REMEMBER THE MAINE!
Regarding Alexander Cockburn’s March 5 “Beat the Devil” column on the New York Times and the war, titled “Sold to Mr. Gordon, Another Bridge!”: This is the centennial of yellow journalism. William Randolph Hearst involved us in war against the decaying Spanish (read Habsburg) Empire over the Maine–which we blew up–early in the last century. It sold newspapers! Now in the beginning death throes of this pulp fiction and its copycats, the Times is involving us in a war against… what is it this time? Al Qaeda? Evil? Terrorism?
And now the Iranians claim that bombs used by terrorists were US manufactured. Will Mr. Gordon find them as credible as he finds the Bush Administration? Keep up the good work, Mr. Cockburn.
DON’T KNOW MUCH ABOUT HISTORY…
Saint Cloud, Minn.
Gary Younge, in his March 5 “White History 101,” gives a superb analysis, the best I’ve seen. I hope history teachers will carry this column into their classrooms to help students understand how history gets converted into ideology. My challenge for history teachers and students: Drop the passive voice in describing settlement, slavery and segregation. Name the white criminals who still run the country. Racism is not abstract; it is the daily activity of whites going about business as usual. I publicly thank Gary Younge.
Kudos to Gary Younge! One thought, though. As a Jew, I am proud of the moral stand that led Goodman and Schwerner to the South and take issue with Younge’s defining them as “white.” I have never thought of myself as white. “White” people generally don’t accept me and mine as 100 percent white, and I’m not sure I’m too sad about that. Goodman and Schwerner were certainly not considered white by the bigots who murdered them–how much shall we wager that some anti-Jewish slurs were thrown at them before they were slaughtered?
Rather than learning about James Blake, or Lester Maddox, it might be better if Americans discussed how our leaders distract us with nonissues like who sits where on the bus, or who can marry whom, or what happens to an embryo, instead of focusing on low wages, bad schools or nonexistent healthcare.
James Blake drove a bus through one of the poorest sections of the country. His children went to some of the worst schools in the United States and then on to low-paying nonunion jobs. He was as much a victim of the system as Rosa Parks.
It is a measure of my generation’s obsession with race that we bend over backward to include blacks in the historical experience, sometimes undeservedly, and still Gary Younge titles his column “White History 101.” As for Mr. Blake, he was a bus driver: How many white bus drivers of renown besides the fictitious Ralph Kramden do we know? I only celebrate American history, and that includes everybody.
I think the time is right to interview, where possible, those who were actively opposed to the advancement of African-Americans. Let’s research and hear from some of the assailants–a “Where Are They Now?” segment, if you will. I think it would be informative and educational, for example, to find the young man who poured milk and flour on, and then commenced to punch and kick, the young man trying to be served a meal. Where is he now? Is he my insurance agent, my banker, my lawyer, my commissioner? What are his thoughts now? Is he remorseful?
New York City
Winston Churchill is credited with the observation that history is written by the victors. Thank you for a thoughtful, moral and courageous argument, compellingly made, for an American history that is not bowdlerized in favor of the victors.
HARRIET A. WASHINGTON
HE’S BLACK! HE’S WHITE! HE’S CLEAN!
Patricia Williams’s perspective is so refreshing. Her capacity to review Barack Obama’s life situation in many dimensions is welcome [“L’Étranger,” March 5]. I have watched as he has grown in Illinois politics. Having voted for John Kennedy as my first presidential vote, I must say that Senator Obama has even more to offer our nation. He chose to be a community organizer in the worst of Chicago neighborhoods. There is nothing more basic and tough than being a community organizer and doing it well.
SANDRA F. TAENZER
Fernandina Beach, Fla.
Patricia Williams has written a very insightful piece on Barack Obama, and her analogy of the twinning doll was excellent (I have one of those I found in my attic!). But I must say, although I’m no big Biden fan, that what I thought he meant by his “bright and clean” comment was that Obama is “clean” in the sense of being as yet uncorrupted by Beltway politics. Maybe Biden should have said “fresh,” but I immediately knew what he meant by “clean” and didn’t feel it as a racial slur at all.
It is symptomatic of our obsession with race that Obama has people on both sides of the color line asking if he is “too white” or “too black.” How about, Is he human/humane? As a white person who has voted for Harold Washington and Jesse Jackson, I believe the way to move beyond race stereotypes is to discuss them less, not more. I believe race, religion and ethnicity are proxies for class. The same stereotypes, the same jokes are repeated when Sunnis talk about Kurds. Poor people get screwed everywhere. In America a lot of them happen to be black. In the final analysis all issues are economic issues. Divide and conquer is the modus operandi of the ruling class in every society. The less we define ourselves by our differences, the more we can thwart racism, sexism and all other kinds of exploitation.
Last, I am not a former “fucked-up middle-class college student.” I am a compassionate human being. I don’t think labels, whether from above or below, from left or right, advance any discussion.
Lou Reed’s rotten lyric with the refrain “I don’t wanna be a fucked-up middle-class college student” could sing a different tune. That fucked-up kid wants to be black because black people have depth and gravitas. They have empathy, infectious humor, incredibly strong extended families, a deep abiding faith in a higher power and a way of physically being in their bodies that others admire–not to mention the gift of oration (“he’s articulate”), which Obama has inherited. Williams asks whether you can “invert the equation by positing that Barack Obama ‘transcended’ whiteness because his father was black.” My answer is a resounding Yes! Barack Obama has transcended his whiteness. By embracing strong black values. Like it or not, whites can claim him as one of their own–and they are proud that he does not embody the values of “fucked-up middle-class” whites.
Patricia Williams writes “the word ‘white’ is…alluded to in the chorus [of “I Wanna Be Black”]…with crystal clarity…: I don’t wanna be a fucked-up middle-class college student.” Where is it written that “a fucked-up middle-class college student'” has to be white? I refer Williams to Spike Lee’s School Daze.
Falls Church, Va.
Patricia Williams’s column was captivating and on point. But I must take exception to her inclusion of Condoleezza Rice in the group of politicos who are at once black and articulate. Dr. Rice cannot speak without uh, uh, uh-ing her way through a sentence. While she is intelligent, articulate she is not.
Oak Park, Ill.
Thank you, Patricia Williams for your refreshingly rational and thoughtful discussion of the Obama candidacy. As a longtime Obama supporter, I have been closely following the coverage of his campaign. It is frustrating when Maureen Dowd frames the race as a high school popularity contest, when Matt Taibbi assumes that Obama is a Bill Clinton-esque “BS artist” and when some on the left run away from Obama because he is a celebrity. Since when is eloquence synonymous with “BS”? And shouldn’t we be thankful we have a candidate who is both a rock star and a progressive?
Fortunately, the Senator has almost a year to demonstrate that he’s no “empty suit.” His efforts in the State Senate won him wide acclaim for his ability to win many Republican votes for progressive reforms. Likewise, his campaign for the US Senate in 2004 brought together a famously divided electorate. Some dismiss Obama’s victories as luck, but luck can’t explain why he won such lopsided victories–70 percent against Alan Keyes and 52 percent in the primary (versus 48 percent for his six opponents combined).
By all means, be skeptical. Put Obama and his ideas to the test and continue to push him in a progressive direction. The more people who give Obama a fair hearing, the better his chances will be.
If I see one more article about presidential candidates’ attractive attributes, racial heritage, articulateness, authenticity, fresh vision, youthfulness and good-looking Kennedy-esque appeal and/or the public’s grasp or lack of grasp of those “transcendent” characteristics, I’ll hurl all over my Nation. Why is the national media fixated on candidates’ superficialities? Is it to fulfill some perceived craving of the dim-witted masses?
This tendency among media to make candidates into starlets has the aroma of a high school student council race revolving around who’s the hunkiest jock/cutest cheerleader, who’s the best class clown and who’s got the most sizzlin’ put-downs. Of course, high schoolers have an excuse. Their weightiest campaign issue likely is whether to have sodas or health drinks in the vending machine (the principal wouldn’t dare allow discussion of whether to ban on-campus military recruiters). National media outlets have no such excuse.
ROBERT A. ETHINGTON
All this nattering about Barack Obama’s race: He appears to be a very capable young man. Can’t we just leave it at that?
SCOOTER LIBBY–A LITTLE BIT FIBBY
La Mesa, Calif.
Though widely reputed that Scooter had “tooted,”
His attorneys disputed in terms convoluted
(as he remained muted).
While the jury computed I fervently rooted,
And, lo and behold, his defense was refuted
But my joy at the verdict is somewhat diluted,
Because Cheney and Rove still remain to be booted.
(With apologies to C. Trillin) HARVEY MOZER