan and Bush who armed and help form al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan to fight the Russians? And wasn’t it Reagan and the first Bush who armed Saddam Hussein during the 80’s to make war with Iran? The only possible victory during this period was by the first Bush in developing the coalition to oust Saddam Hussein from Kuwait and having the good sense not to occupy Iraq. And let’s not forget the culmination of neo-con policies that led to the number of terrorist attacks increasing during the second Bush years and the creation of al Qaeda in Iraq. Then of course there’s that whole business of transferring attention and resources away from capturing Osama to invading and occupying Iraq. Yes sir, Mr. Kristol the conservatives were definitely right about the jihadists.

Crime – The right in crime I guess would be the ill-fated war on drugs that turned our police officers from members of the community into armed militias taking over the streets of our neighborhoods? Or maybe it’s the crime policies that have sought to privatize our prison system and has led to the largest incarceration percentage in the world? And again these policies culminate in the failed policy of George W. of politicizing the Justice Department so that instead of focusing on crime they were focusing on bogus voter fraud cases attempting to suppress the voting rights of many Americans.

Welfare – Conservatives have always viewed Social Programs as transferring wealth from the rich to the poor. These so-called Christians did not feel an obligation to provide for the neediest of their fellow citizens. They often would resort to racially charged rhetoric about “welfare queens” rather than any real data or facts to back their positions. You see it is easier to shirk your responsibility if you are able to demonize your victims. The problem I have with the Conservatives is not necessarily with their philosophy, but in how they apply it. They expect everyone else to pull themselves up by their boot straps, but then they refuse to provide any boot straps. Of course what Mr. Kristol failed to mention is where would we be today if W. Bush had been able to privatize Social Security?

Education – How the Conservatives could have been right on the department they wanted to abolish is beyond me. Are we to assume that replacing public education with vouchers has been an effective policy? Or how about pricing middle-class and poor children out of college by reducing grants and raising the cost of student loans? The Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind was an attempt to bankrupt public education by creating these standards and then not providing the funding to bring about any real change. It is one thing to identify failing schools; it is another to come up with solutions to failing schools.

It is precisely this selective amnesia by partisan hacks that have prevented this country from advancing past the same cultural arguments for the past 30 years. No, Mr. Kristol the Conservatives have not been right and once you begin to get back on your meds you will be able to see that in fact they have created fear, division, and strife for years to come.


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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Gitmo or Else?

With President Obama’s announcement that he plans to close Guantanamo within a year there has been an increasingly vocal segment of the population sounding the terrorist alarm. The biggest concern being echoed is what to do with these 250 avowed and unrepentant terrorists who surely if they were released would go back and continue their destructive ways. I found it interesting that following his announcement it was released that a one-time detainee who was released from Guantanamo is now the deputy leader of the Al Qaeda branch in Yemen as if to further undermine closing the base by the military community.

The problem I have with the release of the report is that it is sensationalism and simplistic. There is no discussion or debate of the fact that just like with Iraq we may have created terrorists by our response to the terrorist threat. In the haste to locate and prosecute terrorists it is now being confirmed that there were many innocent people who were held and tortured. Rather than acknowledge that our reaction to the threat may have in turn increased the threat we ignore it and continue our reactionary policies. Who knows how many otherwise neutral observers we have turned into terrorist through our prosecution of terrorist? The chicken hawks would have us believe that this is irrelevant, but in fact it is relevant in how we proceed in prosecuting this so-called war. If we continue creating terrorists where none existed before our efforts will be unfruitful and counter-productive.

So the question has now become what to do with these terrorist suspects now being held at Guantanamo and any future suspects we may capture during this ongoing war against terror? Are we to continue to prosecute them by military tribunal, our federal court system, or some hybrid of the two? And once found guilty where will these convicted terrorists be housed for the remainder of their incarceration? While these questions seem new and vitality important the truth is they are not new. 9/11 was not the first terrorist attack on American soil or the first terrorist plot to attack the US mainland.

There have been 3 terrorist attacks on US soil and I think it is important to review how the first 2 were treated and prosecuted to our discussion of current policy. The first was the original al Qaeda plot to blow up the World Trade Center in 1993 and the second was the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. In both cases we were able to prosecute and sentence the defendants using our current justice system with some modifications. I don’t understand why in order to prosecute these defendants currently held in Guantanamo we need to create a separate justice system? The problem with using a separate military justice system is you give a form of legitimacy to the notion that these are war crimes when in fact they are not. Terrorism is a criminal act perpetrated by criminals. It is not a legitimate and recognizable form of war and it never has been. These people need to be treated like the criminals they are. We should not have to sacrifice our principles of democracy to bring these criminals to justice. Without the rule of law we open ourselves up to the real possibility that we are extracting revenge and not justice.

If these people are in fact enemy combatants then they need to be treated like prisoners of war. We must accept the possibility that not every enemy combatant is a terrorist. If they are prisoners of war then they are the responsibility of the military in accordance with the Geneva Convention. The problem with the Bush administration is that they wanted the best of both worlds. They wanted to hold the prisoners in both terrorist and prisoner of war status. Declaring their status only as it suited their aims not necessarily based on the facts at hand. This arbitrary justice created the atmosphere that allowed torture and imprisonment of innocents. As long as we keep these people in an undeclared status we open ourselves up to the calls of hypocrisy and undermine our own democratic principles.

Despite the hyperbole and demagoguery of the Republicans speaking as if our only two choices are Gitmo or allowing the terrorists to walk American streets, we have many other options. Despite their recent defeats at the polls and in public opinion polls the Republicans are still clinging to their number one and what seems to be their only tactic left; fear. If we close Gitmo we will have terrorists living in our communities. What these fear mongers fail to disclose is that we have already had terrorists “living” in our communities. They have been living in prisons and for many years these prisons have managed to protect us from all sorts of nefarious characters. However, in order to advance their agenda the Republicans would have us believe that these terrorists somehow possess super-human traits that make it impossible to house them anywhere but Guantanamo. These people are just ordinary humans. I guess if you give them super-natural powers it justifies your inability to capture or defeat them.

As far as housing these convicted terrorists I find it hard to believe that a country with over 2 million people incarcerated cannot find a way to house these criminals in a humane and secure manor. Let’s face it we lead the world in incarceration rates so what’s another 250 or so more? We must no longer continue to allow the perceived threat to override the principals we stand for. If we do that those principles will have little meaning not only to the rest of the world but to us as well. We have to begin to bring some transparency to these proceedings or they will always be viewed by the rest of the world as tainted by Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and Bagram.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Everyone Is Not A Celebrity

Is it just me or has this reality show craze gone too far? There was a reason why everyone was not on TV before, because not everyone had talent. While I agree there is hidden talent all across the country, not everyone has it. I am not a fan of the television medium in general and the reality show genre in particular. I find it difficult to watch ordinary people make fools of themselves for their 15 minutes of fame. It seems that with each and every passing year Andy Warhol’s famous for 15 minutes is more and more prophetic. What does it say about a culture when we take the trivial and mediocre and elevate it to celebrity status? Are we so starved for entertainment that watching self-obsessed and obnoxious bores is now considered art?

I am of the opinion that the real attraction to these shows is not the search for unsung talent but that good ole American tradition of watching train wrecks. What is it about the misfortunes of others that we find so enthralling? I shudder to think what future historians and anthropologists will write about our current culture. I wonder will they write about how we have replaced the fine art forms of poetry, painting, and music with rap, tattoos, and reality television. It appears we are rapidly becoming a nation of voyeurs who weekly peer into the lives of others for virtues and calamities that allow us to live vicariously through them. As our modern world relies more and more on technology it is becoming increasingly easier to replace face to face interaction and relationships with these contrived and detached interactions and relationships. We have replaced the virtues of serving the common good and self-sacrifice with this self-absorbed and do anything for a chance to see myself on television mentality.

My biggest concern with this type of entertainment is that it blurs the boundaries of fantasy and reality in the minds of many viewers. It cannot be reality once you introduce a camera. Regardless of the subject or the topic once you include a camera in the proceedings people are no longer spontaneous or real. They respond to the presence of the camera either in overly exaggerated or in understated ways depending on their circumstances and their personalities. I mean how is it spontaneous to watch Paris Hilton performing menial tasks when she is aware of the presence of a camera or for that matter a house full of strangers who know their every move is being recorded? Everyone knows the camera is there so where is the reality? Even with the cop shows their behavior is dictated by the camera. To some degree or another it is all scripted and edited. So what we are witnessing are isolated moments that are designed to illicit the most responses from the viewers and to reinforce previously held stereotypes. These shows for the most part appeal not to our higher natures, but to our lower natures.

Another concern I have is how so many relish in the humiliation of others in front of millions. It is not enough that people are defeated but they must be defeated in the most degrading and shameful ways. We tell ourselves it is just entertainment and no one is hurt, but think about what it is reinforcing in our culture. What are the values that are being offered by these shows; that it is ok to treat others in this way for the purpose of entertainment? In most cases it is success or winning at all costs. These shows glorify dishonesty, selfishness, and spite. Success and fame are to be sought after at the detriment of all other goals. Forget the fact that success as defined by these narrow standards is unobtainable for most people. You can find fame and wealth not through hard work and sacrifice but through displaying the worst traits of our common natures. We no longer celebrate the journey and all of the life lessons learned through it, but instead we celebrate that the ends justify the means. There is nothing to be learned through effort and defeat only in winning is there something of value.

We are allowing our popular culture to lead us astray and in the process we are losing sight of what things are truly important. This popular culture has no values to teach us that are lasting and meaningful. It has only one value money. How one gets it is immaterial to the fact that one has it. We see it in the videos of rappers, the greed of Wall Street, and the behavior of our public and elected officials. According to this culture if you are not white, rich, skinny, and beautiful your worth is diminished and the value of your life is depreciated. If you happened to be one of the unfortunate ones who do not possess all of these qualities not to worry they can still be yours for a price. And once in hand these things will lead you to a life of happiness and popularity. Instead of creating an atmosphere that will bring us closer together this type of entertainment only fosters stereotypes and further alienates us from each other. As we become increasingly separate from each other the easier it will be to humiliate and degrade one another for the sake of entertainment or just for the hell of it.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

250 Million

I recently heard that there are an estimated 250 million guns in the United States. There are an estimated 111 million households in America. Using these numbers that would mean there are 2.2 guns for every household in America. That seems like a lot of guns to me. As I began to ponder these numbers I wondered with all of these guns are we a safer nation? Have all of these guns provided us with the security many of us are seeking?

I began researching the facts concerning gun violence in America in relation to the rest of the industrialized world. What I found was shocking not in what it said about guns but what it said about our culture. With or without guns we live in a violent culture. Confrontation and violence seems to be ingrained in our national psyche. In America, violence appears to be the first remedy to situations both by the government and its people. Do I believe there are too many guns in America? Yes I do, but I don’t believe that the problem for all the violence in America is guns. I believe in trying to reduce the number of guns not because I believe it will make us less violent of a society but because guns make killing and violence too easy. Guns make killing too quick and too efficient. People kill today without thinking and without remorse and with guns you can do that. Imagine if there were fewer guns killing would become more difficult. Guns make killing too detached. Without guns you would have to face down your intended target and it would be messier.

I want to provide some figures to illustrate but the problem with the NRA and other gun lobbyists is that any talk of restricting guns is immediately met with hyperbole and demagoguery. The problem with not considering the arguments and opinions of others is that you begin to seem irrational and foolish. By the way the armed militia argument being necessary to prevent tyranny is wrong on many levels. We aren’t providing arms to minutemen soldiers but to any idiot that can get one. Also an armed society has proven to be no safer a democracy than a non armed society. The US has 90 guns for every 100 people making it the most heavily armed country in the world.
[1] The second most armed nation is Yemen, that bastion of democracy. Are the people in England, Canada, or Greece more in danger of losing their democracies because they are not as armed as the US?

On the list of murders per capita in the world the United States ranks 24th. We rank higher than any of the industrialized nations except Russia. We trail countries like Columbia, Mexico, and Zimbabwe; not bad company for the richest nation on earth.

· In 2005 there were 30,694 gun deaths in the US.

· In 1998 gun homicides in the rest of the industrialized world were as follows[3]:

o 373 – Germany
o 151 – Canada
o 57 – Australia
o 19 – Japan
o 54 – England
o 11,789 – US

More guns have obviously not made us safer. However guns alone are not the problem. We must begin to adopt ways to reduce the level of violence in our culture and in our society at large. This will be extremely difficult in a society that glamorizes violence and disseminates it through all forms of media. The economic crisis and the election of Barack Obama have led to an increase in the number of requests for background checks for gun purchases. In November they were up 40% over the previous year and in December they were up by 25%. People are feeling less secure about the future and showing this unease by purchasing more guns.

We have made killing too easy in our country and have not addressed the underlying culture of violence. You cannot glorify violence and then have easy access to guns. Somehow we must tone down the aggression and teach our children that violence is not the answer to all of life’s challenges and difficulties. We must develop a responsible and comprehensive way of reducing the number of guns or none of us will be safe. Just as the drug kingpin Carlos Escobar was held responsible for flooding our streets with dangerous drugs so the gun manufacturers must be held accountable for flooding our streets with guns. We can no longer decide arbitrarily which dangers we seek to address and which ones we don’t. Where there is arbitrary power, there is tyranny.

Nip the shoots of arbitrary power in the bud, is the only maxim which can ever preserve the liberties of any people. - John Adams

[2] CDC Mortality Report 2008
[3] Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Sleeping Giant Has Awakened

As I have watched the early hours of the new Obama administration taking charge of the levers of power one thing is apparent. From the massive turnout at the inauguration to the overwhelming receptions being received by his cabinet it is clear that the most damage done by the Bush administration was not to the general public, although we were damaged severely but to the apparatus of government. For eight years the Bush administration worked to try and dismantle the government from the inside.

It has been the goal of every Republican administration since the “New Deal” to try and undo its social framework and safety nets created by the Roosevelt administrations. From its over-reaching policies of Food Stamps for the poor, Social Security for the old, and that communist inspired doctrine of equal pay for equal work they have tried to sabotage them. Each and every Republican administration has had the goal to a varying degree and a platform to undermine the “New Deal” which the Republicans have always viewed as unconstitutional and unnecessary. From Reagan’s “New Federalism” to George W’s. attempts to privatize Social Security the pattern is clear. What most Americans don’t realize is that George W. almost succeeded in the long sought after Republican goal of dismantling the “New Deal” not through legislation, but instead by bankrupting the federal government. Why else would anyone in their right mind in the middle of two wars give out tax-cuts to the wealthy if their goal was not to bankrupt the government. There was a day when the Republicans supposedly stood for fiscal conservatism, not any longer. Think about it; if you can’t shutdown a department through legislation the next best thing to do is to bankrupt the government. If there isn’t any money for those departments then they can only perform their missions on a limited basis or not at all. There would be no money for regulatory agencies, education, or for Medicaid/Medicare. Instead of using a scalpel the Bush administration was using a chainsaw to gut the federal government. He was going to starve the programs designed to help the poor and the middle-class while at the same time feeding the greed of the wealthy through deregulation.

If we look at the record it is abundantly clear what the plan was. He would provide tax-cuts for the wealthy, fight two wars, and allow the greed of Wall Street to go unchecked. All of this of course would strain the federal government to the breaking point. Because of our “war posture” we couldn’t cut defense spending leaving our domestic programs as the only way to cut spending. The result is we starve these programs to death. George W. leaves behind the biggest foreign and economic fiascos in the history of this country. Do not be fooled. I originally thought it was due to sheer incompetence, but as all this plays out it is something more ominous. We have all assumed that Bush was just a likeable bumbling fool with good if not misguided intentions. I now disagree with that assessment because underneath that persona of ineptitude hid a conniving and sinister man with a definite agenda.

Not only was his goal to bankrupt the government, he also sowed the seeds of distrust and bad morale in the institutions of our government. Shortly after the Iraq War began he allowed the Defense Department in the person of Donald Rumsfeld to take over the State Department ending a long tradition of diplomacy as an even partner with defense. He politicized and morally bankrupted the Justice Department through the use of torture and domestic surveillance programs. Instead of appointing competent bureaucrats he appointed political hacks evidenced by the FEMA response to Hurricane Katrina. These are just too many coincidences. No one is this incompetent and rises to the most powerful position in the free world.

But there is a new day in America. Those of us who have been sleepwalking and living a nightmare for the last eight years have finally stopped hitting the snooze button. All over America millions are getting up and starting the task of remaking America. We are restoring more than just our physical infrastructure we are also restoring our moral infrastructure as well. And judging by the reception Secretary Clinton received upon her arrival at State it is long overdue. I would venture to guess that the reception to Secretary Holder will be just as dramatic at the Justice Department. This nation, this government with all its citizens and employees are awakening to the call for change. I don’t think we realized the strain that so many of our federal employees were toiling under with the Bush administration. I think now that the national nightmare is over there will be a litany of revelations from current and former employees of the many illegal and immoral deeds done by the Bush administration in the name of security.

The alarm has sounded. The call to action has been made. I believe that there will be an outpouring of spirit and volunteerism the likes of which this nation has never seen. I caution the Republicans still standing you do not want to be on the wrong side of this tidal wave. Once the sleeping giant awakens there is often backlash, anger, and frustration. We are heading in a new direction and foolish is the man who thinks that he can stop it or reverse it.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

If You Were Not Moved

I don’t care what your political persuasion, race, ethnicity, or nationality if you were not moved by today’s inauguration then I am afraid you have no idea what America is about. The America that you stand for is crumbling around you under the weight of its own inadequacies. If your idea of America is based in fear, intolerance, and division the inauguration of President Barack Obama has sounded the death knell to your vision. I hope that the remaining Republican politicians that are left soaked up the spectacle of 2 million Americans from all races and walks of life coming together to witness the changing of the guard and I think in a way to ensure its completion. Let there be no doubt that the people will no longer tolerate politics as usual.

There is a new spirit in America and it was palpable at the inauguration. You could see it on the faces of the people and not just the average person but also the politicians, celebrities, and the security personnel. This level of excitement I personally have not witnessed since the days of John Kennedy. Though still a child at the time I sensed that something was different on that day and unfortunately I have not sensed it since. Not until today.

We as a nation have been given a call to arms and I am curious to see our response to it. Is this generation willing to as President Obama put it; “to pick itself up, dust itself off, and get to work” cleaning up the mess that America has become? Not only are we willing to do it, but can we do it in a way that provides opportunity for all and sacrifice by all? That I think will be the difficulty of our task to be able to put aside the defects and faults of the past and move forward together. Let’s not be fooled there are still those who have profited from our petty bickering and resentments from past wrongs and they will not for a moment just sit idly by while their years of sowing discord is dismissed without a fight. I believe that the election of Barack Obama has demonstrated for those who have eyes to see that the tide has turned. There are now more of us seeking change and reconciliation than there are those who continue to be haunted by the past. There will be no national unity trials for past grievances. President Obama has made it abundantly clear that his focus is on the future and not blinded by the past.

I think the image that stood out the most to me and I think will have the biggest impact in the days and years to come was the image of Malia and Sasha walking into the inauguration. That image was so powerful on so many levels. It spoke to the old in that it signaled newness of life and it spoke to the young that today anything is indeed possible. The image of two little black girls being catered to and fawned over by a nation is mindboggling and in my opinion way overdue. How many times have we had pictures of lost and murdered little white girls splashed across our screens and little if any acknowledgment of their young black sisters who had suffered the same fate? Maybe, just maybe this will demonstrate that we as a nation have enough love for all of our children, even those who don’t look like us.

I don’t know about you but in my sight the Statue of Liberty is standing just a little taller and her flame just a little brighter today.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last!
Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!
– Dr. Martin Luther King

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Americans, We Can Do Anything

One of my earliest memories -- going with my grandfather to see some of the astronauts being brought back after a splashdown, sitting on his shoulders and waving a little American flag. And my grandfather would say, boy, Americans, we can do anything when we put our minds to it." – Barack Obama

One of the most often quoted and I think one of the most profound moments in President Barack Obama’s life is this memory he has of him and his grandfather watching an Apollo rocket splashdown after a space mission. What was it about this moment that transformed a skinny black kid into believing that he could be President of the United States? The difference I believe is the difference that separates us as a nation and us a culture. You see when we are young we all want to believe that we can do anything in this world that we want to do. The problem is that at some point our reality breaks with our dreams. Something happens where some of us stop believing that we can do anything. For some reason when an immigrant black or a white person tells their child that they can do anything, they actually believe it. Unfortunately, American blacks do not speak with that same conviction.

The reason Barack Obama was able to use that moment and take it with him from the island of his youth to the halls of power was because he believed what his grandfather told him. No matter as a parent what you tell your child, if that child does not believe that you believe what you say it will mean little to their lives. It is sort of like the parent smoking weed and telling the child not to do drugs; it sort of loses something in the translation. Many blacks born and raised in America when they speak of the opportunities provided by America to rise above one’s circumstances do not speak with that same conviction and our children have suffered for it. Unlike many today while I celebrate this historic inauguration of President Barack Obama, I wonder where the next black President will will come from. Will his inauguration challenge a new generation to believe that they too can rise above their circumstances and dare to dream? I think that regardless of what a parent may have suffered at the hands of a society it is incumbent upon that parent to stoke the flames of their children’s dreams and their ambitions. If not then all we pass along to our children is hopelessness and bitterness.

If we truly believe that we are Americans and we can do anything then let us use this historic time to ensure that the dreams of all of our children can be realized by providing learning and training opportunities for all of them. We must begin to provide real concrete evidence of change and not symbolic gestures. For too long opportunity has only been reserved for a limited few. We must expand opportunity to all who are willing to pursue it. Instead of providing tax-cuts and bonus money to those who don’t need it we should begin to use that money to elevate those children who believe that they have a better chance at becoming “Scarface” than they do becoming President. It will take a lot of time, money, and effort to reverse these frightening trends. However, beginning today we have an opportunity to affirm to the world and to all in our nation that America really does stand for all of those high ideals we claim it does. I wish I could say it will be easy, but it won’t. When times are hard we have a tendency to become selfish and want to reduce opportunities instead of expanding them. It is precisely this attitude that has gotten us into the position we are in now.

I hope that instead of trying to make America what it once was, we make America what it never was, but what it could have been. I arrive at today so very hopeful not just for my children, but for all of our children. I hope that today when I tell my son he can be whatever he wants to be, I can say it with conviction and that I can believe it.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

You Can Be Whatever You Want To Be?

With today’s historic inauguration of President Barack Obama as the nation’s first black President I wanted to try and put into words what it meant to me as a black man in America. I also wanted to try and put it into an historical content for myself and other black children who grew up during the civil rights era of this country. However, as I began to contemplate the enormity of the event and the history I realized that I was overcome with so many conflicting emotions that I would not be able to present them in any coherent manner and still stay within the constraints of this medium. So I decided to take one aspect and try to focus in on it.

For many black children growing up during and immediately following the civil rights era in America our parents and grandparents began to tell us that we could grow up and be anything we wanted to be. We were told that for the first time in our history we would have opportunities to become engineers, doctors and business people. We were told that if we studied and worked hard we could better ourselves and no longer would we be relegated to being janitors, porters, and sanitation workers. We were told that the dream that was America was slowly unfolding for all of us. In retrospect I wonder how many of these parents and grandparents truly believed those words to be true?

Then we enter 2008, and the implausible and what many considered impossible happened. A majority of Americans were able to overcome our nation’s racist history and stereotypes and elect our first black President. But has the election of President Barack Obama suddenly made these words true? Has his election really taken these words from wishful thinking to reality? I think before we answer we must look at who and what Barack Obama is and what he represents. Unlike many black leaders who came before him Barack Obama did not come out of the civil rights movement or the black church. President Obama is not a child of slavery, but of immigration. President Obama was not raised in the traditional black family, but by whites. So we see that in every basic area of importance to traditional black leadership he is different. How do these differences translate to his ascendancy to power and what are the lessons to be learned for our black children today wanting to make a similar journey?

I think the most important lesson is we as black Americans have to move away from racial identity politics. We have to begin to build collaborations with others. For too long it has been no one can relate to our pain, that pain has become our identity. For too long our leaders have sold us and our children a false narrative. They have clung to an ideology and to tactics that no longer have relevancy or resonate with the people. While these tactics have managed to provide wealth and power to these men they have done little to raise the consciousness or the status of black people as a whole. While these leaders have stressed the responsibility of others they have done little to stress our own responsibility for our conditions. Instead of teaching that with opportunity there is responsibilities they have taught that responsibility owes opportunities. What this has resulted in is a loss of wealth between generations instead of a growth in wealth. Many black children today are in worse economic shape than their parents. Why is this? Why have black children in so many cases been unable to build on the successes of their parents?

What we see with President Obama is that he was raised with the true belief that if he worked hard he could be anything, not just the words. If a child does not see or hear the conviction behind the words that are spoken he will not believe them. If a child believes that even with hard work they cannot succeed then many will give up hope and not even try. And that is what is happening in the black community today, a child believes that they have a better chance to become a rapper or an athlete than to become a doctor or an engineer. In my opinion the most egregious insult to Dr. King’s legacy perpetrated by the so-called black leadership that followed him was that it lost the hope that was Dr. King. Dr. King always looked to tomorrow to be a better day than today and he offered this hope and belief to millions of others. It was this hope that allowed so many to ignore personal hardship and tragedy and to continue to push for equality and justice.

President Obama embodies that hope because when opportunity presented itself he worked hard to be able to take advantage of it. He didn’t believe that just because he was black it was owed to him. Instead of focusing on the past he looked to the future. For so many of us we can’t see tomorrow because we refuse to let go of yesterday. Everyone wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die. Everyone wants to be successful, but nobody wants to put in the hard work. In order for us to move forward we must begin to change our culture towards education, hard work, and responsibility.

You can be anything you want to be black child, but it is going to require hard work, discipline, and hope.

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