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Posts Tagged ‘President Barack Obama’

notredame3Personally, I would’ve loved to have any President of the United States speak at my college commencement. At least then I would be able to remember who it was. As it stands now, I have the foggiest idea who spoke at my graduation. But seriously, as a pro-life Protestant who voted for Barack Obama, I’ve tried to steer clear of the current Obama-at-Notre Dame controversy (lest I tick off my outspoken pro-life friends or my outspoken pro-Obama friends).

I’m such a wimp, I know. Call me a bad Christian,  but I just don’t have it in me to get that worked up over politics and ideology–and I realize that just by confessing this I’ve probably tainted myself in the eyes of those who see the abortion and embryonic stem cell issues as much more than matters of politics and ideology, and frankly I would agree with them. Nevertheless, I’m not wired to get all red in the face about it (for various reasons). I do, however, pray for the precious lives of the unborn (as well as the born). And I pray that our president will stay true to his pledge to help reduce the need for abortions and that he’ll stay open to hearing the views of “the other side,” as he promised. 

As a journalist, it’s interesting to watch the gathering storm form around the University of Notre Dame following its invitation to President Obama. For many Catholics, this has become a deeply personal matter, one which they feel obligated to take a strong stand against. Just witness the news today that Harvard Law professor Mary Ann Glendon, a devout Catholic who was to receive a special medal during the Notre Dame commencement ceremony, has now declined Notre Dame’s honor as a protest against President Obama’s pro-choice views. (This commentary at AOL’s new site, Politics Daily, offers an interesting perspective on this latest chapter of the controversy.) For Catholics like Glendon, the integrity of their church is at stake. Still other pro-life folks have seized upon the controversy as a golden opportunity to promote their cause and protest the policies of a pro-choice president. I think it’s good theater but also a healthy outworking of democracy.

I’m reminded of the controversy at Calvin College, back in May 2005, when then-President George W. Bush was invited to participate in the commencement service at that  evangelical school in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Though many welcomed his participation, a vocal movement of staff, students, alumni, and community members were against his coming. They even published two open letters to the president and took out a full-page ad in the local paper to publicly air their disenchantment. In the letters–one from students and alumni, another from faculty and staff–the protesters articulated their grievances, particularly noting President Bush’s launching of an “unjust and unjustified” war, his neglect of the needy and “coddling” of the rich, and his administration’s fostering of “intolerance and divisiveness.” You can read both of the letters here.

Interestingly enough, both the Calvin protest and now the Notre Dame uprising are related to issues of life. For the Notre Dame protesters, opposing Obama means standing up for the sanctity of life and the rights of the unborn. For the Calvin protesters, opposing Bush meant standing against war and standing up for social justice and the rights of the underprivileged. Unfortunately, in the heat of protest, it’s often difficult for either side to see what they hold in common, that God calls us to care equally about all issues of life. (Plus, trying to be all diplomatic and conciliatory on these issues gets you branded as a flake and does very little for your fundraising efforts.) 

In any event, I envy the students at Notre Dame right now (as I did the Calvin folks back in 2005). What a great educational experience, to be able to observe and participate in this working out of politics, religion, and civic engagement from their front-row position. Wouldn’t you love to be in one of Mark Noll‘s classes about now?

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This week’s issue of Newsweek features a compelling article about the evolution of race relations at Princeton University (“Black in the Age of Obama”). By looking at the experiences of two African American Princeton students from the turbulent 1960s and comparing them to the college experiences of their daughters some thirty-odd years later, the story highlights the progress made as well as the new struggles faced by students of color on the Princeton campus in what the article calls the “the cutting edge of ‘post-racial’ America, where race isn’t supposed to matter anymore. Except when it does.”

The article is only four pages long, but it’s full of challenging ideas. For instance, there’s the subplot running throughout the narrative that questions the existence of a “post-racial America.” Does an Obama presidency really mean race is now off the table? From the article:

Linked in the public consciousness to Barack Obama, the term “post-racial” has now expanded to encompass the era his election has ushered in. But in the real world, post-racialism is something of a mirage. Detroit is not post-racial. Neither is Congress, nor Wall Street, nor prime-time TV. Black people pretty much refuse to utter the word, Obama included. For most Americans, it’s little more than a convenient cable-news catchphrase.

But the heart of the narrative reveals how two students from the late ’60s, Henry Kennedy (’70) and Jerome Davis (’71), had to endure the racial tensions of the day, and the limited choices they had for survival. “With fewer than 20 African-Americans per class, ‘fitting in’ wasn’t an option,” the article explains. “Instead, undergraduates like Davis and Kennedy gravitated toward one of two roles: activist or invisible man.” In many ways, of course, that same dilemma remains today. 

However, for Kennedy’s and Davis’s daughters, Alex and Kamille, the racial dynamic has been complicated by the fact that racism, or racialization, is no longer as clearcut as it was back in the days of brazen prejudice and legislated segregation. As the article’s authors observe, today “at post-racial, meritocratic Princeton, it’s often impossible to say where color ends and exclusivity begins.” Which, consequently, leads to the current brand of double consciousness that I address in my book–that is, the 21st-century angst of not knowing when something (a comment, a look, a policy) is racially motivated or when it isn’t. Here’s perhaps the article’s most penetrating observation—it’s “money shot,” if you will:

In a post-racial bubble, it’s no longer the initial incident that makes being black uncomfortable; when everyone has “gotten over” race, any controversy can be easily explained away as a joke, or a misunderstanding, or ordinary, colorblind Ivy League exclusivity. But while Henry Kennedy and Jerome Davis had an outlet for their concerns, Alex and Kamille don’t. Even worse, they have the uncomfortable burden of deciding whether they should even be concerned to begin with. As a result, they, like many young, elite African-Americans, can feel boxed in. When injustices do arise, there’s pressure to brush them aside. To do otherwise would be to think too clearly in racial terms—to clash too openly with post-racial expectations. Ignoring them entirely, though, might look like a retreat from community obligations. Everyone’s a loser and everyone shares the guilt.

Though this article spotlights the experiences of African Americans at Princeton, it’s really a case study for the larger issue of race in America today. How we’ve “come a long way,” but how the cost of that progress has been a confusion about our new reality and a tendency to believe that we’ve tackled the problem, when in fact we’ve yet to have ongoing honest communication across racial and cultural lines (Hello, Eric Holder!). What’s more, our current racial progress has beget a new brand of prejudice and racial resentment that threatens to erect even larger barriers to true reconciliation (just check out this news report from today’s Chicago Tribune and look, particularly, at the reader comments). 

“Race” articles like this Newsweek report are helpful in showing us yet another aspect of the cultural landscape today, but they often wind up leaving the reader discouraged or pessimistic about the notion that we’ll ever really move beyond the pain and frustration of race relations in eras past. What the article doesn’t mention is the reality of God’s grace and the power he gives us to heal, forgive, and build bridges across our current chasms. But, of course, first we must agree that there are still chasms.

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