Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The speech he should have made.

What follows is basically self-explanatory. As you read it, please bear in mind the angry and, yes, racist words that were the impetus for the actual speech. That's important context.

If you're a dedicated reader, you may hear echoes of things I've written previously for SHAMblog (or elsewhere). But bottom line, and limiting myself to normal "column size," this is what I feel he should have said. At this juncture in American life, I sincerely hope that no one needs to ask who "he" is.

Not to sound presumptuous, but please feel free to circulate this to people you think might benefit from it. (Or by all means, feel free to tell me why you think I'm wrong in saying what I say here.) And then we'll put this to rest for a while.

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My fellow Americans: It's time to say enough.

White racism was an institutionalized, codified part of American life for the three centuries preceding such landmark Supreme Court decisions as 1954's Brown v. Board of Education and 1967's Loving v. Virginia. The latter case, though less celebrated than Brown, removed the final legal impediments to the so-called miscegenation of which I, for one, am a product. Still, none but the most naïve would dispute that white racism remains alive in less tangible form today.

Black racism is a more recent phenomenon, but in some ways—as Rev. Wright's intemperate rhetoric shows us—may be more virulent and intensely felt. Both white racism and black racism are potent, destructive forces in American life. As such, they are equally unacceptable. We should not bequeath the legacy of our nation's dismal racial failings to new generations that otherwise might have little direct contact with that sorry experience, were it not for our own passion in bequeathing it.

Such imperatives demand from us a wholesale change in thinking. In the black community, for example, we use the term "descendant of slaves" as if it were a genetically communicated disease, like sickle-cell; we speak as if that mere accident of birth conferred a form of that dehumanizing status to the children of today. Where does such thinking stop? Fifty, 100 years from now, will we still be describing newborn Americans—born into the rich promise of a nation whose glorious vistas are fully open to them—as "descendants of slaves"? Ancestry tells us only where we came from. It does not tell us where we are, or how far we can travel. Really, it does not even tell us who we are.

We determine who we are, and where we fit in life, through our actions as unique human beings. Whether you are black or white, it is inexcusable to justify a new round of racism on the basis of our nation’s history to this point.

To validate racial anger is, ultimately, to condone it. It's time, again, to say enough: This stops here.

When I listen to Rev. Wright's words, I am reminded that as black Americans, we must recognize our own role in perpetuating this nation's sad heritage of racial separateness. And we must repudiate that separateness. If you cheered when O.J. Simpson was acquitted, perceiving the verdict as a form of quid-pro-quo—a small repayment, perhaps, on America's debt to the countless blacks historically abused by our system of justice—then there is no place for you in the America I see ahead of me. Whatever its source, racism is racism. As Dr. King told us, we must begin defining ourselves, and relating to our neighbors, not by the color of skin, but by the content of character.

In that sense, the notion that 90 percent of black voters in Mississippi favored me is as troubling as the notion that 70 percent of whites opposed me. Make no mistake, I welcome the support of black voters—if they favor me because of my politics. But I reject the support of black voters who favor me because I'm "one of you." It's time we understood that racism practiced with a comradely smile and a nod of mutual fellowship is as divisive as racism practiced with police dogs and fire hoses. This form of brotherhood, where we like to say that we embrace all mankind—except that we embrace some a little bit closer than others—cannot be a part of the America I see ahead of me. The difference between clan, with a c, and Klan, with a k, is just a matter of degree.

For that matter, if you support Mrs. Clinton because "she's a woman and it’s about time we had a woman in the Oval Office," there is no place for you in the America I see ahead of me. And finally—of this, let there be no doubt—if you are even considering supporting Sen. McCain because he's "the last traditional candidate left," there is surely no place for you in the America I see ahead of me.

Some would say that what I advocate here is unrealistic, that such divisions are simply human nature. To which I say: nonsense. These divisions are facts of life only because we have elevated them to that status; they have become a grim, self-fulfilling prophecy. As children we threw tantrums until we learned that there are penalties for tantrums; we learned that beyond a certain stage of development, tantrums will not be tolerated. It is possible for people to control what, at first, seems "natural." We will learn to control racial tensions when we come to regard them as simply unacceptable. Our resentments over sins past does not need to be kept alive in the present or passed to another generation. Certainly when racism is being thundered from the pulpit, and heard by innocent children attending services with their parents, we have reached the irony of all possible ironies.

My fellow Americans, I urge you to shake off the limiting labels that have been cast upon you, and that you've embraced for yourselves. I urge you to acknowledge the extent to which racial pride can easily become racial prejudice, and to therefore disavow self-definitions that are rooted mostly in race. Let us work together to bring about real change. Because in this case, uniquely, the more we remember the past, the more we're condemned to repeat it.

22 comments:

RevRon's Rants said...

Noble sentiments, indeed, Steve. This is a speech I'd love to hear any prominent legislator - and especially a presidential candidate - make.

Unfortunately, I doubt that such nobility would help him on his quest for the White House, and that within 2 years of making such a grand proclamation, Obama would probably be either a very popular professor at a small liberal arts university, or traveling around the world giving grand and noble keynote addresses at conferences hosted by nonprofit organizations and liberal PACs. |Too many people have too much invested in their sense of entitlement resulting from perceived hurts, no matter how illogical is the basis for it. These people would - and do - summarily reject anything that challenged that sense of entitlement.

But it sure sounded good! :-)

Anonymous said...

Having spent most of my life in Africa, I have a simple question which never seems to be asked in the States - maybe you could help me out?

There is all this talk about centuries of suffering the African slaves went through, and how that cannot just be forgotten. I bet if you asked the modern African Americans if they had to choose between these two options:

1. Slavery never happened in the USA and they all still lived in Africa or

2. Slavery happened (with all its misery) but they now get to live in the States

I think if the current descendants of slavery were to realise what a wonderful thing slavery turned out to be for their own personal futures and the futures of their children - they would very soon get over it. I'm sure they would rather be in the States with first world healthcare, enough food and education then starving or dying of AIDs like the majority of Africans in Africa.

You've written on the concept of not knowing wether things are intrinsically good or bad because we can't see the whole picture. Slavery in the States is definetly a case of being very good for some and bad for others. I don't think that there is anyone still alive that it was bad for and therefore there is noone to apologize to?

Steve Salerno said...

Anon (10:44): Wow. An intriguing proposition, to be sure, but one that's so impolitic that--I truly believe--it would not even be considered for serious discussion in the mainstream. It would just be dismissed out of hand for its overtones.

I'm not even really sure how I feel about it. (I'll have to give it some thought--not that it's "my place" to do so, since I can't claim any firsthand familiarity with the experience.) Nonetheless, I applaud you for making a very good, and worthy, philosophical point in its own right.

Anonymous said...

I think that the modern-day people for whom slavery is still bad are the descendants of slave owners, of whom I am one. While it is true that practically every so-called civilization, from Rome to England to Iceland to China to the Maya, Aztecs, and on and on, owned slaves, our American experience is so recent that it brands those of us whose great- or great-great-grandfathers were slaveholders with indelible shame. And frankly, I don't think that's a bad thing.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:39

In what way is your shame helpful?

Steve Salerno said...

Yeah, I second the second Anon's question. I really don't get that whole "heritage of racial shame" thing. Just like I don't get why people of German descent, born today (especially if they're born here), would be expected to apologize for the Holocaust. I no longer really consider myself a Christian, but am I supposed to go around looking for people to blame for feeding my distant ancestors to the lions? Or am I--a person of Italian extraction--supposed to make apologies to people who were harmed by Capone and Gotti? Or even (to turn it around), am I supposed to be proud of something DaVinci did? Just because we're "both Italian"?

I don't get it. What does any of that have to do with me?

Blair Warren said...

Maybe he hasn't delivered a speech like this because he doesn't think like this.

Of course, we have no way of knowing for sure. But if this was the case, wouldn't that tell us something important about him?

Anonymous said...

Final anon and Steve, I'd say that the shame raises my awareness and gives me greater empathy for those from other backgrounds--an awareness and empathy I perhaps would not have had otherwise. Similarly, were I an American of German descent, I certainly wouldn't feel guilty for what people unrelated to me did in another country in another time, but I might be more sympathetic to Jews than I would be otherwise. That's why I said I didn't think it was a bad thing--not as an end in itself, but for the good that might come out of it.

Anonymous said...

And so Steve, you really think that this speech that you have written would get you into the White House?

It would make him the Black President, which is not what he is aiming for. He would be alienated by such a speech and receive only black votes.

Come on, this is a running for leadership of the United States. If you want to see wonderful political blunders, with free speech, do you remember Jerry?

Politics is about being equivocal, walking the fine line and balancing, not becoming a headstrong stalwart for one group or another.

I agree with Obama's speech and that is why I am voting for him. He is the most honest candidate out there right now. The idea that he would not disavow a friend is refreshing.

Monty.

Blair Warren said...

In my rush to comment I forgot to mention how much I enjoyed the speech you wrote.

Very well done, Steve - on many levels.

I would love to hear a politician deliver one like it sometime.

Of course, I would love it more if the politician actually believed it.

Hey, I have an idea: Salerno 08.

You'd get my vote.

Steve Salerno said...

Monty, I appreciate all feedback, and I said I would welcome any critiques of my "speech"--and I do--but having said that, I fail to see how anyone could possibly come away from this speech (i.e. mine) with the interpretation you've given it. This speech would make him "the black president"? How? If anything, what I emphasize in this speech is that we need to rise above race; that he needs to disavow race. (Maybe even his own.) To my mind, it's the speech he actually gave that is very troublesome--both for him personally, and for America. If his speech reflects what he actually feels, then he is not the man I thought he was. (I don't know whether you're a newcomer to this blog, but I've confessed in recent weeks that I was leaning towards voting for Obama. Now I'm very much undecided again.)

However, do I agree with your larger point? About how you won't win the White House by calling 'em as you see 'em? Yes. I do. It's very unfortunate that in order to do well at politics, you must become a politician. For God's sake, look at your line, "Politics is about being equivocal, walking the fine line and balancing...." I know what you mean, Monty--but isn't that a terribly sad and cynical comment on society?

Steve Salerno said...

Blair, lemme tell ya something. While I do appreciate the very nice things you've said about me, the book, the blog, the speech, and various other of my writings...were I actually to run for any elective office--including that historic and cliched symbol of aspirational futility, "dog catcher"--it would be the shortest campaign in known history. Trust me on that one.

I respectfully decline to be more specific on the grounds that I may incinerate myself.

ourfriendben said...

Well, there's still Ron Paul. He always says what he passionately believes to be true, and look where it's gotten him. But he's still on the ballot...

Anonymous said...

I have a new preacher for you Steve. His name is Will Bowen and he is the pastor of Christ Unity Church in Missouri. He has a three-week program called “A Complaint Free World.” He has written a book and has a course of course. You get a purple plastic bracelet and are not suppose to complain, use sarcasm, or say anything “mean’ for three weeks. If you have not died of suppression, after three weeks of this “complaint free zone,” you get a “certificate of happiness” from the pastor after turning in your bracelet. It has “changed lives” I have been told and was shown on the TODAY show on March 6, 2008. I smell an Oprah tears and Bowen might give Orsteen some competition in the God game.

Steve Salerno said...

OFB, that's a good point. I don't know how I could so consistently forget ol' Ron, since he's the only politician whose campaign posters litter my entire neighborhood.

Anon, yeah, "stop your whining" is the new-new thing in SHAMland. It's also the solitary focus of Dr. Laura's new book, which, last time I looked, was all over the best-seller lists, everywhere.

Anonymous said...

Is Ron Paul still around? I thought the GOP took him to the woods and drove away.

Steve Salerno said...

No, no. What a lot of people don't realize is that he's the guy who walks through the door at the end of The Sopranos....

("Holy Christ, Carmela! It's...Ron Paul...!")

Anonymous said...

Steve,

I've been reading your blog for about 5 months now, but only now do I feel the urge and need to respond. I would like to leave you with one point. The difference between the people who are successful in politics and those who are not, is the constant notice that those who wish to change the system, must first use the system to get in.

Monty.

Steve Salerno said...

Monty, I don't disagree with you there. Trouble is, the process of "using the system" is inherently corrupting. It becomes a catch-22. Once you "get there," you're no longer the same guy (or gal) you were when you started.

Thanks for sticking with SHAMblog. I hope we can continue to hold your interest.

Blair Warren said...

Did Monty read a different post than I did?

I must have missed something.

Regarding playing the game to change the game:

If a candidate is so willing to say whatever it takes to get into office, what makes us think we somehow "know" what he or she *really* believes?

Seems like a big Rorschach test to me.

We see what we want to see in the candidates and assume that what we see is the truth. Thus, our candidate may "have" to lie to the masses to get elected, but they would never lie to us - his/her true supporters.

Are we really this naive?

Just saw some of the latest poll numbers on the news.

It's official. We really are this naive.

Lithium Cure said...

"He" is a product of the puerile and shallow Age we live in. He is deliberately vague, which is fine if you're trying to be all things to all people and win a popularity contest, but that's not what the Presidency is about. As "he" is a a left-wing ultraliberal, he must hide what he really thinks and feels, since no one running for office is elected by promising to raise taxes (his AND Hillary's big plan). So he corrals the Black Victimhood vote and the guilty White liberal vote by aligning with a hate-filled "church" and lithium-deprived pastor. "Change is hope as we hope for change! Have your hope changed every 3000 miles!" It's embarrassing to we the people he's made it this far on what is essentially farts and cliches. Shame on us if we let this n00b in the Ovasl Office.

Anonymous said...

Maybe it is my generation (Gen X), but I would be shocked if a politico told the truth. I thought they promised lollipops and rainbows, until they got into office. Remember "no new taxes" from Bush I? I believe that is the nature of the game. If you want to know the real score, check out what they do at their present “jobs.” All “contenders” are current U.S. senators. See what mattered to them, as Senators, and you will see where their wind blows. That is what I’m going to do come November.