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Itâ€™s been a mind-boggling week in the news, hasnâ€™t it?
First we got whopped with the revelations about ex-Governor Eliot Spitzer and his top-dollar dalliances with wannabe superstar call girl, Ashley Alexandra DuprÃ©. We barely had time to keep up with all of the provocative headlines and almost-nude photos in rags like the New York Post before the somewhat less sensational, but no less explicit news came out about ex-New Jersey Governor Jim McGreeveyâ€™s â€œthreesomesâ€ with his soon-to-be ex-wife Dina and a male, former campaign aide and driver. This groan-inducing disclosure barely made the rounds before New Yorkâ€™s new Governor, David Paterson, got sworn in, and within 48 hours of his funny, eloquent, inaugural speech, he suddenly unleashed details of his own sexual maneuverings. Though this was almost too much information to process in such a short period of time, I noticed that some thought-provoking chatter started to pop up on local radio shows, in the papers, and on blogs: what is it about powerful men in politics that makes them so prone to high-stakes infidelities? Should the wives of these men continue to stand by them in their moments of public humiliation, or is it time for political wives to distance themselves from the actions of their husbands? And, should the personal lives of our elected leaders be so intensely scrutinized as a means to determine whether or not these elected officials can be counted on to make sound choices while in office? Before we New Yorkers even had a chance to let these questions sink in, the media clobbered us with the Jeremiah Wright controversy.
It was interesting to note the difference in reception between the Spitzer situation and the Obama-Wright connection. Whereas Spitzerâ€™s illegal sexual excursions and moral and administrational hypocrisy certainly solicited a lot of jeers from his current and past enemies, your average person on the street didnâ€™t seem particularly surprised or riled up by the situation. In the case of the snippets of Jeremiah Wrightâ€™s sermons making the rounds on Fox News, talk shows, and on the Internet, however, a screech of anger let loose so ferociously that peopleâ€™s opinions about Senator Barack Obama, and certainly Jeremiah Wright, were changed and formed in an instant. In my life, that meant someone close to me â€“ who, prior to the allegations of Wright being a â€œhate monger,â€ had championed Obamaâ€™s campaign in words and a financial contribution â€“ was suddenly railing about Obamaâ€™s racist pastor, and saying he was going to write to the campaign to ask for his contribution back. I listened to the audio of the short clips of Wrightâ€™s sermons, and actually didnâ€™t hear anything that made me flinch. Plenty of people â€“ scholars and conspiracy theorists alike – believe that the United Statesâ€™ foreign policies â€“ and bureaucratic bungles at home – played a large role in making us open to the kind of attack we experienced on 9/11. If Wright â€“ or any American â€“ is mad enough about some of the policies and practices employed by the United States government, it is his and everyoneâ€™s right, as protected by the First Amendment, to speak out about and condemn those policies in any language he or she chooses. Yet, sadly, even respected newspapers like the New York Times kept referring to Wrightâ€™s comments as â€œanti-American.â€ The â€œUS of KKK of Aâ€ rant was certainly over the top, but again, if our greatest asset is supposed to be our democratic society, how is it that any time someone makes a legitimate criticism of the United States government or itâ€™s policies, he or she is labeled un-American?
I immediately wondered how Obama was going to handle what quickly became an angry mob threatening to topple the potential of his presidential campaign. As an admitted supporter of that campaign, I assumed that team Clinton would take it to the streets with this hotbed of controversy, and I dreaded that Barack might take a soft shoe approach that would surely mean the end of â€œthe audacity of hope.â€
And then came that speech.
We all know Barack â€œgives a good speech,â€ as he himself has joked. But what struck me most about the speech he made on Tuesday was not the denouncing of Wrightâ€™s most controversial quotes, nor the ample biographical information he provided about his former pastor, himself, and certain members of his family. What floored me was: first â€“ that he did not kick his longtime friend and spiritual mentor to the curb, even though doing so wouldâ€™ve been the expected, expedient political move; and second, and more importantly â€“ that he attempted to share and discuss a complicated, compromised, but nonetheless important relationship in his life, and he illuminated and gave context to that relationship by talking about the long-convoluted relationship between blacks and whites in the United States. I, and many other people, were incredibly impressed by Obamaâ€™s ability to face a grave and possibly career-killing situation in such and honest and nuanced fashion, because it is the opinion of myself and many others that this country is in desperate need of a leader who can actually self-reflect, take responsibility for his actions, as well as start an intelligent, holistic dialogue about issues and situations that threaten our security at home – in our neighborhoods – and abroad.
Aside from the presidential race, I couldnâ€™t help but start thinking about the many, many things that we all should start examining and discussing about our social culture so that we might be able to get over our knee-jerk reactions, fears, biases, and exclusivity. Why did so many people react so ferociously over the notion of a black preacher blaming white people and the United States government for the historic and not-so distant-past persecution of black people? And, conversely, why might black people expect to engage the understanding and support of whites and other Americans to further the goals of the civil rights era if certain members of the black community treat whites, Latinos, Asians, and homosexuals with suspicion and disdain? To broaden the scope even further, why are people so incredulous about Barack Obamaâ€™s claim that itâ€™s possible to have gotten a lot of positive, uplifting things from his relationship with Wright, even if Wright has said or taught things that he â€“ Barack â€“ doesnâ€™t personally agree with? Shall we take a poll of every single person who attends a church, synagogue, or mosque service on a regular basis and see if each person agrees with and supports wholeheartedly every single idea and word that exits the lips of his or her religious leader? Are we all so brainwashed that we blindly follow leaders without doing some serious thinking for ourselves? Are people of younger generations guilty if they attempt to form new and better ideas out of well meaning, but flawed past ones?
I am excited by the fact that Obamaâ€™s speech seems to have made it ok for people of all races in this country to start having a dialogue. Certain people outside of the black community needed to be educated about or reminded of issues and obstacles faced by the black community, and certain members of the black community needed to hear that white people, Hispanics, and other immigrants have some beefs of their own. This was a good start. I am eager to see where this might go. In New York City, and especially in Bedford Stuyvesant, dare I dream that in addition to discussing issues in terms of â€œblacksâ€ and â€œwhites,â€ might we start to look past mere skin color and open ourselves up to seeing who people really are â€“ where they came from, how they grew up, what they do for a living? Might we talk more about economics, and stop making broad generalizations about people merely on the basis of skin color? Can we please start discussing the class similarities between various racial groups, instead of assuming black means â€œpoorâ€ and white means â€œrich?â€ When discussing the housing market, can newspapers, blogs, and people alike stop using the terms â€œpioneerâ€ and â€œgentrifier?â€ Can we start thinking about what words like these really mean, what they say about both those who are using them, and those who we are being labeling as such?
With all these issues suddenly being thrust upon us in the past couple of weeks, we all, for certain, have a lot to talk about.