I’ve always been wary of those who insisted they were doing something — especially something harsh and perhaps hurtful — for the good of the person who has to bear the potential injury. When a parent swears to their child that the spanking they intend to shortly administer is “going to hurt me more than it hurts you,” and that it’s for the child’s own good, they are lying in the first instance and almost always terribly wrong in the latter. Likewise, when politicians say we should cut or eliminate various safety net protections for the nation’s poor “for their own good,” you can bet they haven’t a clue as to what would be in the best interest of such persons, seeing as how they’ve never gotten to know them or anything about the lives they lead, beyond the media-induced stereotypes and their own well-nurtured classist bigotries.
I found myself thinking about the fundamental absurdity of the “for their own good” mantra again recently, while in Boston, after being approached by an apparently homeless man on the street, who asked me for change. My general rule has always been that if I have a few bucks on me, I’ll give it to someone who asks, without much hesitation. After all, begging for money must be incredibly draining and emotionally difficult for most everyone who does it, especially given the contempt with which this culture views people who are poor and struggling (and/or mentally ill, as many on the streets are). So if someone has reached a place where they are desperate enough to endure the possible (and even likely) sneers of passersby and those to whom they make their usually unrequited entreaties for spare change, I’ve always felt as though a little kindness — though it will hardly ameliorate their economic condition — will at least compensate somewhat for the terse comments and side-eyed looks of others.
Not to mention, I’ve always figured that if my Christian friends are right about Jesus returning, he’s a hell of a lot more likely to return as a homeless man, looking for signs of compassion on the street than as a conquering avenger or two-bit evangelical preacher begging for millions on television, and so perhaps it would be advisable to hedge one’s bet, so to speak.
I really can’t figure out what is so hard about this.
For Republicans to shut down the government — to cause real pain to hundreds of thousands of families whose members work for various government agencies, and who will now be furloughed, as if they don’t matter, because, ya know, they aren’t hedge fund managers or other truly vital employees — is the most venal thing I’ve seen elected officials do in my entire life.
And all because why? Because they don’t support a bill that was passed via the normal democratic processes that we use in this country, whether one likes them or not, and all of which could have been explained to these fools by Schoolhouse Rock, if not whatever Poli Sci class they skipped in college before deciding to be a politician. Apparently someone forgot to tell them that when a bill becomes a law, and then the courts uphold that law, and then voters go and re-elect the guy who pushed for the law, then you are done, son. That’s it. You don’t get to hold the country hostage so as to indulge your pre-teen temper tantrum. You have to actually run candidates and win (and not just for some backwoods, or exurban, white flight, Jeezoid congressional district where everyone thinks the same way and believes, against all evidence that Olive Garden is Italian food), but in an entire state, or — get this — a nation! And if you can’t do that, you don’t get to fuck with the rest of us so as to satisfy your church family. That’s not how this thing works.
And what’s pathetic is, most of the people who are railing against Obamacare can’t even tell you what it is, or how it will impact them, and hardly any of them are going to be in any way harmed by it. Quite the contrary. Most will be benefitted substantially. Especially those with pre-existing medical conditions, whom insurance companies, concerned not with health but money only, were free previously to exclude from insurance altogether. Anyone who thinks people with pre-existing conditions should not be able to get insurance (and note, this includes virtually all conservatives in America) are evil. The walking, talking definition of that word. And especially since insuring them (preferably with a real single-payer system, but for now, with the ACA) will only cost a few of us more money as a result.
Oh and yes, note, I said “us.”
Because, interestingly, I am one of the statistically few who probably will see my health insurance premiums rise thanks to Obamacare. Because my family and I are on a private-pay insurance plan (which is true for only about 5 percent of the American public, most of whom get insurance either through employers or through Medicare/Medicaid). And because our income is well above the cutoff for receiving any kind of subsidy from the government for our plan, the odds are, our premiums will rise.
And ya know what?
Because the fact is, as much as I think health care should be a right, guaranteed and paid for from general revenues — and so, yes, I believe in the utter destruction of the private health insurance industry — the fact is, so long as we maintain a private system in this country, to discriminate against persons with pre-existing conditions, and thereby artificially deflate the cost of my insurance just because you can screw other people and not have to assume the risk of insuring them, is fucking evil. Period. And I am not OK with having my health care costs made cheaper only because someone else isn’t being allowed to have care at all and therefore gets to die, or suffer horrible illness all in the name of the precious market. So if I have to pay more so that others can receive the care they need, so be it. I’d rather do it through tax revenues, yes; because that way, the profit motive would be removed entirely and worthless actuaries would have to get real jobs, involving actual skills. But for now. I’ll take it. And I’ll pay it.
And anyone who isn’t willing to do so, is very simply a horrible human being. No exceptions. Not one.
A fascinating interview with James Baldwin, fifty years ago, discussing race in America. As with all Baldwin interviews, this one too is amazing for how much of his analysis about the nation’s predicament — and the system of white supremacy — remains pertinent today, despite the end of formal and legal segregation. And the white denial and ignorance on display, particularly from the panelists, is as stunning as ever…
I wish there were an actual recording of the speech itself, rather than just this re-reading of it, but still, this is powerful…and a reminder that white people have a choice as to whom our role models will be. That more people know of George Wallace and Bull Connor than Charles Morgan Jr. tells us most all we need to know about how even “white” history is taught in this country, and how little white America is prepared to embrace true heroism in our own ranks, opting instead for the phony and morally vacuous pretenders to the title, most of whom fought to maintain the status quo or who helped to establish it in the first place. I would take ten Charles Morgans over any one of the nation’s founders, and over 99 percent of all white Alabamians in 1963 (and most of them still today, sadly).
It is the example of people like Morgan, which gives the lie to the old canard that “you can’t judge people then by the moral standards of today.” Because even then, when most whites accepted apartheid, there were always those who didn’t (just as there had been those opposed to enslavement and indigenous genocide). That even one Morgan existed means simply this: if your family was there and they didn’t take the same stand as he, they were cowards, and entirely complicit in evil. No excuses and no exceptions. They were and are to be condemned for their venal embrace of white supremacy, and nothing — not your fond remembrances of how nice they were to old people, infants and puppies, and not the warm recollections you may have of time spent on their porch swing, or whatever — can redeem them to history.
But there is still time for you, for all of us. Here’s hoping we will use it for justice.
As we reflect on this past week’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, hearing the guttural effluent spewing from the mouths of America’s right-wing makes it clear where they would have stood — and where most of their ideological forbears did — a half century ago.
Not only do they insist there is no real racism facing people of color anymore — and there hasn’t been any for 45 years — they go further, insisting that it is whites who are the real victims. We’re the ones who can’t get jobs because of affirmative action, they insist, even though black unemployment remains nearly twice as high as for whites, even when only comparing people with college degrees.* We’re the ones being kept from voting by thuggish black men in berets with batons, who are trying to intimidate white people so as to steal elections, even though an investigation into voter intimidation claims against the New Black Panther Party revealed that no such intimidation took place, and not a single white voter actually lodged a complaint.
These refrains are nothing new. The bellowing about “reverse discrimination” has been the white reactionary mantra going all the way back to the 1880s, when the Supreme Court struck down various post-emancipation civil rights laws, proclaiming in the words of Justice Joseph Bradley that it was time for blacks to take “the rank of a mere citizen” and to no longer “be the special favorite of the laws.” Much as Justice Scalia recently declaimed as “racial entitlements,” provisions of the Voting Rights Act that had been instrumental in blocking attempts to limit the black franchise, so too was Bradley saying, in effect, we’re bending over too much for black people. Any special provisions to ensure non-discrimination and equal opportunity, even to those who were merely two decades removed from their status as property, were to be understood as untoward “preferential treatment.”
Dr. King, of course, had something to say about this notion of preferential treatment for blacks — what some call affirmative action and what others like Chris Wallace this week called putting a “thumb on the scale” for African Americans — though conservatives know nothing of it whatsoever.
In his classic book, Why We Can’t Wait, which was written the same year as the March on Washington — and which I’d wager has not been read by any of the nation’s most prominent conservative mouthpieces (not Limbaugh, not Hannity, not O’Reilly, not Beck, not one of them) — King actually ridiculed those who embraced the kind of context-free colorblindness of Justice Bradley, or now, a Chris Wallace. As King noted:
Whenever this issue of compensatory or preferential treatment for the Negro is raised, some of our friends recoil in horror. The Negro should be granted equality, they agree, but he should ask for nothing more. On the surface, this appears reasonable, but it is not realistic. For it is obvious that if a man enters the starting line of a race three hundred years after another man, the first would have to perform some incredible feat in order to catch up.
That King was demanding not only an end to formal segregation and overt racial impediments to voting, but also economic justice and full and remunerative employment matters not to the right. They don’t care that John Lewis, who was actually there, and as such knows just a tad bit more about the movement and its goals than they, believes there is still work to do on those fronts. Indeed, they would deign to tell Lewis what the movement of which he was a part was actually about, even though he was in it and they weren’t. To wit, Rush Limbaugh this week, insisting that the entirety of King’s goal had been “integration.” Rush, of course, deliberately ignored that the march included demands for full employment, a higher minimum wage, and full access to equal and affordable housing, but he knows his audience won’t catch the deception because they weren’t in attendance either.
And they don’t care that Dr. King’s family agrees with Lewis, and insists that King himself would too were he here. No, to conservatives, the struggle for equity is over, and whatever inequalities remain are the fault of black people themselves.
So they have tried to change the subject, from racism and discrimination on the one hand — what they refer to as “imagined slights,” as if the clear majority of blacks who believe them to be real are crazy (cuz it’s not racist at all to think that) — to defective black culture, on the other. Yes, once upon a time in a land far away, opportunities were unequal, they aver. But no more. And so rather than harp on discrimination or various inequities, civil rights leaders should lecture the black community about their own pathologies: out-of-control crime rates, rising out-of-wedlock birthrates and the breakdown of the black family, over-reliance on government handouts and an insufficient commitment to education, among others. And if black leaders won’t do this — because, in the words of one right-wing commentator this week, they’re “fine for house work but not heavy lifting,” (cuz it’s not racist at all to say that) then whites will have to “pick new civil rights leaders” who will, and to hell with what black people think.
Yet, this maddening and self-satisfying mantra of the right relies upon a staggering ignorance about the experiences of African Americans in the present day. First, it glosses over the rather compelling evidence of ongoing discrimination against people of color in jobs, housing and the justice system, especially regarding the war on drugs. And it glibly ignores the way that recent limits imposed upon the Voting Rights Act will allow states to adopt policies that will serve as an impediment to black voting (and are designed to do just that).
But also, and perhaps more shockingly, the conservative cries about the “cultural crisis” in black America are rooted in falsehood; because the fact is, in every single instance, what conservatives believe about the black community turns out to be wrong. Black crime rates are down, considerably; so are the rates of birth to unmarried black women; so is dependence on government assistance. Black educational accomplishment is up, and contrary to popular assumptions, black youth value education every bit as much as anyone else.
So rather than abide the lies, perhaps some facts would do us well.
This is so much better, and more important, and more honest than anything said at the actual march this week, John Lewis excepted, perhaps; but I think even Lewis would agree, this is special, and especially because in 1963, the Kennedy Administration tried to intervene to keep Lewis from delivering his own speech, afraid that it would be too radical. Make no mistake, that is what happened here too. I have no doubt that the Obama Administration, afraid they could not control Agnew’s testimony (and that of Sofia Campos), conveniently “ran out of time.” But they had enough time to let the president lecture black people about their own irresponsibility, yet again…there is always time for that.
So, yeah, when Rush Limbaugh says that people tell him he “sounds like MLK” (or at least more so than the President), yeah, um, neither of y’all do…in Limbaugh’s case, I doubt he’s ever read a single one of MLKs books or listened to any speech beyond the “Dream Speech,” and even then he didn’t listen to the whole thing. He definitely didn’t listen to the part about America bouncing a check to black people. And I know damned good and well that neither he nor any conservative has listened to anything King said after 1963. Like, for instance…these things (below). Note to conservatives: MLK is not yours to co-opt or praise. You despised him when he lived, and you must deal with that shameful truth, not try and glom onto a legacy of which you played no part…
Especially pay attention in this first clip, to how King discusses the history of preferential treatment for whites, beginning around 1:20 or so…and the need for substantive repair of the inequity that resulted.