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May 7, 2011

Hypocrisy isn’t Hip at All: What’s Really Occurring in the Obama-Osama Drama?

I often refer to a very close personal female friend of mine as “a voice of reason,” because she always has tremendously insightful things to share. When I am lost at sea she finds ways to guide me back to shore, and for that I very much appreciate her. Recently, I was drifting, floating, and reached out to her to assist me in pondering the Obama-Osama conundrum, the awkwardness that abounds relative to the celebration of Osama Bin Laden’s demise at the hands of a Navy Seal covert operations team sanctioned by President Barack Obama in response to 9-11. During that conversation I shared with her a conversation I had with my daughter who was taken aback by what she saw as bizarre adult behavior. My daughter felt that many adults should be admonished for their overt celebration of the end of Bin Laden’s life. In that regard I have a couple of philosophical points to make before I crescendo into a Churchill (Winston or Ward, you decide) conclusion.


First, why is it that we call Osama Osama? We don’t call Barack Barack! Bin Laden’s not a rock star or entertainer, so he hadn’t earned the single stage moniker that Cher, Sade, Sting, and Michael (both Jordan and Jackson), though he did infamously alter people’s worlds with his heinous crimes and other attempted felonious acts. I recall him being called Bin Laden a lot earlier in his career. Is there a relationship between Bin Laden being identified as Osama and President Obama’s middle eastern sounding name? Is it possible that the media took advantage of this and lyrically leveraged the Obama-Osama rhetoric to further play up the angle of his citizenship? After all, in our capitalist culture it is about ratings, and news isn’t news unless its news.

Secondly, one of my nursing colleagues in a NYSNA workshop I conducted recently in NY city on racism dropped a pearl that I thought I should share. We watched a scene from Rosewood, a John Singleton film that frames the decimation of a Black township in 1923 over the false accusation by a White woman of abuse followed by insinuations of rape by a Black man. The scene featured Ving Rhames as a Black war veteran—being asked after bidding at an auction for a price of land deemed beyond his reach—to show his papers which verified his identity. Within the scene it was apparent that the White men saw him as uppity and making him show his papers was a more subtle move of showing him his place in society. My colleague revealed how much Donald Trump’s insistence on seeing Barack Obama’s birth certificate had racist overtones not dissimilar to the scene we had watched, or the fact that Black men, during slavery time, had to show their papers at the bequest of any White man. Was this racist? Who knows what truly occurred in Trump’s mind. The possibilities of it being an instance of subconscious racism looms about as large as Mitch McConnell’s assertion that the one goal of the Republican party was to ensure that President Obama was a one-term president, or the vocal assertion that President Obama was a liar by Joe Wilson. But perhaps I’m overstating the case here, though the saying “just because you are paranoid does not mean you aren’t being chased” definitely comes to mind.

And finally, in considering the vitriolic hatred for the mass murderer Osama Bin Laden, and overwhelming glee at his subsequent execution, is it okay for Americans to hate Bin Laden based upon the rationale that he was responsible for the murder of thousands of Americans as well as his other global terrorists acts? If your answer is yes, then how does America reconcile the contempt Japanese Americans must hide for an American government that publicly humiliated a very proud people by interring them in response to Pearl Harbor? Before you say that the Japanese Interment during WWII was a completely different situation, the murder of a people (9-11) and murder of a culture (Japanese Internment) may not be siblings, or even cousins when we think of the subtleties of the social injustices that are occurring, but they are related. How deep are the wounds of being uprooted from not just your house, but your home? How deeply scarred is someone who must cast off the specter of not being a loyal citizen? Not every American will ever fill the sting of such a designation, but isn’t it nice that we now have a President who can relate to that feeling?

If that doesn’t do it for you, then how does America reconcile the disdain that Native Americans must manage when considering the systematic defilement of their culture and mass murder of their people at the hands of an American government hungry for land and too impatient to identify with its indigenous population. Native American scholar Ward Churchill was taken to task when he inconsiderately, while a nation was reeling/mourning from the 9-11 attacks, implied that the “chickens had come home to roost.” He was admonished by many including then Governor George Pataki who called him “a bigoted, terrorist, supporter.” While this is understandable, what would Pataki have me say to my precocious daughter if Native Americans started celebrating something horrible that occurred to America in response to how they were treated (which is essentially what Churchill did).

How does America reconcile the scorn born out of forlorn acts of brutality, rape, and murder, followed by covert codes, segregation, and duplicitous acts that sadly/retrospectively don’t leave many duped. The once so-called Negro, so-called Colored, so-called Afro-American, is still struggling to move beyond an ideal framed and accentuated by Muhammad Ali when asked why he wouldn’t go to fight in the Vietnam war, which ultimately cost him three years of his fighting career. His response was “No Vietnamese ever called me a nigger.” Oh really champ, well nowadays you wouldn’t be called that either in America. You’d just have to show your birth certificate in a way no other president has done.

Far too often people will say we need to forget the past and move on. They will argue that it serves no purpose to remember things we can’t change and that carrying that type of anger is energy misspent. But our children just had a front row seat to the epitome of American hypocrisy, celebrations of the demise of the orchestrator of one of the worst calamities in U.S. history, while similar celebrations by victims in this country would be frowned upon if not ostracized. So, tell me, what advice do you have for me on counseling my eleven year old about the exuberant celebrations of the unarmed murder of a man that (I agree) needed to die, when in a few years she will begin to understand the relative exoneration of her own government for its orchestration and complicity in what could be construed as equivalent to Bin Laden’s actions, only strategically and systematically implemented over a longer duration of time so as to go almost unnoticeable. I told her that he was an evil man that got what he deserved, but that he didn’t deserve people celebrating his death, unless it was totally in a context of the fact that he couldn’t/wouldn’t kill any more. I also told her to refer to him as Bin Laden, so that we could do our part in eradicating any subconscious association with our current President as a result of their names. She said, okay Daddy!