For my write-up today on Barack Obama's Dreams from My Father, I'll use as my starting-point something that Obama says on page 85:
were always playing on the white man's court, Ray had told me, by the
white man's rules. If the principal, or the coach, or a teacher, or
Kurt, wanted to spit in your face, he could, because he had power and
you didn't. If he decided not to, if he treated you like a man or came
to your defense, it was because he knew that the words you spoke, the
clothes you wore, the books you read, your ambitions and desires, were
already his. Whatever he decided to do, it was his decision to make,
not yours, and because of that fundamental power he held over you,
because it preceded and would outlast his individual motives and
inclinations, any distinction between good and bad whites held
negligible meaning. In fact, you couldn't even be sure that everything
you had assumed to be an expression of your black, unfettered
self----the humor, the song, the behind-the-back pass----had been freely
chosen by you. At best, these things were a refuge; at worst, a trap.
Following this maddening logic, the only thing you could choose as your
own was withdrawal into a smaller and smaller coil of rage, until being
black meant only the knowledge of your own powerlessness, of your own
defeat. And the final irony: Should you refuse this defeat and lash out
at your captors, they would have a name for that, too, a name that
could cage you just as good. Paranoid. Militant. Violent. Nigger."
my latest reading, Obama talks about how he was insulted for his race
by white people, and they were puzzled when he got mad about it. But
Obama also mentions a time when tactful education made things a little
better: When Obama's Kenyan father spoke to Obama's class and answered
questions, including one about cannibalism. According to Obama, his
class was very impressed with his father.
understand somewhat what it's like to feel powerless and to think that
people smugly look down on me when I react angrily to that
powerlessness. But, as a white person, I cannot comprehend that
sort of scenario at the level that Barack Obama talks about: to be part
of a race that is looked upon with contempt by the larger white
society, which has power. Whatever things I do that turn off
others, I do not have to work as hard as many African-Americans to gain
the respect of society.
I wish that white people would take into
consideration the struggles of African-Americans rather than dismissing
the African-Americans who are angry and bitter. When Barack Obama gave
his speech to the 2008 Democratic Convention, right-wing pundits called
it angry and bitter. Maybe it was, and maybe it wasn't. But
what I didn't hear those right-wing pundits ask is: Why would an
African-American be bitter? Were they to do that, perhaps they'd see
that there are African-Americans who are angry for a justifiable reason.
myself need to work on understanding. I have problems being around
African-Americans who are so angry. But what should my approach be? I
don't want to be a patronizing white liberal with white liberal guilt,
since that makes me (and even some African-Americans) sick. But I also
don't want to be a conservative who doesn't think there is a race
problem in the United States.