On August 10, 2008, The New York Times published an article by Matt Bai entitled “Is Obama the End of Black Politics?” The premise of the article was that as the Democratic Party was poised to deliver its nomination for the nation’s highest office to an African-American, this somehow signaled the end of black politics. As candidate Obama won primary after primary, NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr saw these victories as an indication that America had moved into a “post-racial era.” He defined it as an “era where civil rights veterans of the past century are consigned to history and Americans begin to make race-free judgments on who should lead them.”
All too often writers, journalists, reporters and analysts demonstrate their ignorance of African-American people and the African-American experience by trying to assign simplistic answers to very complex problems, events and circumstances. They also fail to connect the dots and discuss racism in its current context, making it more difficult to move beyond it. By running from race, too many Americans remain mired in the middle of it.
On Saturday, March 20, as Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia) was leaving the Cannon office building he encountered members of the Tea Party protesting the health care reform bill. As the protesters exchanged words with the congressman, some of them called him a “nigger.” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Missouri), who was a few yards behind Lewis, was also called a “nigger” and was spat on. Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) was called a “faggot.”
Forty-five years after civil rights activist John Lewis was assaulted and battered to within an inch of his life on the Edmund Pettis Bridge, Congressman Lewis is verbally assaulted by protesters as he walks towards the Capitol to do “the peoples'” work. Representatives Cleaver and Frank, both of whom have been engaged in the battle for equality in America, were insulted as they attempted to engage in the democratic process.
Both Lewis and Cleaver have chosen to not make an issue of this and to not press charges against the perpetrators. Cleaver’s spokesman, Danny Rotert, said, “He didn’t want to draw attention to the whole thing. We did not want to make a big deal about it. The bigger issue that day was the health-care debate.”
For as much as I admire the work and sacrifices of these three men, I take issue with their decision to “… not want to make a big deal about it …” It is not a big deal; it’s a huge deal! Those bigoted, prejudiced and ignorant protesters were doing more than assaulting and insulting three individuals. They were attacking every African-American and homosexual in America. In terms of Lewis and Cleaver, this is racism (white supremacy) at its core. For Frank, it’s outright hatred, and they and those in the mainstream media need to connect the dots and expose it for what it is.
Today, too many opponents of the Obama administration’s plans for health care insurance reform are using code language, distortions and partisan politics to control the debate and much of their ire is racially motivated. Former Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo opened the Tea Party convention by calling for a reinstatement of Jim Crow-type literacy tests for voters and saying, “This is our country…. Let’s take it back.” During President Obama’s speech to a joint session of Congress on health care, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-South Carolina) shouted at the president “you lie.” Wilson would have never thought to do that to any of the former presidents. Numerous cartoons have featured President Obama and/or First Lady Michelle as monkeys, terrorists or Muslim suicide bombers.
Even though the president wants to stay as far away from the race issue as possible, Representatives Lewis and Cleaver should not give those Tea Party racists a pass. They should be giving interviews and engaging in dialogue to expose these people for the dangers that they are. Members of the mainstream media should be reporting on the Lewis, Cleaver and Frank attack in the larger context of hatred being espoused by some of the Tea Party movement and other conservatives. By running from race, America remains mired in it.
According to Rep. Pete King (R-New York), President Barack Obama is “probably the most threatened president ever …” Most of these threats are not because of health care reform, the stimulus bill or the problems with Israel. There are still too many people in America who refuse to allow him to govern as The President; they will oppose him at every turn because he’s an African-American who is The President.