Saturday, October 16, 2010


by Charlene C. Duline

Recently in our local Catholic weekly newspaper, there was an editorial that was very much ado about nothing. The writer was harshly critical of a statement made by the U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, Miguel Diaz, who needs no lessons from anyone on how to speak or to conduct himself. I don’t pretend to know what was in Ambassador Diaz’s heart when he uttered the words, “Once Americans elect a president, they must stand behind him – no matter what.” I doubt that he thought anyone would write an editorial diagramming and dissecting every word, and conclude that the Ambassador was somehow speaking about morality or abortion! Good grief! What a stretch for the journalist to conjure up a long editorial critiquing the ambassador because he asked for simple respect for President Obama.

The writer said he “assumed” that Ambassador Diaz “was simply overstating the importance of giving the president the respect that is due to him as our elected leader.” Well, good for the ambassador! It is high time that somebody spoke up about respecting President Obama because from where I sit, I see nothing but total and utter disrespect for the man and for the office since he became president.

The author said he found it “troubling” that Ambassador Diaz used the words “no matter what.” He said it’s OK if the ambassador meant that all of us must stand behind the president, but he draws the line at “blind obedience” as if President Obama will order the citizenry to march off a mountain into the sea like lemmings.

President Obama has become a lightning rod for everything that is wrong with America. There is a lot of hate out there. The numbers of militia groups running around in the woods with guns has increased from 170 before President Obama was elected, to 500 and still counting.
It is with incredible sadness that I finally have to recognize what my black sisters and brothers have seen for over one year – that our nation is drifting back to the bad, old days when black people were treated as second class citizens. Ah, you say, “But we have a black president.” Surprise! We do not have a black president.

Let me tell you something that most people don’t know. President Barack Obama is not a “black” man. Let me be emphatic: Obama is not a black man - at least not as white Americans traditionally think of African-Americans pas being “black.” He did not grow up in the mean streets of some rundown neighborhood in the U.S. He grew up in a Caucasian family, and lived in Hawaii and Indonesia. His father was a black African from Kenya. His mother was white and from Kansas. Obama is “black” only in that he has more than “one drop of black blood,” which decades ago our nation’s majority race decided meant that one is officially “black.” His life experiences did not expose him to the segregation, the ignorance, and the constant reminders that if one was not “white” then one was not intelligent, industrious, or beautiful and could never be. He grew up in multi-cultural societies, and his worldview is as different from that of his U.S. brothers as - well, as different as day and night or black and white.

Nobody was more surprised when he was elected president than “black” Americans. None of us thought a black man could ever be elected president, and certainly never in our lifetime. And we were right. The vast majority of Americans did not see Obama as a typical “black” man, and indeed he is not. Fast forward to today. Many white Americans who voted for Obama thought of him as being an extraordinary black man who has risen above the heap. They say he’s “intelligent” as if the country has never seen an intelligent black man. They say he is well educated. Well, I could introduce you to quite a few black men and women who are “well educated,” present company included. Some point out that his charisma is welcomed by our European allies as an antidote to the Bush years when diplomacy and common sense were seldom seen and almost never practiced. Some probably thought that after eight years of Bush/Cheney anybody would be better. Certainly our European allies greeted Obama as a man they could relate to.

The little putdowns of the nation’s first “black” president began on Inauguration Day. As cameras were poised at Blair House waiting for President-elect Obama and his family to leave for the Capitol, a television reporter told us how many minutes late Obama was, and he said, not without disdain, “This will be the last time he (Obama) will be late. From now on his time will be [handled] by the Secret Service, and he will always be on time.” That crack did not go unnoticed by black people. We are acutely aware that blacks have a reputation – deserved or not – for being late. For the record, the president is in charge, not his handlers.

Then we had the ridiculous spectacle of the Secret Service allowing a couple - a white couple - to enter the White House for a state dinner without an invitation. Talk about chutzpah! They sashayed into the White House, passed through two sets of Secret Service agents even though their names were not on either list, and managed to hobnob with the rest of the guests, along with President and Mrs. Obama. They left only when they realized they would have no seats at the formal dinner. I asked myself why the Secret Service was so lax when a black president is in office. Can you imagine that happening with any other president? Try real hard to imagine that. What if I had ambled in, dressed to the nines, and had no invitation? An alarm would have been sounded immediately, and I would have been hauled off to a DC jail faster than a speeding bullet. No, they would not have let me pass. Why? Perhaps because I’m “too dark to pass.” Remember that famous line in West Side Story?

The next spectacle was the congressman shouting at President Obama in the middle of his health care address before Congress and the nation. Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) shouted, “You lie!” as the President spoke. We have never witnessed such incivility and disrespect of a president. And then Rep. Wilson did what others do who should have bitten their tongues before opening their mouths and sticking in both feet, he apologized for his outburst. Those apologies are becoming old and ringing false.

During the debate about the health care bill, cameras caught some Republican congressmen as they leaned over the balcony taunting black members of Congress, and at the same time urging on the protestors to new lows. Some protestors took great pleasure in calling our black Congressmen derogatory names. For the most part, these were elderly black men who paid their dues during the Civil Rights struggle. They were taunted and spit upon. What a spectacle that was.

And then came the sickening display of people openly carrying guns in Arizona and New Hampshire. As the President spoke at the convention center in Phoenix, outside some protesters were filmed carrying guns. One tough customer had a rifle on his back. What a message that sent. Nobody seemed the least bit concerned except black people. Yes, we were alarmed at armed protesters near the president. That is asking for an “accident” to happen. As I recall during the Bush years, protesters protesting against anything (!) were swiftly hustled away. For protestors to carry firearms near a President is totally unheard of. Yes, in Arizona and New Hampshire it is legal to carry guns openly, but no one has ever dared or been permitted to carry them near a president. A Washington Post columnist, Courtland Milloy, wrote recently:

”Had [a] black rifleman showed for, say, Ronald Reagan's "states' rights" speech
in Philadelphia, Miss., back in 1980, they might still be dredging the Pearl River
for his remains.”

I find it extremely troubling when the citizenry begins carrying guns to or near events at which the president is speaking. Yes, they are making a political statement- albeit a provocative one - which they have a right to do, but it is the beginning of something we Americans are unaccustomed to. Our active and moneyed gun lobbyists have gotten gun laws passed that allow more and more people to carry guns in public, to the workplace, to bars, etc. This sorry spectacle is an additional omen of the unraveling of civility, and a return to rule by gun. Bush was not a particularly popular president and people grumbled and groused, but never did they take up arms and cart them around in his presence. They knew better. People were “invited” to his town hall meetings. None of his public appearances were ever open to the public. Members of the audience were “invited.” And the instant there was an outburst, husky men quickly reached the protestor and he was out on his butt. No dissent was tolerated from the citizenry, at least not in the august presence of President Bush or Vice-President Cheney. Cheney was especially scary. He kept his own records; answered to no one, including the president; had his own Shadow Kitchen Cabinet, and basically thumbed his nose at anyone daring to point out to him the “openness” part of the executive branch of government. We still have no idea of the extent to which he damaged the country.

Something scarier is happening. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center that monitors militia groups, many of these hate groups use a photo of President Obama for target practice. Milloy says:

“Imagine that the inauguration of President George W. Bush had sparked an explosive rise in African American militia groups. Suppose thousands of heavily armed black men began gathering at training camps in wooded areas throughout the country, devising military tactics for "taking back their country" after what they believed was an electoral coup. Do you think Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney would have reacted to a black militia buildup as coolly as President Obama has to the phenomenal growth of white militias?
'If the people we saw running around armed to the teeth were black, I think their organizations would be destroyed in a matter of hours,’ Mark Potok, director of the So u Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project, [said]. ‘If people saw on their TV screens photos of black militia members shooting at images of a white president, I don't think they would last.’ ”

Blacks and whites somehow usually manage to see the same happening with different eyes. One viewpoint comes from white privilege. The other viewpoint comes from a black perspective in which one can be certain beyond the shadow of a doubt that if a black did the same outrageous thing as a white, we would very soon find ourselves back in slavery. I'm not so sure that such is a long way off. I exaggerate to make a point. I often felt that we were heading that way during the years of Reagan, and Bush/Cheney.

Some say those among us who are the most flawed – i.e., racists - can change. Yes, they CAN change, but will they? I have my doubts. It’s a nice thought and a pious hope, and I want to believe it, but history tells me it is not going to happen. We are seeing more stories in the news about black men being dragged to their death. The blood lust continues. Instead of lynching by hanging, now it’s lynching by dragging a human behind a moving vehicle leaving skin, blood, and body parts all along the road. How cruel can we become?

Let us not forget the Florida urologist, Dr. Jack Cassell, who placed a sign on his office door:
“If you voted for Obama…seek urologic care elsewhere. Changes to your
health care begin right now, not in four years.”

When was the last time you saw something like that? Cowards get bolder when somebody else sets the pace. Then they crawl out of their holes in wild abandonment of the rules of civility.

We then had the Wal-mart incidents. On two occasions a New Jersey teen used a courtesy phone at two different Wal-Mart stores to announce: “All black people leave the store now.” The latest incident was in April. The 16 yr. old boy’s identity was not released due to his age. The identity of his parents should have been blared all over the state and surrounding environs. People need to know who he is. His photo should be circulated to every store in the state so that when he enters a store, he will see his picture, and be on notice that his nonsense will not be tolerated. Obviously his parents cannot control him, unless, of course, they concur.

A few weeks after this incident a 14 yr. old girl in a Whole Foods Market, also in New Jersey, grabbed a mike at the courtesy desk and ordered “All blacks leave the store.” What kind of people are being spawned in New Jersey? Again, her identity is kept secret due to her age. Again, some parents get to hide behind their teens’ atrocious behavior. Outrageous!

One of the most unsettling events occurred when General Stanley McChrystal, head of our armed forces in Afghanistan, waxed ineloquently and rudely to a magazine crew about his Commander in Chief and White House staff. That is a definite no-no and a scary scenario. When a military commander begins flapping his gums about his commander, in some countries the next step is an army takeover. When a civilian leader, such as in a democracy like ours, is held up to ridicule and contempt, those around the man with the mouth begin to believe that everybody else is ignorant. Then those with the guns encourage their followers to savor ideas of “what could be” and as they become more and more critical of their civilian leaders, conditions become ripe for a coup. Arrogance does not make for a good military commander, and neither does bashing one’s superior. Be careful, America, be very careful. I have seen democracies and dictatorships fall for far fewer reasons.

Prejudice will always be with us, but so should common decency. Let us be true to ourselves and recognize that some of us harbor evil feelings toward those who are not the same color or creed. Let us pray that we as a nation can move beyond hate and feelings of superiority.

Thank you, Ambassador Diaz, for the gentle reminder that one who holds the highest and most honored office in the land deserves our respect even if he is not of our political party, or has other distinguishing characteristics unpleasing to us.

"We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others that in the end we become disguised to ourselves." Fran├žois de La Rochefoucauld


1 comment:

  1. well done, good and faithful woman, your heart
    was in every word....blessings on you and our
    president....dolores crowley