Sunday, January 25, 2009

Was Obama's Benediction Racist?

I loved Rev. Joseph Lowery's benediction for its use of language, but the rhetoric have been something else; like Obama, I found myself nodding and smiling as Lowery described a day "when black will not be asked to give back, when brown can stick around, when yellow will be mellow, when the red man can get ahead, man"...but I found my smile fading when he concluded "...and when white will embrace what is right."

Something rubs me the wrong way about that last line. Why should only the whites embrace "what is right"?

It apparently also rubbed at Debra Dickerson and her friend John Schwade in a recent MoJo blog entry.

I do remain reserved about the article. Schwade makes, in my opinion, a fallacious equivocation when he states, "By the way, if it is racist to have an NFL team in the nation's capitol with the name 'Redskins,' it's racist to refer to native Americans as 'the red man,' even if it rhymes with 'ahead, man.'" I'm not sure what Schwade is trying to emphasize with that comment; is he pointing out the danger of using the phrase "red man," or is he sugesting it's only racist to say that because such racism is qualified by a similar instance of it? It sounds like a neat analogy, but it confuses me when I try to unpack it.

Likewise, I think there are some moments when Schwade is flirting with "qualifying statements," which is bland rhetoric and becoming one of my pet peeves (most recent example: before dinner tonight at Chili's with Jill's parents, I was reading a November '08 New York Times article about the Mormon hand in passing Prop 8. I think it's an informative article but I call foul when Frank Schubert, chief stragegist for Prop 8, "said he is [not] anti-gay - his sister is a lesbian..." I'd like to know how the hell that's relevant; like I told Sylvia, it's like me saying, "Oh, I'm not anti-Twilight - my sister is a fan." By the way, using gay and lesbian friends to qualify acceptance of homosexuality - and, likely, mask homophobia/intolerance - is something my sister herself has done around me a few times). Schwade does this when he implies that because he works at a prison, where apparently there's a significant population of blacks, he is entitled to sympathize with them as human beings. Right.

At any rate - like Schwade and Dickerson, I cringe a little because the idea ought to be that one acts on "what is right" regardless of race, gender, class, sexuality and religious (or non-religious) persuasion. "What is right" is ultimatley a dangerously vague phrase, and I realize that. I also realize that some may be quick to call the Rev. Lowery's benediction reverse racism when, like one of my professors, John Goshert, I think that's false and deluding epistemology - there's no such thing as reverse racism.

Still, I would hope that along with entertaining the nation with wordplay, the reverend was attempting to reconcile notions of "right" with pragmatism and not further divide the nation into "morally ethnic" demographics.

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