Thanks to the arrest of the scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. at his house in Cambridge, Mass., two weeks ago, we are now in the midst, we are told, of a national dialogue about race. So it seems as suitable a moment as any to gripe about the profiling instincts of television programmers who in recent years have given us a tight, binary vision of what it means to be black in America in the new millennium.
A representative of Newsy.com sent me this video compilation regarding Obama's response to the Gates incident and asked that I post it. She writes :
"[The video] uses news coverage from multiple sources to describe President Obama's involvement with the Henry Louis Gates scandal. It examines how the president's statements have affected media coverage of the issue, and raises questions about race relations in America. I hope you will consider embedding the video in Social Etymologies."
"Now, I don't know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that, but I think it's fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry; number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home; and, number three, what I think we know, separate and apart from this incident, is that there is a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. And that's just a fact. . . . [the incident was] a sign of how race remains a factor in this society."
In his recent speech to the NAACP Centennial Convention, Obama did strike some balance in his reprimand of poor and working poor African Americans. Yet the NY Times focused on his admonishment rather than his acknowledgment of the reasons why people are poor.
President Obama delivered a fiery sermon to black America on Thursday night, warning black parents that they must accept their own responsibilities by "putting away the Xbox and putting our kids to bed at a reasonable hour," and telling black children that growing up poor is no reason to get bad grades.
Even as he urged blacks to take responsibility for themselves, he spoke of the societal ills -- high unemployment, the housing and energy crisis -- that have created the conditions for black joblessness. And he said the legacy of the Jim Crow era is still felt, albeit in different ways today. "Make no mistake, no mistake: the pain of discrimination is still felt in America," Mr. Obama said, by African-American women who are paid less for the same work as white men, by Latinos "made to feel unwelcome," by Muslim Americans "viewed with suspicion" and by "our gay brothers and sisters, still taunted, still attacked, still denied their rights."
Mr. Obama paid particular attention to education, declaring that more than 50 years after the Supreme Court's landmark segregation case, Brown v. Board of Education, "the dream of a world-class education is still being deferred all across this country" as African-American students lag behind white classmates in reading and math.
I must admit that I do bristle when I think about the fact that African Americans received a sort of homily from a president who identifies as a biracial-African American. And, this they received via the mouthpiece of black propriety: the NAACP. Obama attended an elite secondary school and college and thereby entered formal adulthood with the very American necessity of social capital.
A few years back in the Twin Cities, I was fortunate enough to see writer/actor Anna Deavere Smith twice in one week. This was just after she concluded her study, or what she calls her "search for American character." I found an excerpt from her show on the TED site, which I think is important for my students to see, particularly Smith's word for word performance of her interview with inmate Paulette Jenkins, which she titles "A Mirror to Her Mouth" (at 6:00 in the video below).
Here, Jenkins's telling of her experience witnessing then covering up the murder by her partner of her child Myisha illustrates for us the complexity of what it is to be human within a complex world of social and emotional imaginings regarding "the right," "the good," secrecy and notions of privacy, sacrifice, gender, poverty, race, and the ultimate varied effects of often purposeful social differentiation. Smith states that several people recommended that she remove Jenkins's story from her show, but of course she did not. For Smith, Jenkins' story is a way to fathom the "negative imagination" (a reference from Smith's talk with Maxine Greene); it is about risk, "what nature is, what Mother Nature is, and about what a risk can be."
"On the Road: A Search for American Character" (23:05)
By Mambí Maestra on July 14, 2009 8:59 AM
VIDEO: The Crisis of Credit
BY Jonathan Jarvis*
This video in combination with Naomi Klein's speech at University of Chicago, "Ideas have Consequences: The Wall Street Crisis Should be the End of Neoliberalism," work well together to help make sense of how ideology ("neoliberalism") and political-economic practice (the free market and its obsession with speculation) affect the well-being of everyday people. (Thank you to Seanne Thomas, an extremely conscious and conscientious realtor in the Twin Cities for sharing this! Seanne warned long ago that the housing "boom" would harm the futures of working poor people.)