March 22, 2008

Lives Undone by Words of Reconciliation

The words of Barack Obama in Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, his earlier biography, describing the double bind of racism and the conundrum that blacks find themselves when they express themselves as equal.

I had begun to see a new map of the world, one that was frightening in its simplicity, suffocating in its implications. We were always playing on the white man's court… by the white man's rules. If the principal, or the coach, or a teacher... wanted to spit in your face, he could, because he had power and you didn't. If he decided not to, if he treated you like a man or came to your defense, it was because he knew that the words you spoke, the clothes you wore, the books you read, your ambitions and desires, were already his. Whatever he decided to do, it was his decision to make, not yours, and because of that fundamental power he held over you, because it preceded and would outlast his individual motives and inclinations, any distinction between good and bad whites held negligible meaning. In fact, you couldn't even be sure that everything you had assumed to be an expression of your black, unfettered self -- the humor, the song, the behind-the-back pass -- had been freely chosen by you. At best, these things were a refuge; at worst, a trap. Following this maddening logic, the only thing you could choose as your own was withdrawal into a smaller and smaller coil of rage, until being black meant only the knowledge of your own powerlessness, of your own defeat. And the final irony: Should you refuse this defeat and lash out at your captors, they would have a name for that, too, a name that could cage you just as good. Paranoid. Militant. Violent. Nigger. (85)

So after Senator Obama’s speech on race, where he thoughtfully brought up the topic, told people what he understood the issue of race to be, offered words to renew efforts of reconciliation and was not willing to demonize his church or his pastor; this was not enough. Even though he had tried to run as a candidate for all people, that was not acceptable to those who thought for him to run, he had to give up his blackness. They are enraged by the fact he didn’t. You could hear the words start to pour out of their mouths; militant, violent, fraud, racist, Islamist, nigger.

You still find many white people wanting to define how one must feel, think and merge into the world. If they say you are race baiting, it must be so, because they are not racist. It doesn't matter if you are not making the argument personal. They claim your experience and tell you that even if you have suffered at the hand of racism, you can not have any pain, because they are not racist. Are you not grateful for the changes, because they or their ancestors weren't slave owners or belonged to the KKK? They are talking to you as if you are inferior. They can not understand that the conversation, itself, is a result of biased thinking. They have defined all knowledge and their words of reconciliation; negate all of your complaints. This will sometimes enrage blacks, because the words also negate their existence. It put blacks outside the American experience and in some nether land of citizenry and humanity.


jeanie oliver said...

I was going to leave you a comment on Jeff's site since that is where I have to come to know about you. Then when you said something to him about your blog, it dawned on me to click on your name and read your blog. I was very moved by the piece you pulled from Obama's book. I have not read his book, but after his speech and your blog entry, I think I will. At the very least, I have spent the afternoon with my Langston Hughes poetry books. One of my favorites is "American Heartbreak".
It exemplifies so simply the beginnings of monumental mistakes we have made as white Americans.
Jeanie Oliver

Hathor said...

jeanie oliver,
I must say I didn't read Barack Obama's biography until I had read Gypsy Scholar's Post. I hadn't gotten to involved in the campaign, because by the time the primaries get to me, the nomination is usually set. I became comfortable with his candidacy after I heard his speech at the Ebenezer Baptist Church on M L King Day.

Thanks for visting.

Emil said...

I am in South Africa and follow Obama's progress deligently. I think he will bring a fresh approach to world politics because of his obvious understanding of social issues.

I clicked on the link at Rathabile's Sotho site, and glad I did. Pop in at to visit - I will certain be back reguraly.

Hathor said...

Glad you stopped by. I had visited your site from Sotho's link.

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