"There's not a Red America, or a Blue America, there's the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA." ---Barack Obama, 2004

Monday, October 13, 2008

Coping with racism towards your candidate

As we near election day -- and McCain's campaign stops seem to only get uglier with racist rhetoric -- it's something every Obama supporter's going to be forced to manage for themselves.

It's the stain on America that doesn't seem to want to go away...the skid mark that won't come out after 10 bleachings in the laundry.

It's called RACISM. And right now, it's no joke.

While we've known all along that it's been inevitable in this presidential race, part of us has wanted to simply wish it away -- just hoping that it won't rear its ugly head back, and therefore won't need to be dealt with.

Unfortunately that's naive and wishful thinking...and I'm as guilty as the next person.

April 15, 1947

First, I want to go back in time...to a day that occurred over 60 years ago...April 15, 1947. The place: Ebbetts Field in Brooklyn, New York. Some of you out there know where I'm going with this.

That was the day that the color barrier was broken in baseball by Jackie Robinson. It was seen as more of an issue of curiosity at the time among whites...and while it meant everything to the black community then, today its meaning is viewed as monumental as any event in the course of human drama.

I wouldn't say I'm a student of Jackie Robinson...however I believe I have a sense of his character, and I am certainly aware of the hardships he went through in the process of integrating baseball.

I go on the record stating that I am full-blodded Anglo, just so you know the source...but also bear in mind that after having worked in a tribal setting for 4 years, I understand what reverse-racism is...and that being said, I still know that IT'S NOT THE SAME THING. So take that for what it's worth.

At the time Robinson came into baseball, it universally understood at the time that -- in the saddest and most horrible of phrases -- he had the weight of the black race on his shoulders, so to speak. Branch Rickey, the GM of the Dodgers, chose Robinson to do this based not only on his abilities, but mainly his character. However, he had to promise Rickey that when he was antagonized by other players that he wouldn't fight back for 3 years.

The abuse and pressure on Robinson during this process was unrelenting. Robinson experienced racism in many different forms...the heckling and name calling from dugouts and the stands...a black cat that
was released onto the field right before a game...and the way runners would slide into the base with their spikes in the air, laying open Robinson's thigh.

What Jackie Robinson successfully endured -- keeping his dignity firmly intact while others around him stooped into the darkest of places -- was probably the most unfair burden put on any human being in modern history...bearing that unimaginable pressure essentially killed him...he didn't live long after his baseball career.

That's why we see #42 hanging from the rafters and walls of every ballpark, an honor that was granted on April 15, 1997, on the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson taking the field.

Watching and living with Jackie through his pain and struggles, it's probably fair to say that mostly blacks bore the brunt of those times...so that being said, I want to fast forward to the present.

November 4, 2008

I believe, whether or not we see it, that Obama bears a similar pressure to that of Jackie Robinson...whether he wins OR loses on November 4...but most definitely if he wins the election.

I parallel what Obama is doing right now with what Jackie Robinson did back in 1947...there's some obvious differences, such as one setting involving baseball while another involves presidential politics.

If you look closer at these scenarios, however, you'll see that they aren't really that different. In both scenarios, a color barrier is being broken for the first time...and don't tell me that Robinson's debut in Ebbett's Field wasn't political. It was simply macro politics on a different stage. It still represented, as does Obama's accomplishments, accounts that embrace the advancement of our society.

There's one big difference this time, however.

Instead of just focusing on the black race, the effects of racism now involve all of America. Nobody's immune anymore. Accounts of racism against Obama are felt from all of Obama's supporters, and then some.

How do we deal with it?

Contending with racism is tough stuff for me and others that I know -- I know and maintain friendships with whites, blacks, Asians, hispanics, and native Americans -- who think of racism as a crock of diarrhea, which it is.

It's a dark, dark place for a person to go...but people go there, whether it's blatant or cloaked. Like it or not, be it family, friends, co-workers, someone on the street, or someone at a campaign rally, YOU WILL BE CONFRONTED WITH IT.

So what are the tools we should use to deal with it?

At first, you want to take on racism with a biting rage and anger, to snuff it out and shame it...maybe even pound it into the ground. These circumstances we are seeing, however -- racism bubbling to the surface in the media spotlight on a macro level -- are something new...and we have to adjust to the reality of what's happening, and understand why it's happening.

Here's my theory. The specter of an Obama presidency feeds deeply into the fears of some in this country. Some folks see a black president as a reflection of our country's identity being "tainted black" if you will...again, another sad statement. While I would like to believe most of these sentiments are harbored in the South, it's probably more realistic to assume they spider out to any area that was affected by the Civil War (that's based on personal experience...a conversation for another day).

For those of us who aren't racist and believe in Democratic values -- we just need to take a step back -- and take a deep breath. We do everything we can to receive the ugly divisiveness and racism of a losing campaign, and whatever comes after it, as something we should try to understand and respond to with patience and understanding -- with great practice...and great patience.

Don't get me wrong...these are exciting and historic times. There's some incredible things happening right now in our lifetime, and I feel honored to witness the increasing possibility that a black President will enter the White House...it's really cool, cool stuff. Spine-chilling cool.

...but as we take each blow with Obama as yet another nut job pipes up, I believe we will eventually -- I don't know when, but eventually -- turn a corner on the issues of racism that have plagued this country for years...and arrive to a place where we've never been before. A GOOD PLACE.

However, it might just be a bit painful getting there...and we have to prepare ourselves in how to react to racism when it confronts us. I believe we must listen to those who are fearful, and let them speak out. We should try to understand what drives their fear, and turn it into an ongoing conversation.

If we listen to each other and if people feel like they're being heard, then we can keep a conversation moving in a positive direction...and that puts us one step closer to knowing a world where racism is a thing of the past.

We must keep talking about this.

No comments: