Friday, July 19, 2013

I am Trayvon Martin

With a final reference to Martin Luther King's words almost 50 years ago at the March on Washington, President Obama offers nuanced views on racial progress, but also hard truths on the Trayvon Martin case, the stand your ground gun laws, what it's like to be a young black male in America.  President Obama spoke conversationally and informally in the White House press room.  Yet partly because of that, this may be the most important 17 minutes of words in the history of race relations since that MLK speech.

The parents of Trayvon Martin later issued a statement thanking the President for his "beautiful" words.  They ended their statement: "We seek a future when a child can walk down the street and not worry that others see him as dangerous because of the color of his skin or the clothes on his back. We seek a future where our children can grow up and become the people God intended them to be."

Vigils for Trayvon Martin are scheduled in over 100 U.S. cities for Saturday.

Amy Davidson at the New Yorker quotes from President Obama's statement with comments.

Religion prof Anthea Butler in Politico: "This is a profound moment, not only for African-Americans, but for the nation. While the Zimmerman trial has exposed the deep divide between the left and the right, the aftermath has been brutal. Online and on cable news, this past week has felt like a race war with no end in sight — and it has been draining. Hearing the first African-American president clearly affirm our collective pain as African-Americans is a “balm in Gilead” that will help many."

Thursday, July 18, 2013

American Flashpoint

The Zimmerman verdict has become the latest flashpoint on race, proving if it needed proof that black/white race is still alive as a deep cultural as well as political problem.

On the one hand there's the moving yet shocking statement by the African American professor and TV pundit Melissa Harris Perry that she finds herself glad the child she's carrying isn't a boy, because black boys just aren't safe in this country.  On the other, a white woman assaulted and injured an older black man--a veteran soul singer--for dedicating a song to Trayvon Martin.  Demonstrations, with some violence attached, against the verdict, but also people on the side that won are incensed that charges were even brought, screaming their race-crazed conspiracy theories.

Here the trial itself is analyzed--one of the better of many analyses--and here the racial background that fills in the numbers revealing scandalous and persistent racial injustice.  News to all others perhaps, but not to African Americans.

One response--and one that is likely to grow--is Stevie Wonder announcing that he will boycott Florida and all states that have the racialized stand your ground gun law.  (And as someone pointed out, why isn't the NRA claiming that it all could have been avoided if Trayvon Martin had carried a gun?)  Here by the way is a very good meditation on the real core question: exactly what should Trayvon Martin have done?  It reveals what a sick verdict it is.

All of this is happening in the shadow of the Supreme Court's stripping the Voting Rights Act and just before the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington--two topics the great Louis Menard brings together.

Also just after President Obama's trip to Africa, where he visited a disembarkation point for black slaves on their way to America in chains.

Politics Then and Now

I've been reading about the years 1936 to 1941 in the U.S., including the politics of those elections.  There really is disgustingly little difference between the politics of now and then.  1936 was a total preview of 2012, as FDR ran for a second term, was called a Communist by Republican opponents, and worse by right wing splinter groups (their Birthers insisted FDR was really Jewish.) Rs tried to scare people about the horrors of the fully implemented Social Security system (everyone in the country will be taxed for s.s.! And everybody will get a number! And be forced to wear it on a chain around their necks for the rest of their lives!)  Nothing at all like being terrified that Obamacare might actually do some good.

 Meanwhile the Rs including the candidate were certain right up to election day that they would win, because the people would reject FDR.  When the votes were counted, only Vermont and Maine rejected FDR.

And then a chastened, much smarter Republican party in 1940, pretty much did the same damn thing.  In complete denial about Hitler and U.S. vulnerability.  Congressional Rs voted down FDR's defense requests and then castigated him in the campaign for not building up U.S. defenses.  The only difference is that a not insane Wendell Wilkie got nominated by a combination of fluke and actual popularity (but not with congressional Rs) and when they lost again, they still didn't change.

It seems that the Republican party was partly sane in the 50s, some of the 60s and 70s--although they did elect a mad president.  But sanity, that's just not them.  Venality and hypocrisy are merely symptoms.

And perhaps it's too much to ask let alone expect that politics itself be sane.  It sure isn't right now.  There are two themes currently coexisting in the gratefully little punditry I see: the Republican party is falling apart and dooming itself, and the Republican party is likely to regain a Senate majority and probably won't lose the House in the next election.  Huh?

As contradictory as this seems, it suggests a current phenomenon that is actually dooming our political system to inflated ineffectual twittering.  In 2008, those many who voted in the U.S. elected a Democratic president and Congress, to do what they said they'd do.  In 2010, those few who voted in the states elected reactionary Republican fanatics, throwing the U.S. House to the dogs, and doing worse in the states.

With the reelection of the Democratic president in 2012 that all was supposed to change, or change back.  Now there's every possibility that the non-presidential  2014 elections will make things worse.  One step forward, two steps back.  

Another reading of history suggest maybe it will take one more presidential election.  Okay, I'll check back in early 2017.