The Unbeareable Whiteness of Being American

African Americans are the most visible reminder of fact that America has not always been the land of the free. The recent criticism of Barack Obama’s former pastor, Jeremiah Wright and Clinton surrogate Geraldine Ferraro points out that there an ideological and political gulf between African America and mainstream America. Today Barack Obama gave a speech in which he repudiated his pastor and stated he will not turn his back on Africa America. To condemn a pastor because of four sound bites culled out of a thirty year career is ludicrous. Imus is back on the air, Dog the bounty hunter will be back on A&E soon, Geraldine Ferraro is now a Fox News contributor, both President Bushes visited Bob Jones University and never apologized for their connection with school that was segregated, Trent Lott has a best selling book out despite the fact he wanted Jessie Helms to be president and refused to sign on the a ceremonial anti-lynching bill last year. I could list another 20 incidents of bigoted statements far more incendiary the Reverend Wright two minute edited tirade, like the comment of former Secretary of Education and gambling addict, William Bennett who stated that black fetuses should be aborted to cut down the crime rate. Jeremiah Wright’s hyperbole was inappropriate and over the top, but it has roots in the African American community. The fact that African Americans are are angry and frustrated with this country should not be a big surprise.

Let’s break down the sound bites: When the Reverend pointed out the fact that Hillary Clinton has never had the experienced life as a black man he spoke the truth. When he said this country is run by rich white men, it is an unequivocal fact that mainstream and conservative Americans do not enjoy being reminded about. Last night the federal government bailed out the Wall Street investment firm that was owned by rich white men, while ordinary Americans cannot afford to keep their homes.

I am from New York. I almost lost a cousin in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and it took days before I knew that all those that I cared about where safe during the 2001 attack. I was lucky, but one of my sorority sisters lost her husband. That Sunday, my priest talked about America’s foreign policy, the biblical edict of loving thy neighbor and the idea that innocents had died because our leaders believe that profit at all costs is next to godliness. American foreign policy that forces idea that American capitalist democracy is the only acceptable form of government for other countries is arrogant to say the least. Innocents died on 9/11, but we cannot deny that centuries of American and European foreign policy in the Middle East helped to fester the psychotic anger exploded that day. My family is from Grenada, so I know first hand how America supported a leader that was totally corrupt and overturned a lawful election to keep this despot in power. America did support apartheid in South Africa when the rest of the world condemned it. America supports Israel as colonialist country that has treats Palestinians like this country treated Native Americans. The fact that we invaded Iraq should be proof enough that Wright’s bluster may have some truth.

The U.S. did not create the AIDS virus, but did very little about the condition for years. The American government’s policy around AIDS was similar to the way scientific racism held as truth for centuries. African slaves were used for surgical practices when they were no longer profitable, hundreds of “scientific experiments” have been conducted in order to prove the “inferiority “of African Americans and the superiority of whites. One of geneticists who discovered DNA, John Watson, recently indicated Africans are genetically inferior, before he found out that he had 20% his genome contained “African genes.” Charles Drew, the scientist who discovered the properties of blood plasma died because there the local white hospital would not treat him. The Tuskegee Experiment was a federal program in which over 500 black men were allowed to suffer and with die when cure for syphilis was readily available. If the government supported these inhuman practices, are African Americans unreasonable to pose that government would do it again? We would be so much further in eliminating the AIDS virus, if it was not seen a gay disease. Saying nothing about the AIDS crisis for years was louder than words.

Drugs are not just a black problem, but mainstream culture sees it as such. The government policies around the criminalization of cocaine are racist. A person caught with crack cocaine (largely black) will be sentenced much more harshly than one who is caught with powdered cocaine (largely white). When someone is arrested for drunken driving, his sentence is not dependent on what alcoholic product he imbibed. Drug use is seen as a disease in white communities, but as criminal and immoral in the black community.  Millions more is spent on the incarceration of African American addicts and small time dealers, than is spent on educating black children so that they do not follow in the footsteps of their incarcerated siblings. Obama’s campaign platform notes this discrepancy and as President he would equalize this race based practice.

I hope that his speech will be the beginning of a real dialogue about race and ethnicity. If whites can see that our experiences in the U.S. are real and authentic, perhaps we can hear their resentments  without astonishment. White Americans must acknowledge that African American views are legitimate even if they make them uncomfortable. African Americans have only experienced citizenship for forty years and have a different view of this country than those who have always seen the American Dream as their birthright. Simply labeling our lived experience as racist and un-American is the height of arrogance and the nadir of ignorance. Can we take this conversation a little higher?


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