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Posts Tagged ‘Barack Obama’

Anyone catch President Obama’s appearance on The Tonight Show yesterday evening? I didn’t, mainly because I prefer Letterman or Nightline during that hour. Plus, I knew I would be able to catch the highlights on any number of websites and blogs the next day. Unfortunately, it turns out the President made an insensitive remark that implicitly insulted the Special Olympics and its athletes. He has apologized, but the damage has been done and many of his veteran critics now have new fodder to blast him with.

I frankly had mixed feelings about Obama appearing on the Tonight Show, not because it wasn’t “presidential” or because no previous sitting president has done such a thing (I like that he wants to reach the everyman), but because the very nature of a late-night talk show is to be loose and silly and offhanded. You feel obligated to be a little more crude and crass; you want people to find you humorous. In that kind of environment, with that kind of casual mindset, a lot of unintended comments can fly. And you would think that after Obama’s mindless crack about Nancy Reagan at his pre-inaugural press conference, he would be more careful.

Still, I’m sure we’ve all mindedlessly cracked jokes that we’ve later regretted. (I almost got my butt kicked in high school by a black belt in Karate one night for making a joke, at his expense, during a Friday-night football game. I learned a lot from that gaffe, though I’ve gone on to make many more verbal blunders over the years.)

This article from DiversityInc magazine shares some useful tips about what do when you’ve said something stupid and hurtful to another person. The list could be helpful to anyone seeking to add another tool to his or her reconciliation resource kit.

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So how about that New York Post chimpanzee cartoon? There’s plenty of insightful commentary lighting up the blogosphere on it today. But, in my usual self-serving manner, I’ll point you to the current post at UrbanFaith.com (with an assist from Sojo.net) for a nice overview/perspective piece on the controversy.

The debate over whether the cartoon was just boneheaded insensitivity or blatant racism is something that will continue as long as there’s such a thing as monocultural editorial teams (wasn’t there anyone in that NY Post newsroom to raise a caution flag?) and monophonic civil rights activitsts (Al Sharpton leads the charge again). But, as a journalist, one of the most interesting aspects of the controversy for me is the ethical questions it raises for the media and other communication leaders. For an exploration of that dimension, I think Steve Myers and Mallary Tenore’s report at Poynter Online is excellent. In it, Ted Rall, president of the Association of American Cartoonists, won’t label the chimp cartoon as racist, but he does call it a “misfire.” From the article:

The flap over this cartoon does illustrate the difficulty editorial cartoonists, who are generally white men in their 50s, have in dealing with race, Rall said. As for African-American cartoonists, “as far as I know, there’s only one or two working in the entire country.”

If you’re like me, you’re probably weary of this type of thing. It seems every couple months there’s a new brouhaha, whether it’s Obama Waffles or LeBron James on the cover of Vogue.

From my perspective, the question should be: Will we use these incidents to start constructive conversations about race, culture, and understanding (the kind I believe Attorney General Eric Holder was attempting to get at yesterday), or will we use them as justification for our hostility and as vehicles for our continued separation?

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Wow! Some strong words today about race relations in America from Eric Holder, our new attorney general. In a speech to Justice Department employees commemorating Black History Month, Holder said the workplace is largely integrated but Americans still self-segregate in their private lives.

“Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards,” said Holder, who is our first black attorney general. Race issues continue to be a topic of political discussion, he added, but “we, as average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race.”

More from Holder’s speech:

As a nation we have done a pretty good job in melding the races in the workplace. We work with one another, lunch together and, when the event is at the workplace during work hours or shortly thereafter, we socialize with one another fairly well, irrespective of race. And yet even this interaction operates within certain limitations. We know, by “American instinct” and by learned behavior, that certain subjects are off limits and that to explore them risks, at best embarrassment, and, at worst, the questioning of one’s character. And outside the workplace the situation is even more bleak in that there is almost no significant interaction between us. On Saturdays and Sundays America in the year 2009 does not, in some ways, differ significantly from the country that existed some fifty years ago. This is truly sad. Given all that we as a nation went through during the civil rights struggle it is hard for me to accept that the result of those efforts was to create an America that is more prosperous, more positively race conscious and yet is voluntarily socially segregated.

You can find Holder’s complete speech here. Pretty bold statements for someone who has only been in his job a few weeks. I tend to agree with him. In fact, some of his comments read like things I’ve been saying during my talks at churches, Christian colleges, and conferences. I hope Holder and others in the new administration are able to help America talk about these issues in a more honest and forthright way.

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Lots of articles and posts to call your attention to this week. Though one friend recommended I post something on the lighter side, I think I’m still trending heavy with these. Forgive me.

  • A couple week’s ago, I posted about Michael Emerson’s UrbanFaith.com article on “The Redistribution Question.” It generated lots of feedback, mostly negative. Many disagreed with Michael’s perspective on the issue regarding what a Christian vision of economic justice might require of us. Last week, blogger Black Wasp presented a passionate defense of sorts of Michael Emerson’s commentary on redistribution. Needless to say, the topic stirred up a lively conversation over there as well.
  • Denise Wilmer Barreto, a Judson College classmate of mine, also posted a provocative commentary last week.  In it, she wonders about the motives of some Christians who advise “we really need to pray” for President Obama. Denise acknowledges that she’s treading on delicate ground, presuming to know the true intent behind what some folks are saying. But I think her willingness to “go there” can help us get one of the current evangelical “elephants in the room” out there “on the table” for discussion. (How’s that for mixing my metaphors? Sorry.) 
  • Did anyone see this article about the Christian high school in Texas that fired its girls basketball coach for allowing his team to run up the score and defeat their opponent 100 to 0? The story raises some interesting questions about competition, sportsmanship, leadership, and character development. I think the reader comments attached to this one are especially fascinating; you can see the “survival of the fittest” mentality in clear opposition to the “mercy and good will” spirit. 
  • Finally, I can’t resist offering one for Just Meee, who, as I said earlier, suggested I lighten up. Back in November, I did a post about the need for a new Barack Obama impersonator on Saturday Night Live. Well, in case you missed it, here’s one of the follow-up skits to the Obama parody that I highlighted by Jordan Peele from FunnyorDie.com. Be sure to watch it carefully for a subtle dig at one of President Obama’s (hopefully former) habits. 

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FYI – We just posted a new article on UrbanFaith.com about some of the recent racial incidents on Christian college campuses. One of the themes of the article: How will the emergence of an African American president influence matters of race and diversity on Christian college campuses?

Also, if you haven’t seen it yet, Newsweek has a poignant and thought-provoking piece about Doug Paul. A former Wheaton College student, Paul, according to the article, typifies the Joshua Generation — the young white evangelicals who are more progressive in their politics than earlier generations of evangelical Christians. Reaching out to the Joshua Generation, says Newsweek, was one of Barack Obama’s keys to making headway with evangelical voters.

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The inauguration was a deeply emotional event on many levels: the sea of people of all colors and backgrounds, the prayers, the music (from Aretha to Yo-Yo). Oh, and then there’s that little thing about celebrating our nation’s first black president. I was moved by it all, but I was especially affected by Elizabeth Alexander’s inauguration poem, “Praise Song for the Day.” I’m not a poetry scholar, but I was struck by several lines from the poem, as well as Ms. Alexander’s beautiful recitation of her work. “We encounter each other in words,” the poet writes, “words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed; words to consider, reconsider.” 

EbonyJet.com has a positive reflection on the poem. Ah, but poetry is a very subjective thing, which is why Ms. Alexander got a few negative reviews, too. Critics like this one and this one take Ms. Alexander to task for, among other things, being “too prosy.” This AP review gets in a few jabs while offering a brief history of the inaugural poem. 

If you stuck around long enough to hear it, what did you think? Did you like it, or did it feel like she was trying too hard? Check out the text below and video above, if you missed it yesterday.

Praise Song for the Day

by Elizabeth Alexander 

 

A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration

 

Each day we go about our business,

walking past each other, catching each other’s

eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

 

All about us is noise. All about us is

noise and bramble, thorn and din, each

one of our ancestors on our tongues.

 

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning

a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,

repairing the things in need of repair.

 

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,

with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,

with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

 

A woman and her son wait for the bus.

A farmer considers the changing sky.

A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

 

We encounter each other in words, words

spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,

words to consider, reconsider.

 

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark

the will of some one and then others, who said

I need to see what’s on the other side.

 

I know there’s something better down the road.

We need to find a place where we are safe.

We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

 

 

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.

Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,

who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

 

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built

brick by brick the glittering edifices

they would then keep clean and work inside of.

 

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.

Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,

the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

 

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,

others by first do no harm or take no more

than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

 

Love beyond marital, filial, national,

love that casts a widening pool of light,

love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

 

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,

any thing can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

 

praise song for walking forward in that light.

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Today marked the conclusion of NPR’s series of broadcasts on how Obama’s election is affecting issues of race relations in many European nations. Specifically, the series focuses on Germany, Italy, and France. Here’s an overview from NPR.org:

Most Europeans were thrilled when Democrat Barack Obama was elected president of the United States, because he promised to sweep away policies that Europeans found odious. More than that, he represented hope, renewal and proof that the barriers of age, class and race could be transcended.

But Obama’s victory also prompted soul-searching in Europe: Could his success be replicated there? Could a person of color ever become the leader of Germany? Italy? France?

Very revealing stories here. In at least a couple cases, I ignorantly assumed that Europe was more enlightened than the U.S. in some of their views on race. (Of course, this may be a reflection of that fact that I’ve never had a chance to visit Europe.) Turns out that Europe is struggling with many of the same racial dysfunctions as we are — or have — here in the U.S. Makes sense, I guess. After all, human depravity is an international phenomenon.

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