Andrew D. S. James responds to Andrew Cotto’s post ‘Obama’s Speech Won’t Matter Because He’s Black’ with a call for action.
Cotto’s evocative piece Obama’s Speech Won’t Matter Because He’s ‘Black’ deserves attention. Well written and supported, the piece points out the manifold subterfuges of those in opposition to the President. Um, so what? With respect to his strong argument, where does that argument get us? Does the act of noticing a problem born 392 years ago solve it? Racism in America is older than the Declaration of Independence, older even, than the thirteen colonies. I assumed we were well past the illumination of the wicked underbelly of privileged white male society as a novel event.
Watching white male society divide itself along the lines of allegiance to the President is an interesting experience as a non-member. On the one hand, we have the establishment doing what the establishment has always done, on the other; we have progressives casting a derisive glance back toward the establishment – for perhaps the first time. The palpable disappointment of progressive white males with their brethren across the aisle is a revealing window in to this moment of time. Never before have white males elected a member of another race to the Presidency only to watch the awesome crushing power of institutionalized oppression. Having themselves never been at the mercy of this mechanism it is perfectly understandable why white supporters of the President would express surprise at the spurious actions of his opposition.
This reaction seems to be fomenting a collective cognitive dissonance within a fracturing white society. Addressing the manner in which the President is treated is difficult to balance against the knowledge that “the system” has, and continues, to do the same to countless non-Presidential members of marginalized groups. To change how the President is treated is to change how ALL of us are treated. This leaves white progressives able to notice the need for change but unwilling or, more fairly, unable to change. Despite the emerging awareness of white privilege, it remains the thing spoken of but not acknowledged. Fact: it is easy to be a white guy in this country. But again, so what? How does the identification of this equally old reality help anything either? Surely we must evolve beyond simply pointing out these two fundamental realities if we are to affect the change we all require. My entreaty to do so has been met by the folks at the Good Men Project making this space available to detail my actionable items to move us forward. So here they are.
First, we must see that no one person is capable of eliciting fundamental, systemic change. Our education betrays us by imparting the power of one to change all (e.g. George Washington, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., etc). Without the military, Washington would have made a terrible General. Dr. King, instrumental as he was, was merely one man amidst a profound cultural movement involving persons of nearly ever creed, color, and disposition. Instead, we need to see the collective power of us. I am not smarter than you. I cannot fix a problem nearly four hundred years in the making, but WE can. We can accomplish all things.
Second, we must accept that, though we will often disagree, civil discourse will always be the order of the day. We the sheeple turn on the television to watch wealthy Housewives, Italian American twenty-somethings, and political pundits reinforce that contrition is weakness. Our Mothers taught us better than that.
Third, and lastly, I would invite you to read what I believe to be the only true solution to the problems uncovered by this ongoing discussion. The piece I am referring to is an earlier published work appearing on the Good Men Project entitled I Talk About Race Because I Don’t Know How Not To by Dr. Jackson. I won’t spoil the ending, but if you read it in full you’ll discover the actionable items The Good Men Project asked me to detail here for you.
Bob Marley once sang, “It’s a foolish dog, barks at the flying bird”. If nothing else, I would implore all of us to stop barking and start working. Work on yourself, work on your family, work on your neighborhood. As we work, we will find how to work it out. Peace.
photo: Perfecto Insecto / Flickr