By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
It seems as though we are waiting for another shoe to fall in Barack Obama’s quest for the White House, something that will expose him as being potentially unsuitable for the presidency. It might never happen, but then again, he’s a man of the world with varied experiences — which, under normal circumstances, might be considered a good thing, but a black man running for president of the United States is not a normal circumstance. Contrary to Geraldine Ferraro’s thinking, Obama would have been better off if he’d been a white, half-assed Yale student with a drinking problem, a well-connected dad and absolutely no accomplishments that neither God nor Billie Holiday could bless.
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Those shortcomings we can accept in a president, but we are challenged by dark skin. What Obama is, and where he comes from, can be somewhat difficult to explain to middle-class Americans, as are some of the things he’s encountered in his life. Obama is just a few years younger than I am, and back in the day I saw things, whether I wanted to or not, that might have prevented me from receiving a security clearance at the Pentagon.
You see, in those years, the idea of a black man making it to the final round of the Democratic nomination for president seemed incomprehensible. Even if Obama did utter the kindergarten wish to be president, he might not have had the foresight in his Occidental College years to avoid attending a meeting of some Black Student Union splinter group whose members suddenly might have considered armed struggle the preferred social activity for the upcoming academic year. Or maybe, and more plausibly, he admired or was friends with someone who had extremely homophobic, anti-Semitic or racist views that he didn’t share. Perfectly nice people may have views that shock and repel, but in other regards they seem to be good, moral people. You must, on occasion, accommodate those with whom youstrongly disagree, unless you want to fight the good fight all the damn time.
In the case of Obama’s pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, I think the problem is the failure of most pundits to remember that black people have in the past felt great anger at a society that has treated them badly. That society has pretty much been run by whites, hence the fervent talk of black empowerment and liberation theology. This talk might seem harsh to whites who have never suspected that black people have some anger still, but these critics might be even more surprised to learn that many African Americans, including ministers, have even greater criticism for black people themselves. More often, congregants are exhorted to be better Christians, more self-reliant, thrifty and loving to their neighbors who are overwhelmingly — segregation forever — black. I think the solution to the fear of black intolerance would be for concerned whites to attend black churches. I suspect that it would be as enlightening an experience for conservatives as it was for Bill O’Reilly when he visited an African American–owned restaurant.
We live in a complicated world with all kinds of complicated people and sometimes, it seems that you’re just along for the ride. I remember one particular day in my youth when I was taken to what today might be the equivalent of a madrasah, back when the frightening devil of the moment was not Islamofascists but homegrownblack militants.
It was the ‘70s, and the neighborhood program on Washington Boulevard was called AntiSelfDestruction, or as we called it ASD, which was started by this charismatic fellow, Fred Horn, and another brother I can’t remember. Fred could talk with such power that it was hard not to think that you were in the eye of a hurricane of words. I had a summer job there as a counselor, but mostly I read. The guys who ran the program had been through that period during and after the Vietnam War, when the streets were reverberating with anger. These dudes seemed to care about us, though I think they were shocked and amused that we were so apolitical. Living in a neighborhood where people gangbangcan do that to you — one is more concerned about not getting shot than revolutionary theory.
This was when the government-funded antipoverty programs and money got tossed around pell-mell, and I imagine some of that money ended up in places like ASD, where we learned interesting things, mostly about responsibility, which somehow had more to do with not knocking up girls than anything else. It was pretty bucolic; we spent a lot of time reading donated coverless paperbacks and eating federal poverty lunches: cold cuts and white bread and fruit and maybe a cookie. I liked those lunches, and the summer job there beat the hell out of real jobs at Burger King or a department store. Some of the field trips still impress me, like a beach trip we took — a van of kids escorted on each side by two bikers from a black motorcycle club. One of the bikers asked for a drink and someone handed him a soda through the window at 70 miles an hour.
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