Saturday, March 15, 2008

You Can't Handle the Truth!

Geraldine Ferraro was only telling the truth. The first woman to run for Vice President on a major party tickets said this about Barack Obama:
If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept."
It is not insulting to Obama to recognize that a large part of his appeal lies in the fact that he's a credible black candidate. He recognizes that himself when he says, ""The day I'm inaugurated, America will look at itself differently, and the world will look at America differently." He knows that it's not his policies that will make the world look at America differently, because 95% of the time, they are the same as Clinton's policies. It his his face. It's part of what he is offering to voters: the chance to look at African Americans as leaders, and to have the world see us as a society moving away from its racist past. Clinton should not have had to fire Ferraro from her campaign, and Ferraro does not have to apologize for pointing out the obvious. If she meant it to be insulting, that's her problem. It's no insult. It's the truth.

Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. was telling the truth too. I am not talking about the appreciation that the former pastor of the church that the Obamas attend has shown for Louis Farrakhan. That is something Obama does well to regret. I am referring to the remarks Dr. Wright made about Obama's rival for the presidency, Hillary Clinton:
"Barack knows what it means to be a black man living in a country and a culture that is controlled by rich white people," Wright said in a video recording of a December sermon posted on YouTube. "Hillary can never know that." Clinton has never been subjected to racial epithets, he said. (Boston Globe)
Strategically, it makes sense for Obama to disassociate himself from these remarks. He is running for President, not leading a movement against racism. His whole candidacy depends on black people viewing him as "one of us" while whites, Asians, etc. view him as an exciting, idealist progressive--who also happens to be black.

But Wright is right. This country is still controlled by rich white men, and that will not change even if Barack Obama is the next President of the U.S. Obama does know what it's like to be the object of racial epithets. When Jordan Williams, a Kansas student, asked Mr Obama whether he was "authentically black enough," Mr Obama said he had suffered the same difficulties as other African-Americans in hailing a taxi in New York: "You know, when I'm catching a cab in Manhattan in the past, I think I've given my credentials."

And Hillary cannot know what that's like, any more than I can--any more than Barack can know what it's been like for Hillary to live in Bill Clinton's shadow all these years and then be subjected to double-bind questions about being tough enough and feminine enough at the same time. None of us can know exactly what it's like to be in another person's shoes. That's precisely the reason that we cannot afford to silence people who speak up from their own perspective and simply tell--dare I say it?--an inconvenient truth.

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