Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Curse of Ham: Why the Right Fears Obama So

Around noon today the president of the United States, the first person of color to ever hold that position, will deliver a televised address to school children around the country. I can only marvel at the educational possibilities this speech presents. In a letter to principals throughout the nation, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan writes,

“This is the first time an American president has spoken directly to the nation’s schoolchildren about persisting and succeeding in school. We encourage you to use the historic moment to help your students get focused and begin the school year strong.”

In a perfect world, this would be a moment which brings the nation together. This would be a moment for individuals on the left and the right to say to the world, “This is the fulfillment of the promise of equality inherent in the notion of Democracy. This is the proof that in this country, in our great nation, anyone can be anything if they simply focus and apply themselves.” This could be the proverbial teachable moment.

But instead, the possibility of this moment has been all but rendered impotent by a cynical cabal of self-aggrandizing individuals who claim to speak with the best interests of this country at heart; however, their methods reveal the nefariousness of their motives.

It is out of their own fear that they stoke the flames of fear in others. These are but two things that they fear most:

The Awesome Symbolism Inherent in the Moment

The office of the president does carry an enormous amount of power; however, the greatest virtue of that office perhaps can be found in its symbolism. The office of the president represents the highest achievement in the land.

And though the vast majority of U.S. presidents, with the exception of President Lincoln and President Obama and one or two others I cannot recall, have come from the upper classes, it is a symbol, a tacit promise, that anyone can rise to the very acme of power regardless of class, regardless of religion, and now, regardless of race and gender.

In the past, we recognized that though it might not have been articulated, race and class were real obstacles. But in the last election, those obstacles seem to have been removed. And could you imagine what ideas young African American children or young Hispanic children or young women might get in their heads if they see another minority, an educated, well-spoken person of color, stand before the nation’s school children and address them as their president?

They might be so audacious, so unctuous, as to believe that they too can achieve. And a nation of empowered, focused minority children is a threat to the current power structure.

The Curse of Ham

When President gave his historic race speech in Philadelphia during last year’s election, many thought that by revealing his grandmother’s unconscious racism, he did her a great disservice. However, I interpreted the revelation a bit differently.

I interpreted the revelation as a veiled reminder and message to those virulent racists still clinging so tenaciously but precariously to power that he was raised in their house as one of them. I saw it as a veiled reminder and message that he had seen them at their best, but in the same instance, he had witnessed them at their very worst. It was a veiled reminder and message that he had lived among them just enough time to learn the layout of the house, to learn enough family secrets to be sufficiently dangerous before being finally cast out as an adult bearing the curse of Ham.

Remember, revolution always begins from within. Wasn’t it Moses who proved to be the downfall of the House of Pharaoh after living there as a son all those years?

In closing, I have read the transcript of the speech, and I will be watching with a group of inner-city middle students this afternoon. If I can find the time, I will return this evening with my observations and their reactions.

Do you agree/disagree with my assessment? What do you think is behind the right’s fear? Or is it not fear but downright vindictiveness?


md20737 said...

I support your statements that the fear is that other minority children will get the idea they too can be president or some other occupation that was once thought to be out of reach for them. Whether is a psychologist, physical therapist, police officer, teacher, nurse, etc children can see someone who looks like them, talks like them, and makes them feel comfortable enough to strive for excellence. If minorities stop watching tv, singing, and dancing and realize and achieve their potential wealth, class, and power status will change. If a few minioritees become empowered there is the chance that they will empower other miniorities and the paradigm of power, wealth, education, and class will change. And the country small group of power holders will expand from the traditional white to all who reside in the US. In my opinion its all about power. You cant continue to preach and teach blacks are not any good if we have a black man holding the highest office in the land. The visual and audio wont match and children and people will start to question that way of thinking. Its the potential of equality that scares these people.

Max Reddick said...

"If a few minioritees become empowered there is the chance that they will empower other miniorities and the paradigm of power, wealth, education, and class will change."

Do you remember when rap/hip hop went through its positive phase with KRS-1, Public Enemy and others? Do you remember how brothers and sisters took the cue of these rappers and began to try to educate themselves, better themselves. And now you see what has happened once rap took a turn for the negative.

The group dynamic plays a bigger part in our lives that we would like to realize. I once read that everything we do, we do for the other; humans desire to conform to their environment, to fit in and be recognized by others. If the group were to move in a positive direction, soon others would join them.

Constructive Feedback said...

[quote]I support your statements that the fear is that other minority children will get the idea they too can be president or some other occupation that was once thought to be out of reach for them.[/quote]

Both of your views are stunning.

1) You reference the "Race Speech" given by Candidate Obama. I heard Obama warn all of America to never allow Black people to be in schools all by ourselves lest a catastrophe happens. I heard this as a "Non-White White Supremacist" statement. Clearly you did not.

2) You appear to be more worried about what the RIGHT FEARS might happen from a speech than you do what the Progressives that control every majority Black school in America is FAILING to do to make this future happen.

3) This is the example of believing that your EMOTIONS heard from ONE SPEECH can have you believing once the speech is over:

When reality hits you it leaves a mark.

4) Obama will be president for 4 or 8 years. Who will you have speaking to our Black kids after this?

Constructive Feedback said...

By the way - I think that the cynicism in this nation has gone over the top.

Or nation is headed toward fiscal collapse and various partisans are fighting over stupid stuff like this.


I wish that the Black community would do a better job tying our need for health care professionals and other skilled people to the SCHOOLS IN OUR COMMUNITY.
The best way to give our children a purpose is to tell them how much their 100% focus is needed to doing their best so we can leverage the present freedom of association that we have.

Max Reddick said...

@ Constructive Feedback

You bring up a number of valid points. I will attempt to address each in turn.

1. I did reference the race speech. But I did not reference it in its entirety. The speech had its low points; it had its high points. The speech was in some ways flawed. But you can in no way please all the people all the time. The question is, did that speech speak effectively to the audience to which it was directed?

2. You are somewhat accurate in your belief that progressives control the schools, but who controls the school systems? In my neck of the woods, NE Florida, the school system is firmly in the control of conservatives. But I don't lay all the blame on the schools or the school systems for the educational disparities of African Americans. There are some attitudes and habits which continue to promulgate within our communities that must be effectively dealt with if our children are ever to know the benefits of a good education.

3. The video link did not work so I will have to take your word on that.

4. And my greatest hope that is after the Obama presidency is over and beyond, African Americans will feel sufficiently self-empowered not rely on leaders, to not look for a black Moses to save them, to not look to others to ameliorate their conditions, but will take it upon themselves.

During the last election, I was encouraged by the number of African Americans I saw out on the campaign trail. I assumed that President Obama's candidacy would open a new era of black empowerment. But where have all those people gone now? We need now more than ever to be out front in insisting that America leaves up to its promises of equity and freedom for all.

And as an educator, I do believe that our best hope is seeing to it that our children receive the very best education possible.

curlykidz said...

This is a pretty broad statement, but I think the majority of the (white) conservatives fear is driven by fear. Obama's presidency signals change in the country, and the loss of our position of power... aka "our America." As long as we can bury our heads in the sand and deny institutional racism and white priviledge, we don't have to give up any of what we have. And while I recognize how white priviledge benefits me, I don't consider myself particularly priviledged... so when I see low-middle income white folks getting up on TV crying about how they want their America back, I think about Chris Rock (at least, I think it was his skit) saying the people in the Bronx might not have much, but try to take anything from them... they will protect what they have, no matter how little it is. Robert Jenson (http://uts.cc.utexas.edu/~rjensen/index.html) said, "I needed to believe that my success in life was due solely to my individual talent and effort. I saw myself as the heroic American, the rugged individualist. I was so deeply seduced by the culture's mythology that I couldn't see the fear that was binding me to those myths. Like all white Americans, I was living with the fear that maybe I didn't really deserve my success, that maybe luck and privilege had more to do with it than brains and hard work. I was afraid I wasn't heroic or rugged, that I wasn't special. "

I think this is where (white) conservative fear comes from.

Constructive Feedback said...

[quote]As long as we can bury our heads in the sand and deny institutional racism and white priviledge, we don't have to give up any of what we have.[/quote]


When did "Take Back {Fill In The Blank}" become Racist?

It must have been about 8 months ago:

In my analysis the twin brother of the "White Supremacist Conservative" are the "White Liberals Who Practice Black Inferiority". They realize that if they cater to those they see as "The Least Of These" that a permanent set of appreciation will be built up by the Negro.

As long as the Negro leaders don't see the difference between "Being In Receipt Of Benefit" and the construction of competencies by which you can deliver your demanded "Standard Of Living", the Black vote will continue to go as it does. The Black community, however, will continue to list in the ocean.

Here You go Soul Brother, in regards to the broken video link:

Anonymous said...

@ Constructive Feedback...

I don't think I said "Take back (fill in the blank)" was a racist statement or sentiment; that's not what I meant to imply. I don't think it's a racist statement in and of itself, although out of some mouths it may be. Overall, it's my opinion that it's a statement driven by fear, either of losing what you have or having to face up to things not being quite as equal as one likes to think they are. Max asked for my opinion, which is what I gave, basec on conversations I've had with conservatives about equality in the workplace, white privilege, institutional racism, and equal marriage. I hear a lot of arguments based on nothing but fear that the majority group is going to lose something to the minority group (my personal favorite, if gay people can marry, half the couple is going to quite working and go on welfare and therefore burden the heterosexual tax payer).

Correct me if I'm wrong, because imalilslowsometimes... but I get the impression you feel I'm one of those White Liberals Who Practice Black Inferiority. To some extent, I may well be... or I may just not be particularly effective at communicating my thoughts clearly (actually, that I definitely am). I welcome you to contact me offline if you'd care to share some meaningful dialoge about anything I've said here... but I really try to avoid getting into tit for tats on other people's blogs, so I'd rather not engage further in this forum.

The Uneasy Writer said...

I don't use the word flabbergasted very often but it's the only word that can explain how I felt today.
Appalled would be another good word to use to express my feelings regarding the lack of repect towards President Obama. The fact that the trending topic on Twitter all day was 'Obamam' and not 'President Obama' really does say something, doesn't it?
If he were white, would he be this direspected? I fear the answer to that is no. I wish it weren't but I would be a fool to beleive that racism can disappear overnight.
Sad is another word I can use to explain how I felt today. Sad because a good man wanted to do the right thing for his young citizens. It's too bad some of those young citizens parents were just too ignorant to want to listen.

Max Reddick said...

@ Cyndi

That is a very cogent well thought out assessment. I wish I had written it. You fully articulated everything I wish I had.

@ Constructive Feedback

I don't follow your argument. It is kind of non sequitor and I'm not sure where it comes from. But here goes.

I will concede you one point. The pledge to take the government back is not inherently racist. However, when you add that you want to take the government back for "real Americans," and varied similar rhetoric, then the racist assumptions can be made.

And I even agree with you about liberals. Hypocrisy is hypocrisy whatever the originals. Exploitation is exploitation whatever the origins.

And this ties in to the video, as I mentioned earlier, I am for self-empowerment. I am for stooping with broken worn out tools and building something out of nothing.

It appears a lot of people saw President Obama has some type of saviour of some kind, some kind of Black Moses. They thought he would make everything alright. They didn't seem to understand that he can only do so much; their individual success begins with them.

Max Reddick said...

@ Uneasy Writer

I too am flabbergasted by the level of disrespect. The same neighbor who attempted to scold me for allowing my son make statements opposing President Bush, statements that were in fact true, seems to see nothing wrong with allowing his children to make crazy outlandish charges against President Obama which are largely untrue.

Lyn Marie said...

I think fear did win the day for many. The idea that our President is being equated with Hitler and told he's not a "real" American is simply racist. No matter what political party you belong to a lack of manners and ignorance is just that.

I also hear a lot of noise about how badly the Democratic party has treated the so called Black vote yet they (Black conservatives) offer nothing. Where's their plan beyond "pull yourself up by your bootstraps". Where's the plan, how are you going to improve the life of young people, health care, and poverty? It's very easy to complain, it's not easy to take an honest look at yourself and your motives. When looking at the conservatives that hold the "mic" I see and hear a group of people that do not represent me or respect my journey through life.

There are conservatives that give a broader perspective but they are often dismissed, Megan McCain comes to mind.

The truth is, conservative pundits are reflecting that ugly side of America that many like to pretend doesn't exist, but it does, always under the surface.

Anonymous said...


You wrote, "And though the vast majority of U.S. presidents, with the exception of President Lincoln and President Obama and one or two others I cannot recall, have come from the upper classes, "

I think this is an overstatement. I don't know how you want to calculate 'coming from the upper classes,' presumably either the class one was born into or the class one belonged to before becoming president. By class of origin, I think it would be hard to call Truman, Eisenhower, Johnson, Nixon, Reagan of Clinton ruling class, and that's just post WW2. In the 19thC we have Jackson, and then pretty much everyone from Fillmore through at least Garfield. If we are talking about as an adult (just) prior to becoming President, then it would be hard to argue that Obama was not ruling class, given both his wealth and the professional positions that he and Michelle held. Further, I think a strong case could be made that Lincoln too, as a corporate lawyer, was ruling class. If we define ruling class more narrowly so as to exclude Obama and Lincoln, I think inevitably that we will end up excluding a number of other Presidents.


Anonymous said...

I live in Louisiana. Here it seemed that some "whites" and poor but "uppity" (toward "Blacks") hispanics want to pass to their children the notion that neither the "Black" man nor anything he says need be respected, that there is nothing he can impart to a "white" even if he holds the Office of President.

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