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Race and the Obama Campaign
Looking back two years ago, it seems like the Obama campaign were well equipped to handle any attack thrown at it.
on June 16, 2010 at 2:53 AM
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A Simplistic Discussion About Race
Leon A. Walker
March 23, 2008
“Watch What They Do”
A Simplistic Discussion About Race
I referred to myself in a previous column as a “Lifelong Democrat”. For the most part that is accurate, but the truth is when I was in the military decades ago I voted for Ronald Regan. I do have a very good, however selfish excuse though. He was touting the development of a six hundred ship Navy and promising a very large pay raise. Regan made good on his promise. I never told anyone I voted for him and frankly it still makes me uncomfortable. But hey, I needed the money.
It is interesting that in my reflecting on that part of my life there was another striking ambiguity with regard to race. But first let me begin by sharing that I began my “unofficial” undergraduate studies on “race” began while attending two predominantly White Catholic Schools growing up. In my nearly exclusively Black neighborhood we referred to people only as Black or White and we had a single derogatory word that we used in reference to each race. I’m guessing I would have been in about fourth of fifth grade when I began to learn that there were actually many other ethnically specific derogatory tags. There were numerous ethnicities represented in my schools. Italians, Irishmen, Poles, Hispanics, Germans and a number of other eastern and central Europeans. Along with a few Blacks. All I will say further about this is that in Catholic School I learned an equal measure about both the godly and the ungodly.
In earned my “unofficial” graduate credential on “race” in our United States Navy. I have to say that it was an absolutely bizarre blessing. Not only were all of the aforementioned ethnic groups again represented they were my friends and brethren in a trail mix of Americana that I still periodically reflect upon and savor. I spent twenty years and twenty minutes in the Navy and I was fortunate to spend the first half of my career as an enlisted guy. As a young sailor I lived in a world where the sanctity and pride in the team or unit transcended all else. Make no mistake, the things we said among “just us” were light years beyond today’s universe of propriety. We casually used ethnically specific words and phrases that could only be described as ghastly! So much so, that if I related some of them today it would be shocking and scarcely believable. The interesting thing about this was that then, and today it has never mattered. Except to say that through it all, and experiences beyond, I learned to see the soul of a man. I know this because at sea and in combat, in bar fights and bench clearing brawls and at weddings and funerals, we were always one. For all of the potential faults, these experiences broadened my racial field of vision. My associations of today are appropriately reflective and I am eternally grateful for that.
I have a thorough grasp of the concepts of respect and propriety and the many other important even grave aspects of life. I know something about war first hand. I have many times seen, and I understand both death and danger. I know the difference between words and works. I understand that there can be a “huge” difference between immaturity, ignorance and insensitivity versus racism or hate.
I am fortunate to have never lived in a veritable “ethnic bubble” and I know quite a bit about people. The one common factor is that they are not perfect. I am compelled to make it clear that I do not condone or encourage hurtful or even insensitive “words” between people and I do not allow myself to be verbally victimized. But neither do I habitually or spontaneously leap forth to stand in judgment without invitation or good reason. Why? Because I do not always pretend to know from whence such comments come, nor how they are intended in full content and context. I could not possibly understand what impulses, experiences and thoughts inspire words within another person. More importantly, experience has taught me that words however seemingly insensitive or misguided are not always the measure of the heart and soul within. Things are not always the way they seem.
I have been listening and reading the media pundits about the importance of and the projected outcomes of the forthcoming Pennsylvania Primary Election. I am saddened and embarrassed and even angered by the characterizations of this “blue collar” voting block that is supposedly so closed minded, myopic and rigid. Essentially what is being reported is that they are and will vote (nearly exclusively) for Senator Clinton and attaching a subtle racial subtext. That is a horrible sweeping generalization that is a media abomination. Just one more high tech poison pen letter. I will not elaborate on the many others of late. The influence of media in America continues to cultivate dangerous seeds across a broad spectrum of topics. “There are both benefits and hazards with regard to freedoms of speech and expression.” This point I am making has nothing to do with votes cast or those to be cast. I view this as a good example, given the contest spread at particularly at this late, if not hopeless juncture. Such reporting is a prediction and statement of the very thing we claim to abhor as the question of race has surfaced nationally. They, (the media) are making Pennsylvania out to be America’s intellectual doldrums and a veritable toilet of intolerance. If they are hurting for jobs now, their lovely new reputation certainly won’t draw any new corporations or tourists. This is probably an area of hypersensitivity for me, being from the Great State of Ohio, where the same characterization was made. So I understand better than most of the “talking heads” what they think the tea leaves say. I’m more inclined to believe that these voters were, or will be casting their “Regan Votes” as I did many years ago.
So where are these insane “American” media threads rooted? And why does the working class man or woman in Ohio or Pennsylvania have to be helplessly portrayed as some measure of hayseed, villain or racist because they need jobs. I just wonder if any of the police and firemen or construction workers in Pennsylvania are veterans from my era or later. From what I am hearing reported, as they walk in the shoes of friends, coworkers and team members, they have never had persons of color on their shifts or crews, or working along side them. I wonder if any of them have helped someone or been helped by someone who looks different than in the face of danger or harm. And I just wonder if in their current reality of brotherhood and sisterhood, if in their tradesman and paramilitary cultures, things have become so socially pristine that they have no appreciation of the difference between words and actions.
Should anyone be remotely interested in my assessment of the current race discussion, I will say this first: “A loose tongue is not the same as a barrel of a gun.” So let’s all take a collective deep breath followed by a perspective pill. In my experience it pays to be continually watchful but you generally need not concern yourself with the obnoxious big mouth. Including those on talk radio or the network news. Why in the world would you overlook your positive ethnic experiences (nearly all of us must certainly have them) or devalue your own reasoning in favor of theirs?
My all time favorite quarterbacks are White, Don Meredith and Joe Montana. My all time favorite basketball players are Black, Earl Monroe and Spencer Haywood, and I would never pull for James Blake to beat Rodger Federer in a tennis match. I loved Ozzie Smith (as shortstops go) but being from Cleveland (where this guy began) I think Omar Visquel is… well, God! The point here being, we are just simply the result of our molded experiences and the associated emotional impacts. I had never understood or watched a round of golf in my entire life until Tiger Wood came along. So it took me until my forties to learn what a bogie and a birdie were. This suggests to me that understanding and appreciation, sometimes present themselves when we present ourselves the opportunity to experience them. And so it goes with race.
Sure the race discussion can compel us to squirm and scratch our heads sometimes. But I can tell you something we never have to scratch my heads about. We are all Americans. Yes, there are fools and hopeless intolerants out there, and they too are Americans. Rules are rules! So if you are inclined, when among the reasonably minded, the race discussion can be had. I have been fortunate enough to calmly have it and more than once. Yep me, the guy who decades past, received, and spewed “all of the worst words” like the good sailor I was. Now, clinging to no claim of perfection or political aspiration, I provide this admission without concern or remorse. Why? Because I still get the occasional Christmas card or phone card from some of those “multicolored friends” from a time long ago. Speaking secretively of unspeakable times and places and reminding me that he once covered my butt, or laughing about the memory of the time I covered his. Most importantly, at the end of the day, I now know that it was never about what was said, and neither was it about race. Only opportunity and experiences yielding appreciation and understanding as measured by the ultimate instrument. Lifelong friendships. In the vast world of “race matters” I suggest that this is a very good starting point.
I am seldom reduced to tales from school days, sailor stories or sports analogies. But I believe that in many aspects of life, the impressions we absorb and the marks we make on others are most clearly visible in our “actions” rather than anything else. So let me conclude by sharing a final bit of valued personal guidance that I received from my Grandmother: “If you want to know what a person is made of, don’t watch what they say, watch what they do”.
For me that is germane in both daily life and particularly in politics.
Watch what they do…
L. A. Walker
© Leon A. Walker, March 2008
on April 2, 2008 at 3:24 AM
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Sam is right
Education is key. Bill Clinton did not come from a privileged background himself but his education made a difference. Barack Obama's education and erudition show and people notice.
on March 27, 2008 at 2:55 PM
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Great composition. Fair and unbiased. I like your writing as well. It would have served Obama a lot better if Pastor Wright would have kept his personal views outside the pulpit. I still maintain we need to educate the children and give them opportunities to be successful. If we would start there, we would all have a better tomorrow. sam
on March 27, 2008 at 7:42 AM
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