I’d Rather Die

At the height of the Jim Crow era in the United States something occurred on a train strikingly similar to the tone of today’s political discourse. According to the story, a White woman traveling on a train through the South suddenly became ill. A porter arrived and seeing the crisis, said he would call for a doctor. There was quite a commotion among the people on board as the conductor cleared his path. The conductor arrived at the woman’s side and said, “Here he is.” The woman looked up, and seeing that the physician was Black said, “I’d rather die.” For this woman, death was preferable to treatment by a skilled Black man.

Is there a current parallel to this woman’s reaction? Many people, both European American and African American, have said this season’s nasty mudslinging generally finds President Barach Obama the favorite target of trash talk, both national and local. Sneers of rejection seem to stem not as much from the President’s policy proposals, but from his skin pigmentation. Many say it is not Mr. Obama’s action or inaction that has generated this bitter resistance, but his race. This forum on the blogosphere views the treatment of a good, strong, gentlemanly Black national leader as the latest chapter in a continuing saga. For some Americans, this son of Africa and America is nothing but an “uppity Negro” who must be put in his place. Like the people who built this country as enslaved workers, neither they nor their descendants have any rights that demand respect. For them Mr. Obama is an aberration, truly an impossible living nightmare.

How far down has US political behavior descended when a state governor wags her finger in the President’s face as if admonishing a child, and then declares that she is afraid of him? There have been unpleasant and disrespectful comments about the President’s wife also, often referred to as “Michelle” – not the “First Lady”, not “Mrs. Obama”, not even “Michelle Obama.” Statements and images that many find repulsive are applied to the President and the First Lady in a stream of sound-bites from the media that are distasteful and disgusting. In some families, not long ago people (children or adult) behaving like this were labeled as having “no home training.”

“You lie!” a South Carolina legislator bellowed out during an Obama public address. The nation is in grave danger. Hear the tones of fear and hate. “We are going to take our country back.” “He’s not really an American.” “Isn’t he a Muslim?” (as if that religion disqualifies someone from citizenship or the presidency). These sound similar to fascist European states after World War I.

Are these instances of disrespect simply a refusal to even listen to a capable, seemingly tireless, hard-working leader because he is African American? It seems as if for a segment of US citizens, heaping scorn on him has become a patriotic duty. For many African Americans, the treatment of the President is not surprising. Conditioned so long by racism in this country we view this as another obvious fact of American life, just more material for the barber shop, beauty parlor and dinner table.

What is equally disturbing is the absence of real alternatives and platforms from contending candidates in the presidential race. Cutting spending and reducing taxes does not translate for most of us – more specificity is needed. Their mantra is focused on defeat Obama, get him out of office. Our concern, as citizens, is what would they do if suddenly in charge? The theme is how did this happen – a Black family in the White House, a Black man running our country? Whatever Mr. Obama proposes is wrong, half truths run neck and neck with lies and ridiculous statements. For example:

I don’t worry very much about the very poor, there may be a few holes in the safety net but that will be tended to… (How will that be done as you also propose to cut federal spending for Medicaid, food stamps, Head Start and Social Security?)

 I like to fire people when they don’t perform well … that’s business decision-making…

I create jobs that benefit the economy… (Some commentators have accused hedge fund managers and investors of cobbling together shaky businesses that then go belly-up after they are down sized, selling them, and then pocketing the difference. Certainly this statement is a severe reduction, but we believe not without some merit.)

As President I will establish a colony on the moon… (While slashing spending on earth)

Kids need to be trained as janitors to teach them the value of work… (Slave labor built this nation and underpaid laborers still maintain much of our agricultural economy. What programs effectively provide marketable job skills?)

Black families are on welfare… (Most families on welfare are White.)

America should not be involved in anything beyond its geographical boundaries… (Isolationism here we come, so we can be caught short again.)

Many politicians, many voters, many US citizens do not buy the hype that one man or woman can change anything without the significant help of others. Nor can one person destroy it. Only through reasoning together can we solve anything, but first must come the willingness and capacity to see beyond stereotypes. People usually see leadership in familiar faces, faces that look like them. There has never been until now a face in the White House that remotely resembled the face of an African American. We acknowledge that this has been quite an adjustment, for all of us. In a country where traditionally white has always been considered right, and black, yellow, brown, red were supposed to stick around and wait for orders, these past three years have been a new day.

We will not know until November whether the majority of voters are willing to cut a nose to spite a face. Of course the checkered American past holds a few ominous clues. When desegregation was ruled illegal 58 years ago entire regions of the South closed all their public schools (White and Black) rather than have integrated classes. The Civil War itself is a fine example of “I’d rather die” than kiss enslavement good bye. Many White Southerners were almost as wretched as the slaves in a system they clung to. Conservatives now pour invectives on policies that aid White and Black workers, and redirect the working class from their own problems by finding a Black scapegoat. Currently for these conservatives the scapegoat occupies the White House.

As President Obama’s economic policies result in a reduction in unemployment will the naysayers dismiss that accomplishment as well? They fear his success and refuse to acknowledge what he has been able to do on our behalf – a national health care bill, housing foreclosure and mortgage modification programs, job stimuli, and “green” industry development – in spite of monumental and consistent opposition from the other side of the aisle.

The flip side of this is that President Obama is exceptional because he did make it to the White House. We believe that he held to the principle that every Black child in this country is told at some point in early life: In order to succeed you have to be twice as good as anyone else. Looking at his political opponents, we can attest that President Obama learned that lesson well.

So, what are we to do? Certainly citizens of clear mind, good conscience and strong constitution must “walk the walk,” “keep your eyes on the prize, hold on,” “like a tree planted by the water we will not be moved,” and “ain’t gonna let nobody turn you ‘round,” as we practice patience, persistence and perseverance. The ancestors expect no less.

Will we support a person with a vision of opportunities for all Americans, or on November 7, 2012 allow someone to gain office who will run the entire nation into the ground, quickly? Personally their sentiments are understood… I’d rather die than have any other person than Mr. Obama in the White House for this next term.

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