Monday, September 7, 2009

Racism and Opposition to the Education Speech

Speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
Ephesians 4:15-16

On Tuesday, September 8, President Obama will address students at a school in Virginia and the address will be carried live over the internet to schools all across the country. He will talk about the virtues of learning and why it is important to stay in school.

Seems like a good idea to me.

Among some parents, however, this looks like a sinister plot to indoctrinate our children with socialist ideas. They say the president is overstepping his bounds.

Overstepping his bounds?

This sounds odd to a person who grew up watching “Big Brother Bob Emery” at noon time and joining him in drinking a “toast” of milk to the President of the United States (Eisenhower) while listening to “Hail to the Chief.” The President is the President. And even if you don’t agree with everything that he (or potentially, she) is doing, this is still the President.

But not this time. And not this President. At least not for some of the people. How can this be happening?

Part of it is the polarizing nature of our politics. But let’s be honest, a lot of it is racism.

We don’t want to say that, partly because we don’t want to believe that’s where we are as a country, and partly because we don’t want to offend those who legitimately disagree with the President’s policies.

Let’s be clear, not everyone who opposes the President’s policies is a racist. No one believes that John McCain, or Orrin Hatch, or Michael Steele is a racist. Most of the people who oppose one policy or another (or every policy) are not racists. They just see things differently.

But everyone who is a racist is opposed to the President.

And that is a problem. It is a problem because it distorts the public debate. It is a problem for those who may agree with the President. And it is a problem for those who may disagree. It is an insidious problem because we can’t talk about it without appearing to call everyone on that side of the issues a racist. And the racism infects the public discourse.

We don’t like to think of ourselves as prejudiced.

Not long after the time I was watching Big Brother Bob Emery, I became a fan of the Boston Celtics. Those were the Celtics of Cousy and Russell and Heinsohn and Sanders. After one of the games, the announcer was interviewing Bob Cousy, and he asked him about the two young guards who had just joined the team, Sam and K.C. Jones. “Well,” said Cousy, “personally I’m prejudiced, but I think they’re two of the best young guards in the league.” Actually, he said “pwed-ja-dissed.” And he called them “gods,” not guards. But my young mind reeled. My hero, Bob Cousy admitted on national television that he was prejudiced. I was glad that in spite of his prejudice he could see their talent, but even so, I was deeply disappointed. Of course it was not long before I realized that he meant he was prejudiced in favor of his teammates, not against Black people.

The truth is that we are all prejudiced in one way of another. We have regional prejudices and ethnic prejudices. We are prejudiced according to class, education, and occupation. Most of the time our prejudices are fairly benign and we are sufficiently aware of them to keep them from being harmful.

But the hatred of Obama goes beyond simple prejudice. When the bumper stickers and the signs call on "real Americans" to take back America, we know what they mean by "real."

After President Obama criticized the Cambridge Police Department in the Henry Louis Gates incident, commentator Glenn Beck said that Obama was a racist who had a deep hatred of white people. That’s silly. But it is also racist. Calling Glenn Beck a racist for calling President Obama a racist sounds like something that might happen on the school yard at recess in the fifth grade. But this is serious stuff. To put it more carefully, that is a racist remark made by a person who ought to know better. Perhaps more significantly, it shows us just how close to the surface the racial issues are. If Glenn Beck were just another fifth grader, it wouldn’t matter. But millions of people watch him. And many of them believe that he speaks for them.

If we are to move forward then we will have to speak the truth. We need to deal with the racism and separate it from legitimate disagreements.

One of the great moments in the Presidential campaign last fall was when a woman at a McCain rally said she was afraid of Barack Obama because he wasn’t a “real” American. The Senator dropped his campaign style and spoke calmly and clearly. You don’t need to be afraid of him, said the Senator, he is a good man. We just disagree on some important issues. In that moment, John McCain was speaking the truth in love. We need more moments like that.

No comments:

Post a Comment