I’m a white guy and I don’t claim to understand what it means to be black in the United States although I try. I grew up in a house with a father who worked with black people and spoke about them using an assortment of epithets. When I referred to my late father as a bigot, my elderly mother was shocked and defended him saying that he didn’t have a problem with black people just those he worked with. I grew up in a different era after the Civil Rights struggle had been won, raised by a mother who cultivated a conscience within me, one based on the morality of her strong Roman Catholic faith mixed with egalitarianism arising from her German work ethic. My political heroes were men like Martin Luther King Jr., FDR and Abraham Lincoln. My favorite baseball player electrified the diamond whenever he made it to base: Lou Brock. And the music I listened to with my friends as we explored the woods surrounding our suburban neighborhoods: rap pioneers Grandmaster Flash, the Gap Band and Kurtis Blow.
But appreciating black culture doesn’t mean that I understand what it means to be black. Living in Japan I was regularly discriminated against because I was a foreigner, and that gave me an insight into what it must be like. I’d walk into a store and the clerk behind the counter would watch me suspiciously afraid that I would steal something (and afraid I’d speak English to him). Newspapers regularly insinuated that foreigners were behind all crime even though statistically 95% was carried out by native Japanese. Restaurants with empty seats that I entered suddenly became “full.” Landlords refused to rent an apartment to my wife and I, so the rental agent who assisted us resorted to calling prospective landlords and asking them flat out, “Are you willing to rent to Americans?” After 25 or 30 we found one willing to take the $8,000 bribe known euphemistically as “key money” (reikin) and rented to us. At the English Language school I taught at one of the teachers had been warned not to date a Japanese girl. A few days after that warning he was assaulted by a biker gang and nearly killed, spending 3 weeks in the hospital. For four years there I was a subject of scorn and fascination wherever I went, and it took several years after leaving Japan for me to regain my perspective and love of the Japanese and their culture. But escape from that racist environment was only a plane ticket away, and for a variety of reasons I chose to live there. I recognize that isn’t an option for black Americans.
I lived in a very isolated place in Tanzania for a year and that showed me the limits of skin color. The people I associated with shared the same skin color but were very different. The Tongwe tribe that I lived with had avoided Arab slavers during the 15th-19th centuries by hiding in the mountains. They had been forced off the mountains and their small villages into large towns of mixed tribes during President Nyerere’s socialist collectivization experiment known as Ujamaa. They were very poor and viewed as backward by the other tribes, especially the Chagga, the tribe making up most of Tanzania’s ruling elite. I noticed these differences whenever I traveled up Lake Tanganyika from our research site to Kigoma with some Tongwe I hired as guides and helpers. They were quite uncomfortable in town, and acted in the way you would expect someone from Iowa might after stepping foot for the first time in Manhattan, and relied upon me to deal with government officials and merchants even though my command of Swahili was rudimentary. At the time I was noticing the differences between tribes in Tanzania, I was also exposed to the aftermath of the greatest genocide since the Killing Fields in Cambodia. Outside of Kigoma refugee camps had been set up for the Hutus who escaped to northern Tanzania after the Tutsi took over of Rwanda, ending the Hutu’s slaughter there. There was no difference in skin color between Hutu and Tutsi – but like the Tongwe and Chagga they came from cultures different enough to cause trouble. To the Tongwe that meant a lower standard of living and subservience to the Chagga; to the Tutsis it meant slaughter on a horrific scale.
Skin color hasn’t mattered in other conflicts either. Consider the Troubles in Ireland. There is not a spot of difference in skin tone between the Irish Republicans and the Irish Unionists. You could take DNA from both and find that the two had the same genetic makeup. But that didn’t stop them from killing each other for almost a thousand years. The two groups are culturally distinct however, and that is what matters most to them. The two groups even pronounce the letter “H” differently; simply reciting the alphabet would betray one’s unionist or republican sympathies, a tactic used by the paramilitaries on suspected spies.
So if skin color doesn’t matter in places like Africa, why should it be valued so highly by African-Americans in the United States?
Barack Obama has skin the same color as African-Americans, but he does not share their culture. Obama was raised by white women and attended schools that weren’t available to most African-Americans. He has lived in a predominantly white culture over his entire professional career, that of liberal white academia, which is why when he tries to sound “black” he sounds as phony as a white guy talking “street.” Obama grew up in Hawaii and Indonesa, not Detroit and Philadelphia. The only streets he knew were the quiet suburban ones that his grandmother lived on – not the streets alive with the scent of ethnic cooking, rap music and occasional police sirens.
In 2008 Barack Obama was black and his election to the presidency was a milestone in our history because it was the first time America elected a president having black skin. But America didn’t elect an African-American. It elected a liberal Democrat that happened to have black skin.
To Barack Obama that should be enough to placate the African-American community. He garnered 90+% of the community’s vote in 2008, and expects the same support in 2012. For the past 3 years he has done nothing more for the community. In fact he has put in place policies that make black unemployment worse such as his administration’s refusal to close the border with Mexico. Illegal immigrants don’t compete for jobs held by white people in investment banks; they compete with jobs held by African-Americans at factories and construction sites.
Why? He believes he has the African-American vote in his pocket be he has to compete with the Republicans for the Hispanic vote.
Until the 1960’s Democratic Party was a bastion of unreconstructed racists. Today the party practices the racism of low expectations and the assumption that African-Americans are best served by the culture of liberal whites and too stupid to learn otherwise. Republicans, the party of emancipation, once received the lion-share of the black vote. It receives only a few percent and has written off even attempting to garner support from the community.
That is a shame for both Republicans and African-Americans. Columnist John Hall gives 5 good reasons why African-Americans should reconsider their knee-jerk support of the Democratic Party, including the one I mention above: they are taken for granted. GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain has gone so far as to claim that the Democrats have brainwashed black Americans into voting for them. If true, it’s time for African-Americans to wake up and wield the power they have to control their destiny.
The American Jewish community is waking up to the damage their support has done to one of their most important causes: Israel. The Republican Party supports Israel in such a big way that it scares liberals who believe that peace in the Middle East can only be achieved by Israel giving up more land for Palestinians – to launch rockets and mortars from judging by the Israeli experience after its withdrawal from Gaza. American Jews are questioning whether their socialist economic policies that are anathema to the GOP are more important to them then unwavering GOP support for Israel. Simply by questioning whether they should continue to allow themselves to be taken for granted by a party that appeases Israel’s enemies they improve their status as viewed by both parties. The Jews are now in play for the 2012 whereas the African-American community is not. Yet.
Blacks need to put their votes in play for the 2012 election. They need to honestly reevaluate the GOP and see whether the party will give them more for their support than the Democrats. Merely by doing so they will force the Democrats to respond and improve their status within the political sphere.
African-Americans need to recognize that skin color is shallow, and it is time in the immortal words of Martin Luther King jr. for politicians to “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” The GOP has also been reconsidering its relationship to the black community. Two of its rising stars are Herman Cain and Congressman Alan West. Both men happen to be black, but you wouldn’t know it judging by the support they garner among whites. They symbolize the demise of racism even as white liberals call them racists.
Liberals want to keep black Americans down. They want them to remain dependent on government programs that the liberals can control. The moment African-Americans like Cain, West or even Bill Cosby question this control, the liberals slap the word racist on them. That is the liberal way of dealing with “uppity n———” just as their Democratic forefathers in the South resorted to the lash.
UPDATE: Lloyd Marcus takes O’Donnell to task, “Arrogant White Liberal Tells Cain How To Be Black.”