Tag Archives: Barack Obama

Obama Is Being Lifted Up by the Elders

By James Ewers

Sen. Barack Obama made reference to a preacher who made America better in his acceptance speech on Aug. 28, 2008, at the Democratic National Convention. Obama is now officially his party’s nominee to be president of the United States of America. Let’s not forget the “preacher” that Obama referred to was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., arguably the single most important figure in the civil rights movement. Certainly there could be no Barack Obama without there being a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Men like Whitney Young, A. Phillip Randolph, Edward Brooke and, yes, Jessie Jackson all had a hand in the uplifting of Barack Obama. We can never forget Shirley Chisholm, Fannie Lou Hamer and Rosa Parks all contributed to where Obama is today. There are countless others who played significant roles in carving out a place for all Americans in this country.

The day of Obama’s acceptance speech marked the 45th anniversary of Dr. King’s “I have a dream speech.” Was it fate or coincidence? You make the call. I have said to all of my friends that never in my lifetime did I ever expect to see an African-American be this close to being president. I thought about the marches that I have participated in and the movie houses where I had to sit in the balcony simply because I was Black. All of that had to happen then so that we could get to now, seeing Obama be nominated for president. So watching Sen. Obama last week reaffirmed for me that anything is possible in America. While there are some who will tell you what you can’t do, there are others who will tell you to follow your dreams.

There have been reports circulating for months that Obama is an elitist. I find that assessment to be absolutely ludicrous. What exactly in the eyes of the naysayers makes Barack Obama an elitist? Let’s examine the facts. He was raised by a single parent who was economically challenged. His mom valued education so he graduated from college using scholarships and loans. Does graduating from college using scholarships and loans make him an elitist? He graduated from Harvard Law School and chose to work for social reform in Chicago instead of getting a high paying job with a major law firm. Does advocating for people who can’t advocate for themselves make Obama an elitist? He is articulate, persuasive and has command of the facts. Does being well spoken and giving people hope make Barack Obama an elitist? Many of us have grown tired and weary of hearing the nonfactual and puny arguments about Barack Obama being an elitist. Could it be the purveyors of such vile information suffer themselves from jealousy and envy. It can hardly be said that Obama was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He may have had a spoon but it certainly wasn’t silver. Obama knows when people are out to damage you that they will create a perception about you. The way to beat it is to simply treat everyone with dignity and respect and give 110 percent everyday in whatever your life’s work is.

Many who are against Sen. Obama have used race as the reason that they will not vote for him in November. The Internet is filled with comments from people saying that they will never, ever vote for an African-American to be president of this country. It both saddens and troubles me that in 2008 that there are those who would still use race as a wedge to divide us. I actually hurt for people who think like that, because there is no racial monopoly on intelligence. Like the board game Monopoly, if I do the right things, I, too, can have the boardwalk; I, too, can pass “go” and collect $200.00.

Being an educated African-American male today creates questions for a lot of people. Because Obama is confident, some perceive him to be arrogant. Because Obama is cool under fire, some see him as aloof or “elitist.” Said King: “I want to be judged by the content of my character and not the color of my skin.” Yet there are places in this country, the home of the brave and the land of the free, that still believe in the old way of thinking. So no matter how integral you are, no matter how articulate you are, the color of your skin still gets in the way. Will we ever become our brother’s and sister’s keeper? I still believe we can and, in fact, I know we can.

So, no matter your political affiliation, what you saw on last month was history. This story will be in textbooks and archives all over the world for generations still unborn. It will tell the story of Barack Obama, a Black man who believed that he could be president of the United States of America.

Dr. Ewers is the associate dean for student affairs and director of community partnerships at Miami University Middletown in Ohio. He is the author of Perspectives From Where I Sit: Essays on Education, Parenting and Teen Issues.

Should HBCUs take a Page from Obama’s Notebook on fundraising? Yes!

 

By Dr. Marybeth Gasman

 

Liberals and conservatives alike have raved about Barack Obama’s innovative approach to fundraising.  In recent months, I have seen article after article lauding Obama’s campaign for using technology in new ways and paying attention to the small donor.  After careful review of the Obama campaign’s strategies, I’m convinced that Black colleges and universities should follow his lead.

 

Obama’s fundraising success comes from a multi-part strategy. His campaign uses a combination of Google ads, email list generation techniques, a presence on various social networking sites and tailored email messages to garner funds.  Knowing Obama’s captive audience, his campaign strategically places ads on websites that are akin to his kind of politics.  In addition, his campaign targets websites that speak to audiences with which Obama can potentially make headway (e.g., the Latino population).  Perhaps HBCUs should be placing ads on viable websites both for marketing and fundraising purposes.  Research shows that the internet is an excellent way to connect with people under 40 years of age (and this is changing to include those over 40).

 

Perhaps one of the Obama campaign’s most successful and innovative approaches to fundraising is the collection of email addresses.  At small and large campaign rallies across the country, they collected the emails of virtually all attendees, creating a massive database of supporters with whom Obama can be in constant contact.  What if HBCUs began collecting email addresses systematically at homecoming, football and basketball games, and special events?  And, what if HBCUs began to court these constituents – keeping them abreast of their successes, telling them of their needs, and eventually asking them to support HBCUs financially?  The Obama campaign sends regular email messages that inform, inspire, and request support.  HBCUs could certainly do the same.

 

The Obama campaign also makes use of electronic social networks, including Facebook, Myspace, and LinkedIn.  Individuals who friendObama can download videos and send them to their friends, post Obama quotes on their personal sites, and invite friends to participate in campaign events.  What if HBCUs tapped into these social networks extensively, using them to communicate with alumni and drum up enthusiasm for campus events?

 

And, of course, the Obama campaign doesn’t ignore the small donor.  Even donors who give a mere $5 are courted on a regular basis.  Obama realized that paying attention to the small donor would pay off in the end as small donors give time and time again. They are loyal. Often times, HBCUs place their fundraising emphasis on foundations, corporations, and large donors, neglecting to focus attention on their alumni (i.e., the small donor).  Cultivating alumni in the way that Obama’s campaign has done is essential to the growth and longevity of HBCUs.  And the trick, at least for Obama, is a lot of thank you’s, a lot of information on how the donations are used, and targeted and meaningful solicitations.

 

Check out these articles for more insight on Obama’s fundraising strategies:

 

“Obama’s Fundraising Success May Herald a Whole New Model”

“On the Web, Obama is the Clear Winner”

“Internet Revolutionizes Campaign Fundraising:  Successful Fundraising Efforts Appeal to Average People Online”

 

An associate professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Gasman is the author of Envisioning Black Colleges: A History of the United Negro College Fund (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007) and lead editor of Understanding Minority Serving Institutions  (SUNY Press, 2008).

CNN’s Black in America Sounds Clarion Call To Do More

By James Ewers

 

I am black in America so the recent two-part series produced by CNN entitled “Black in America” did appeal to me. This special program to my mind was not only for black people but for white people as well. For whatever judgment you rendered about the series let us give both CNN reporter Soledad O’Brien credit for undertaking this project. It was two years in the making and was well worth watching. It validated some of my thinking and gave me further insight into some other areas that were eye opening. I remember a few years ago when some said that Bill Cosby was exposing our “dirty laundry” in public when he talked about the issue of self-responsibility in the African American community. Some thought that he was too candid and much too skeptical. Well if Bill Cosby exposed our dirty laundry, then CNN wasn’t far behind. 

 

One of the more compelling topics broached on the series was HIV/AIDS. While watching the snippets was painful, the information needed to get out there so that people would know.  HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death among young women in the black community. According to the report, one in 20 people in Washington, D.C., are infected with HIV/AIDS. Wherever you are and if you are black, you ought to pay serious attention to this statistic. The takeaway from these statistics is that we as African Americans must make better choices and decisions. HIV/AIDS education must begin, I believe, at the elementary school level. While some may think otherwise, I think to talk about this dreaded disease at the middle school level may be too late. There are a lot of conversations that we have with our children around the dinner table and this must be one of them. In order for our present generation to survive and future generations to thrive, we must become much more proactive about this issue. 

 

T.D. Jakes, a prominent African American minister, in essence said that black churches have a responsibility in this area. This responsibility just didn’t happen as it has been our responsibility all along; we have just ignored it, thinking that it might go away. Many in the black community think that sermons on Sunday and education programs during the week will help. As for our black community in Middletown what church will begin a ministry that will target HIV/AIDS?

 

“Black in America” started off on Wednesday showing related black families going to their family reunion in Atlanta, Georgia. The strength and resoluteness of the black family cannot be overlooked or minimized. I spoke with a good friend of mine recently who also had his family reunion in Georgia. I could see the pride on his face as he brought me a souvenir. The black family is steadfast and unmovable because it is our bedrock and the centerpiece of our entire experience. Black folks have long understood that, when all else fails, we still have our families. Dollar bills will come and go but our families will remain strong and consistent. I thought the segment on the family reunion was good, as you could see the connectivity between generations.

 

One aspect that could have been talked about more was the increase in the number of African Americans who are graduating from colleges across the country. Highlighted in the piece was the fact that more African American women are graduating from college than men. The ongoing challenge that has existed over a period of many years now is how to get more African American males in college and to graduate them. The road to college is filled with potholes called jail, drugs, and poor choices for many black males. I believe strongly that education must be valued in our black households. If it is valued, then in the end it doesn’t matter as much if your parents went to college. All that matters is that they see the importance of getting a college education. I found it a bit amusing on one level that a high school counselor on the special told the African American boy at the time that he should not consider college. Does that still happen today in 2008?

 

African Americans make up 13 percent of the population yet represent 49 percent of the homicides. This statistic is just horrific. There is no other way to say it. Presidential candidate, Barack Obama, in a recent talk at the NAACP Convention in Cincinnati spoke of personal responsibility and accountability in the black community. If we want to see change, then we must be the change and not wait for it. If we don’t begin it, then who; if not now, when? We, as African American parents and love providers, must provide our children at an early age with a set of instructions that will ward off poor choices and their consequences. Poor decision making results in no dreams of success and generally low expectations. We must teach our children that good things happen when you work hard and treat all people with dignity and respect. Unfortunately, big clothes don’t mean big dreams. We can, we must, and we will do better. We have no choice!

 

I would hope that mentoring groups and churches would invest in a copy of this series as it can be instructive. There is much to talk about as our future can be bright if we want it to be. The terms and conditions of our future are up to us. While the circumstances are dire in some cases, we have the brainpower to make a difference in the future. Despair must be replaced with hope, and protraction must be replaced with interaction. African Americans who have achieved have a moral obligation to help others who have not been as fortunate. We cannot think that, because we have a bigger house or a bigger car, we have arrived. It is only when we enrich the lives of others that our own lives will be enriched. 

 

While the CNN special pointed out some of our challenges, it also showed that we have much to be proud of in the black community. As one of my colleagues has said, we have gone from picking cotton to picking presidents. Maybe our dirty laundry was exposed, but we have a chance to clean it up!

 

Dr. Ewers is the associate dean for student affairs and director of community partnerships at Miami University Middletown in Ohio. He is the author of Perspectives From Where I Sit: Essays on Education, Parenting and Teen Issues

A Reverend Jackson: Hi Hater

By Emmett L. Gill, Jr., PhD, MSW emmettg@ssw.rutgers.edu

 I know very little about politics, but I have realized the enormity of the pending Barack Obama presidency.  With that said, Reverend Jesse Jackson, as many others have said, needs to, in all due respect, be silent.  Not only should Jesse be totally silent, but also he should be virtually invisible.  Jesse Jackson is an icon and icons should be rarely seen and almost never heard.  Reverend Jackson has done some extraordinary things – in foreign policy, human welfare, civil rights, athletics, and a host of other areas.  Reverend Jack ran for president twice – he w-a-s the man. 

Yet as of late Reverend Jackson has come to due more harm to the public will, image, and leadership of blacks folks than good – another very public clergy member with a child out of wedlock, the mere mention of his name exacerbated extraordinary racial tensions in the Duke lacrosse case, and now this.  An iconic preacher /politician expresses a desire to castrate the man that is accomplishing what Jack could not.  That is what rapper Maino is referring to when he says “Hi hater.”

Look I have not led any marches, leveraged any boycotts, saved any hostages, walked along Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., or any of that, but I do know a hater when I see one.  “It’s a fact right… how they act trife…how they smile in your face then they back bite…”

Emmett Gill is an assistant professor at Rutgers, The State University, School of Social Work

An Obama Presidency and the Color of Fear

 

 

By Dr. Christopher Metzler

Barack Obama’s meteoric rise has caused joy for some, dismay for others and racial repellency for some Whites. Among those who are both overjoyed and nauseated at the same time are White supremacists and other hate groups. “I haven’t seen this much anger in a long, long time,” Russellville, Arkansas’ Billy Roper, a 36-year-old who runs a group called White Revolution, told The Washington Post in a story about the rise of hate group activity on the Internet. “Nothing has awakened normally complacent White Americans more than the prospect of America having an overtly non-White president,” adds Roper.

The Internet provides the opportunity for these groups and their supporters to “gather” and exchange vitriol about a potential Obama presidency. Stormfront.org constantly rails against Obama, even comparing him to the anti-Christ. So, what is it about Obama’s rise that has caused a corresponding rise in hate by these groups? There are at least three things.

First, Blacks have always been “othered” in American culture. So, many Americans still see us as being less than human. Second, many of the people who flock to these sites to address their views on race have long accepted the mantra that “You may be poor, you may be unemployed, you may be uneducated, but at least you are White.” Third, many in these groups believe that an Obama presidency would mean that Whites will become “the emerging minority.” Realizing how they have treated Blacks, they would not want Blacks to treat them as “The New Negros.”

Since the days of slavery, to the present, Blacks have been largely treated as outside of the mainstream of America. Further, Blacks have been portrayed as lazy, ignorant, vile and base by individuals and institutions such as the courts, the police and the media. This has been done largely to ensure that we are seen as so different from the “norm” of civilized American society that racism and discrimination are justified. After all, what “normal” White person would want to associate with people who are morally, intellectually and socially inferior? This creation of a stable other has served to concretize White as superior and Black as inferior. Since White is the ideal, and Blacks can never become White, Blacks are relegated to the static and permanent “other” — to be feared, marginalized and excluded. Obama’s rise as the presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee challenges this racial “logic” in ways that unnerve the people who patronize the Web sites of which I write. In their view, despite his multiracial heritage, Obama is still the much feared Black “other.” His election to the presidency would serve as a symbol that “othering” has lost its currency. The result will be a paradigmatic shift that will turn White supremacy on its veritable head. Their job then is to gather in this virtual space and let Whites know that an Obama presidency would mean that White supremacy has lost its luster. To them, Obama’s rise is an indication that the bell tolls with increasingly jarring tones for thee.

Many of my colleagues have written extensively about Whiteness as property. According to Professor Cheryl Harris, “Whiteness has functioned as self-identity in the domain of the intrinsic, personal, and psychological; as reputation in the interstices between internal and external identity; and, as property in the extrinsic, public, and legal realms. According Whiteness actual legal status converted an aspect of identity into an external object of property, moving Whiteness from privileged identity to a vested interest.” Given the prominence of Whiteness as “property” in all aspects of American life, the mere thought of Obama in the White House means, according to the racialized thinking of these White supremacist aficionados, that like the current foreclosure crisis in America, they will lose the sanctity of their house of Whiteness and see a rise in Blackness as property. Of course, this argument is simply droll.

The election of a Black person to the Presidency of the United States, without more, cannot and will not mean that the proprietary nature of Whiteness, which has been enshrined in every social, political and legal institution in the United States, will simply vanish. In fact, some Whites will point to Obama’s election, should it happen, as evidence that America has finally resolved the race question. Fear not White supremacists, there will be no wholesale plan by an Obama administration to establish a “Secretary for the Dismantling of Whiteness” or a “Secretary for the Elevation of Blackness.” Black Supremacy shall not reign anew.

Among the claims on the racist anti-Obama Web sites are the following: “Hewill make things so bad for White people that hopefully they will finally realize how stupid they were for admiring these jigaboos all these years,” White Supremacist stalwart “Darthvader” wrote on the neo-Nazi Vanguard News Network Web forum, “I believe in the motto ‘Worse is Better’ and Obama certainly fits that description.” J. Ron Doggett, a Virginian who has been a key activist in the Klan, the paramilitary White People’s Party and the neo-Nazi National Alliance, wrote, “I hope Obama wins because in four years, White people just might be pissed off enough to actually do something. … White people aren’t going to do a thing until their toys are taken away from them. So things have to be worse for things to be better.” Of course, the “toys” he speaks of include power, position and access to opportunity that he and others believe is a birthright given to Whites and denied Blacks.

Some even claim that Obama’s “yes we can” mantra translates into “yes we can kill all of the White people.” This simply proves that some Whites fear that an Obama presidency would mean that they will be relegated to the status of a mere Negro. For these Whites, this is a fate worse than death in a country which entitles them to privilege based solely on the color of their skin.

In the Civil Rights Cases, the Supreme Court of the United States held that the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which provided that “all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States of the accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of inns, public conveyances on land or water, theaters, and other places of public amusement; subject only to the conditions and limitations established by law, and applicable alike to citizens of every race and color, regardless of any previous condition of servitude” was unconstitutional. The majority went on to say that “when a man has emerged from slavery, and by the aid of beneficent legislation has shaken off the inseparable concomitants of that state, there must be some stage in the progress of his elevation when he takes the rank of a mere citizen, and ceases to be the special favorite of the laws, and when his rights as a citizen, or a man, are to be protected in the ordinary modes by which other men’s rights are protected.” (Emphasis added)

A review of the discussions on the aforementioned Web sites suggests that the fear of the Whites who are threatened by a potential Obama presidency is that they will lose their most favored status that has been granted them for oh so many centuries. This means that their rights would have to be protected to the same extent as “the ordinary Black person.” Thus, they would be subjected to racial profiling, redlining, discrimination in employment and always being the “suspect” on the 6 O’Clock News. The thought of being “The New Negroes” is just too much to take.

Dr. Christopher Metzler is Associate Dean at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies and the author of a forthcoming book, “The Construction and Rearticulation of Race in a Post Racial America (August, 2008).

 

 

A Post-Racial America?

By Dr. Christopher J. Metzler

                 In a June 13, 2008 Op Ed in The Wall Street Journal, Ward Connerly proclaimed that “Obama is no ‘Post Racial’ Candidate. Connerly’s conclusion is based on the fact that Obama acknowledges the continuing significance of race in an ostensibly ‘post racial’ America. More importantly Obama does not support Connerly’s attempts to outlaw Affirmative Action. Thus, in Connerly’s mind; he is “one of the same tired voices who peddle arguments about institutional racism.” Connerly’s article exposes his own internalized racial inferiority as well as his fidelity to white privilege. He writes, “As millions of whites cast their votes for him in predominantly white states, I held out hope that, perhaps, he was a truly transformative leader.”

Connerly’s subtext is clear. Whites voted for Obama. In exchange for their votes, the expectation is that Obama must deny the continuing significance of race (at least in Connerly’s mind). Although not white, Connerly, it seems, has appointed himself to speak for millions of whites. Hence, he is arguing that since whites have voted for a black candidate, then race no longer matters. Since Obama is the presumptive Democratic Party nominee, racism has simply disappeared. Obama is victorious, thus racism has disappeared. 

Mr. Connerly’s argument fails for at least three reasons. First, Obama cannot be a post racial “candidate” since America is still a racialized society. Second, the undeniably historic nomination of Obama does not singularly eliminate racism in one fell swoop. Lastly, employing the post-racial moniker is nothing more than an attempt to sloganeer, rather than address the continuing significance of race.

                Connerly writes, “As many readers will know, I am intimately involved in the effort to enact race-neutral initiatives around the country.” Ever the racial apologist, Connerly is attempting to end Affirmative Action in states by voter referenda because he feels that whites are increasingly the victim of discrimination and must be protected. But, why would there need to be race neutral legislation in a ‘post-racial’ America? “Post” suggests “after,” doesn’t it? So, doesn’t the need for this legislation at all suggest that America is still a society that is marked by race?

Connerly’s logic fails. The question is not whether we live in a “postracial” America, but how race affects us all as Americans. Race is contested space and Connerly’s efforts further contest the contours of that space.  Under Connerly’s logic, Obama would be “postracial” only if he accepts the Connerly definition. Neutrality, according to Connerly, does not require one to resort to a detached, objective analysis of race (if such is even possible); rather, it requires submitting to Connerly’s definition, lest one be marked as “racial.”

                Connerly and others like him are advancing the argument that Obama’s election as the Democratic nominee for President of the United States is unequivocal evidence that racism in America has ended. Under this premise, whites in predominantly white states have voted for Obama and are thus cleansing themselves of centuries-old racial demons and achieving racial salvation. As important as Obama’s ascent is to the vexing question of race, it would be a mistake to assume it is the end of racism in America. Just as it was a mistake to assume that “major combat operations in Iraq had ended” when President Bush donned a flight suit and so declared.

Admittedly, Obama’s rise suggests progress on the issue of race; however, it does not suggest the end of racism in America. For those of us who experience racism in the academy, in retail stores, on trains, on planes and other public places, we cannot simply now respond to those perpetuators of racism with “Hey, we have a black Presidential nominee, didn’t you get the memo?”

                America is the land of spin over substance and ‘post racial’ is the latest slogan to find its way into popular culture and the cultural lexicon. While the term escapes precise definition, it suggests that racism has occurred in the past, and that enlightened whites have eschewed racism as “so yesterday.” It also suggests that blacks who raise the continuing significance of race in a ‘post-racial’ America risk being relegated to the political margins as modern day race-baiters. There is a difference between issuing declarative statements proclaiming America ‘post racial’ and the reality that racism still plays a part in American life. The ‘post racial moniker’ is designed to give comfort to those who have black friends, for whom race “does not matter” and those who believe that “merit” is the great equalizer. As seductive as post-racialism is, it cannot exist in a society where the color of one’s skin still matters. “Post-racial” is another in a series of politically correct terms in which Americans avoid acknowledging the difficult issues, but instead choose to ignore them. 

                Finally, Connerly for all his ruminations about the need for a ‘post-racial’ America is trapped by the racial thinking that he is supposedly attempting to eradicate.  Me thinks the gentleman protests too much.

 

 

Dr. Christopher J. Metzler is Associate Dean at Georgetown‘s School of Continuing Studies and the author of The Construction and Rearticulation of Race in a Post Racial America (Aberdeen University Press, 2008).

 

No First Amendment Right to Call for Obama’s Assassination

By Dr. Christopher J. Metzler

 

The 2008 Presidential election is testing how America deals with the enduring question of racism. With Barack Obama as the presumptive Democratic nominee, America is beginning to confront its racial pedigree. The results speak for themselves. One such test occurred recently when performance artist, Yazmany Arboleda, put race, penis envy and sexism on Front Street. The artist prepared for public showing an art exhibit in a vacant storefront on West 40th Street in Midtown Manhattan with the title, “The Assassination of Hillary Clinton/The Assassination of Barack Obama.”

The exhibit was shut down by law enforcement before it could go live. Arboleda protested, claiming that the exhibit was to be about “character assassination” of Obama and Clinton in the media. Arboleda also claimed “free speech.” The items in the Assassination exhibit included: hangman’s nooses, a picture of Obama and his daughters with the caption “nappy headed hoes,” masks of Obama with the title, “You too can be the next Negro President of the United States, a photograph of a large penis entitled, “once you go Barack…” and “Just Passing.” No such references were made to Clinton or her family in the collection. Despite representations to the contrary by the artist, this exhibit was intended to stoke racial animus, and did not raise a free speech issue and is further evidence that America is far from ‘Post Racial.”

There is no discernable connection between character assassination and nooses. When black men were being hung from trees it was not intended to assassinate their character. It was intended to assassinate them. Thus, it is beyond the pale to suggest that an exhibit ostensibly focused on character assassination would feature nooses. Are we to believe that the nooses are a metaphor for a sharp-tongued media who would engage in a “high-tech lynching of Obama?” To the contrary. The artist is using the nooses to advocate that Obama be hung by one. There is no other explanation.

The “Nappy Headed Hoe” card has already been played and there was nothing philosophical or metaphoric about it. Its meaning is clear: Black females, no matter their ages, are to be defined both by their hair styles and their propensity for unbridled and indiscriminate sex. Are we to believe that Don Imus and all those who use that moniker were doing so to engage in character assassination or to mark black women by gender, race and promiscuity? Moreover, if as the artist suggests, this exhibit is about the character assassination of Obama in the media, what does his daughters have to do with this?

The phallic symbol, its exaggerated size and the reference to going “Barack” all rely on the oft-held notion that black men are ruled by their penises, define masculinity by the size of their penises and that Obama is just another penis-centric black man. In fact, the artist it seems is paying homage to the pervasive stereotype from D.W. Griffith’s Birth of A Nation, Toni Morrison’s Sula and Richard Wright’s Native Son that black men are to be judged not by the size of their character, but by the size of their penises. The artist is sending a message to white men, that this election is not about substance; it is not about policy. It is not about the war in Iraq, high gas prices, economic devastation, and America’s image in the rest of the world. It is about penis envy.

The free speech argument cannot simply be evoked because the First Amendment allows us all to speak truth to power. The First Amendment states in relevant part, “Congress shall make no law …. prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Thus, any restrictions on speech must be examined carefully. In this case, is the artist right when he says that he has the right to exhibit this collection, no matter how vile or offensive people find it? Is the first amendment absolute? Under what circumstances can the government restrict speech? By shutting down the exhibit, is the government enacting a “content- based” restriction since it does not like the topic of the speech.

A complete legal analysis of free speech is beyond the scope of this post. It is well settled that free speech is not absolute and that there can be restrictions on speech. In Chaplinsky v. State of New Hampshire, the Supreme Court of the United States held that “Certain welldefined and narrowly limited” categories of speech fall outside the bounds of constitutional protection. Thus, “the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous,” and (in this case) insulting or ‘fighting’ words neither contributed to the expression of ideas nor possessed any ‘social value’ in the search for truth.” Moreover, in Brandenburg v. Ohio the Court held that government cannot punish inflammatory speech unless it is directed to inciting and likely to incite imminent lawless action.

In this case, given the history of racism in America, the history of the assassination of black men by lynching and the presence of race-based hate groups in America, some of whom have openly called for Obama’s assassination, there is no question that this exhibit is likely to incite imminent lawless action. While the artist has the right to express racial views, he does not have the right to incite violence and expect that the First Amendment would give him cover. This exhibit is ripe for the restrictions envisaged by Chaplinsky and Brandenburg.

Dr. Christopher J. Metzler, Esquire, is Associate Dean at Georgetown‘s School of Continuing Studies and the author of The Construction and Rearticulation of Race in a Post Racial America (Aberdeen University Press, 2008).

The Intersection of Presidential Politics, Race, Culture, and Higher Learning

By Dr. Pamela Reed

 

Much has been made of education levels and voting patterns in the Presidential nominating contests of the Democratic Party for the 2008 general election, particularly since Barack Obama emerged as the presumptive nominee. Well almost. Week after week, exit polls indicate that highly educated White Americans—Democrats, Independents and even some Republicans—are more likely to cast a vote for Senator Barack Obama. 

By contrast, those Democrats with no college education tend to support Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, even when most experts agree that she has absolutely no chance of overcoming Obama’s pledged delegate lead.  An even more curious statistic is that the majority of these same respondents often express doubts about Clinton’s trustworthiness.    

Further, the polls also report that rather than pulling the proverbial lever for Obama in November, well over one-third of Democratic respondents with no college education maintain that they will vote for the Republican John McCain in November.  This, even after the undeniably disastrous soon-to-be eight years of the George W. Bush-led Republican era in America—and at a time when gasoline is now priced at, near or over $4 a gallon, and the Iraq War rages on, well into its sixth year, now longer than both World War I and World War II. 

What are we to make of this pattern?  Does this mean that Whites with only a high school education are not smart enough to realize that John McCain represents a continuation of the Bush/Cheney policies that have many of us holding our collective breath, lest we too find ourselves inhabiting the proverbial Poor House?  Or does it suggest that these Whites with less education are too racist to vote solely on the basis of merit, irregardless of race?  That is, is there a direct correlation between education level and  “racial tolerance”?  After all, significant numbers of Whites with no college education, when polled, say that race is a factor in their voting.

To the contrary, it is this writer’s perspective that it is not a matter of intellectual capacity, but cultural competence that is lacking in these White voters who have not matriculated in institutions of higher learning.  After all, studies indicate that cultural maturity can be a major benefit of college education, particularly at culturally diverse institutions. For instance in 2000, arguing in favor of the University of Michigan’s affirmative action standards, a consortium of Fortune 500 corporations offered in a court brief that students imbued with the richness of higher education in a diverse university setting are more likely to understand, appreciate and willingly work with those of varied racial and cultural backgrounds.

In view of this, it is not a stretch to suggest that this same principle can be extended in the area of voting patterns.  This is the only reasonable explanation for the willingness of some Democrats to consider voting for the Republican candidate for President of the United States, at a time when few would argue  that we are approaching a point-of-no-return with regard to the American standard of living—thanks to the policies of the Republicans.

I think this is what Barack Obama was attempting to say in his historically clumsy “bitter” remarks, in response to a question about the unwillingness of many “blue collar” voters in Pennsylvania to consider voting for him (the same people who Governor Ed Rendell announced would not vote for an African American candidate).  He was not saying that people “cling” to God and guns ONLY because of tough economic times. 

What he was trying to say, at least in the mind of this registered Independent, is that some White Americans—primarily those with no college education— even when confronted with the obvious shortcomings of the economic policies of the Republican Party, which are directly attributable to their own (and all of America’s) personal hardship, will then tend to look to other Republican platform planks to stand on.  That is right-to-life issues, gun control, gay marriage, etc.

Perhaps nothing speaks more to the need for diversity and inclusion infusion in the American education system than this political quandary. Clearly, we can no longer afford to put off this cultural enrichment for post-secondary education. After all, alarming numbers of American students are failing to even reach the high school graduate threshold. The good news, though, is that intercultural competence levels are on the rise in the United States; however, one need not be a rocket scientist to realize that there is still much more work to be done. And it must begin at the very earliest stages of American pedagogy.  Our very future depends upon it.

 

 

Dr. Pamela D. Reed is a diversity consultant and assistant professor of English and African-American literature at Virginia State University.