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Monday, June 23, 2008

The truth can set us free, but not from our responsibility

I have been following the Obama candidacy with great interest and hope. No one in America can deny it's historic importance regardless of their political bent. But it isn't all rosy. In fact, it's very troubling. Troubling on several fronts:

1. Anyone questioning Obama's backgound and experience is immediately and hatefully marginalized as a racist.

2. Many people, some normally in opposition to Obama's positions, are supporting or considering supporting him solely because of the color of his skin (Armstrong Williams, Juan Williams, JC Watts and many others).

3. Obama is proactively using the race card, to help accomplish #1 above. Of course this chills any honest political analysis and debate.

There was a time when I too, out of a wild and inappropriately empathetic "white guilt" would have supported Obama without question. I would have denied it, but would have done the same thing I'd always done - supported Black people in politics, sports, and other high profile pursuits not necessarily because they earned it or deserved it as individuals, but only because they were Black. In fact, questioning whether they deserved or earned that support was in itself proof of meanness and racism, according to my guilt-ridden, misguided mind. It was really the most inconsiderate and disrespectful kind of treatment. It was a sort of pity that I’m sure they all would have resented.

I've since learned the incredible power of the TRUTH of Dr. Martin Luther King's "I have a Dream" speech. A truth untainted by politics and the pursuit of power. Untainted by those who would use it for public manipulation for nefarious goals. A truth untainted by well intentioned, but misguided guilt. A truth and purity Dr King knew must be maintained. He knew that all the progress he ultimately gave his life for could easily be undone. Here's an oft forgotten and rarely quoted passage from that speech with a chilling admonition for us all:

"...But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline."

While he doesn't specifically address racism, the implication is clear. We must not use the injustice of the past, and power of our unity in our righteous cause in such a way as to taint and thereby weaken the pursuit of our great objective.

We have ignored Dr. King's warning for decades. Most of us have probably never heard that portion of his speech. Fortunately Mr. Obama's candidacy has thrust Dr King's concerns before us once again. With Reverend Wright, Father Pfleger, William Ayers, and others being exposed some for the first time, others for the first time in decades, it's difficult to deny just how far afield we have gone. Whether these people have any bearing on the election or relation to Obama is relatively unimportant. We simply must not loose this opportunity to recognize our misdirection, right our course and recommit to Dr Kings original ideals that were so long ago lost in the pursuit of political gain, personal power, profit and revolutionary schemes. Then too, we must strenuously reject those regardless of race, creed or religion who seek to profit by those "wrongful deeds" and are "drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred".

We are inextricably linked by the history of this great nation, Black and White. People of ALL colors who call themselves American. As Victor Frankl said," there are only 2 races of humans, the indecent, and the decent." We must not allow ourselves to be pitted against each other by those who would seek to profit by our own indecent fear, hatred and envy. We must discard the tired old clich├ęs of victimization and powerlessness that encourages us to hate others and believe we can't succeed with out the hate mongers.

Here’s how Dr King said it, "The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back."

We cannot turn back. The injustices of the past cannot be undone. We must move forward with a better understanding and purer vision. Only then will we enjoy the finer justice Dr King sought.

I know many people, Black, White, Conservative, Liberal, who are going to vote for Obama because he is Black and they want to be a part of history. I can only ask: How does it feel to be a racist, and exactly how much racism does it take to eliminate racism?

I would ask that all who plan to vote for Obama to carefully and honestly consider your motivation. If it is because you have similar values and agree with most of his policies, then do so proudly and with a clear conscience. If you are doing so because he is Black, then I would respectfully ask that you reconsider. The rationalization behind racism, no matter how lofty, doesn't purify it. It is still ugly, ignorant racism. We will enjoy for yet another season, the crops of racism that we have sown.

Many of us are finding the current political, cultural and racial situation surprising and challenging. The truth is often difficult to grapple with. But we are forced to search our souls and that’s always good, even if a little uncomfortable.

Here's a more popular and oft quoted part of Dr Kings historic speech that we all remember, and is particularly pertinent to this issue, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

Well, I have a dream, too - that a President will be voted in to office because of the content of his or her character, policy positions and experience. Not by the color of his or her skin. The high plane of dignity and discipline demands it.
Dr Dave