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3-D Glasses Required?: Real Streets that Inhibit Seeing Class Warfare

I know, just like most Americans, that the Obama presidency has not been inhibited by his race, that his being a bi-racial president, and as a result, also construed by many as a Black president, hasn’t affected him one iota. That is why I am asking my readership to assist me in proving that America is finally colorblind to our leaders racial difference. This is why U.S. Senator from Kentucky, Mitch McConnell’s statement that the G.O.P.’s number one goal was to assure that Barack Obama would only be a one term president could not have been associated with race. After all, Kentucky’s history of race relations could not have adversely influenced McConnell’s perspective on the ascendance of a two-term Senator to the highest political position in the U.S.


Just in case you somehow missed it though, recently Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich attempting to appease their audiences made statements about their perspective on America. I was wondering where did these statements take you? Romney’s statement about living in the “real streets of America,” is no less problematic than Santorum’s statement that “there are no classes in America. We are a country that doesn’t allow for titles, We don’t put people in classes,” and Gingrich’s referral to President Obama as a “Food Stamp President.” So my questions are:
1. Is it possible to disassociate their comments from African American culture/history? If so, how?
2. To what varying degrees and relative to what dimensions/themes of African American culture are any of these statements problematic and/or justifiable?
3. How does a country like America ever move beyond its racial scars when some in this country complain about the same racial bias that others vehemently deny and/or are in denial about?

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“Rain or shine, cold or hot, you will find them there,” writes Ella Baker and Marvel Cooke in “Domestic Slavery: The Bronx Slave Market,” “Negro women, old and young--sometimes bedraggled sometimes neatly dressed--but with the invariable paper bundle, waiting expectantly for Bronx housewives to by their strength and energy for an hour, two hours, or even for a day that the munificent rate of fifteen, twenty, or twenty-five, or, if luck be with them, thirty cents an hour.” Upon reading this description of certain corners of the borough in which I grew up, I flashed back to when I was five or six years old. I remembered going with my grandmother to a man’s apartment where I’d wait while she spent the morning on her hands and knees, cleaning his apartment. My grandmother didn’t work for a cleaning service - this wasn’t her profession. It was work. And while I’m quite sure that decades after “The Bronx Slave Market” was written, my grandmother was making more than twenty-five cents an hour, but in relation, not much more than the women back in 1935. And with one percent of the population currently owning approximately forty percent of wealth in the United States, Santorum’s statement seems absurd, that there are no classes dividing this country. But stepping away somewhat from economic class and moving more towards social class (although the two are intermixed) the women Baker and Cooke described were black, and the fact is, after slavery, prejudice, discrimination, and racism ostracized people of color and the affect their former situation had on their new “freedom” was great. As if in a race, African-Americans not only got a (very) late start after ages of being beat down before hand, but were also racing with a great deal of added weight - and today, regardless of those who believe we live in a classless society devoid of racism or discrimination, the fact is, African-Americans are still trying to catch up.

I do not believe that it is possible to disassociate these individual’s comments with African American History and culture. First and foremost, there are classes in America. It is not coincidental that the majority of those who are beneath the poverty line and who are lower class are often those of color. Not to mention, although it is Caucasian Americans who make up the majority of welfare statistics, African Americans have been stereotyped to be on welfare and abuse the system. There are many stereotypes of Africans such as the “welfare queen” which symbolizes a Black woman who is lazy and lives off of the government. Stereotypes are exaggerated depictions of a group which is emotionally charged by our own beliefs and attitudes. Gingrich making statements such as “food stamp President” implies that Obama wants to help Black people. The stereotypes of Blacks are that they are lazy therefore should not be assisted. Gingrich fails to realize how prejudice, ignorance and years of discrimination have caused the social and economic differences in America. This economic and social difference caused by constant racial discrimination is the reason some individuals need assistance in basic necessities in America in order to be equitable. Obama is trying to promote equal opportunity for everyone, yet due the ideologies of a capitalistic society and prejudice that follows those values it has become quite difficult. It is absurd for Santorum to state that there aren’t any classes in America when there are people who are homeless, cannot afford adequate housing and/or food to eat. It is evident that there are classes in America with the rise of laws to increase equity. If everyone was equal and social class or titles did not exist there would not be a need for Affirmative action quotas or a rise in multiculturalism in schools. The statements that were made by these politicians are problematic because not only does it symbolize ignorance and prejudice, it also symbolizes their fear of perceived loss in power. Their prejudice is evident because they are judging the Obama Administration based on Obama’s color. His color symbolizes certain stereotypes such as low down, dirty and inferiority. Most Caucasian people have not lived in predominantly African American and Latino communities. The persistent social construction which enables society to still separate and segregate those of color is evident in America, especially with the process of redlining perpetrates ignorance. If you do not see the disadvantages that others have, how can you make an assumption that everyone is equal? Their ignorance gives rise to their prejudice which continues the cycle of discrimination. What makes prejudice so sinister is that it defends privilege. James Loewen has stated “Perhaps the most pervasive theme in our history is the domination of black America by white America.” Our history is rooted with Caucasian domination particularly White, Male, Heterosexual, Anglo Saxon, Protestant domination. For example, Native Americans, African Americans, Jewish Americans, Irish Americans, Homosexuals as well as White Women have all persecuted under this rise to power and domination. Politicians fear that their power is threatened. Not their literal individualistic power, but the power of those who perpetrate White domination and racial ideologies. Marcus Garvey has stated “The God of our fathers will rise up friends for the cause of Africa, and we who have struggled in the wilderness for all of this time shall surely see the promise land.”(pg.44) Persons of color, particularly African Americans have fought for equality for so long and will continue to make strides in this direction. Until those in America who hold power acknowledge the racial scars which are the root in social class in America will we as a country be able to move forward in unison. Politicians and governmental officials need to stop blaming the victim in order to justify their ill treatment toward them. Rather than change the victim, they need to change the system.

I believe that it is possible to dissociate these individuals’ comments from African-American culture, but it has been and will continue to be a struggle. Individuals like Romney, Gingrich, and Santorum, instead of using their power and knowledge to educate the masses in regard to race and class issues, use fabricated stories about themselves and others to appeal to their audiences. It seems to me that they lack the conviction to tell the truth. J.A Rogers stated that, “Many of our prominent men, leaders of thought, are conspicuously weak-kneed on this matter of color…They dread public opinion.” Gingrich, Romney and Santorum would rather go along with the myths that white Americans believe in regards to class and race in our culture, than to go against it. They may not realize that some of their statements, such as Romney saying that he lives in the “real streets of America,” degrade and isolate individuals who do not live in those same “real streets.” Santorum’s remark that there are no classes in America falls into that same category as well. Under-represented individuals, such as African-Americans, Native-Americans, Latino-Americans and etc., have had an enormous amount of prejudiced leveled at them and they may lack the resources to live in those same areas that Romney lives in. They have been painfully aware of class differences, including those that persist today. Historically African-Americans and other under-represented groups have been marginalized and isolated. Because it has taken generation upon generation for many African-Americans, Native Americans or Latino-Americans to even own a home, it is unlikely that the majority could afford to have one in Romney’s rich, gold lined streets. Especially those under-represented individuals that remain displaced years after hurricane Katrina. I doubt that Romney has ever had to live on those streets. I do also wonder if Santorum were homeless, if he would have the ability to see that classes exist in America?
Gingrich’s referral to President Obama as the “Food Stamp President,” also shows Gingrich’s willingness to cave to the masses and perpetuate stereotypes. Gingrich knows full well that almost everyone in America; corporations, farmers, rich, middle class, poor, old, young, white, black, women and men, are all on welfare to some extent. He is also well aware that the majority of those on welfare for the poor are women and children of color. His statement about Obama is not justified, even if Obama did overtly give help to marginalized African-Americans. Privileged white Americans, especially corporations have been taking advantage of the welfare system for decades and decades. Although it’s a small step, perhaps if politicians would realize that historically under-represented individuals are a part of their audience to they would stop caving into their white audiences’ and lobbyist demands. They might even take a stand for change in what they view as issues in their political platforms. If they can change, the rest of white America can too.

Marcus Garvey stated in his message to the Membership of Universal Negro, “The truth has to be told so that we may know from whence our troubles cometh”. To disassociate the comments made by these politicians is to ignore the fact that racism exists in the 21st century. The truth is that we live in a xenophobic, class oriented society that tends to disassociates itself from sensitive topics such as race. No one wants to be labeled a racist; and while the problematic statements made by these politicians are borderline racist comments, many of us choose to turn the other cheek, afraid to challenge those who are in charge of governing our nation. We refuse to believe that our politicians, the people that we have elected to serve us, could still be holding on to the injustices that was candidly practiced not too long ago. We would much rather like to believe that we have grown as a nation; that we have come a long way. To acknowledge that we are wrong is also to acknowledge that as citizens of this country, we have failed. Marcus Garvey said, “It is surprising how those we serve and help most can be ungrateful and unkind in our absence, and generally seek to take advantage of the one who cannot help himself”. A nation built off of the labor of African Americans, we harbor a lot of guilt that we do not want to revisit. It is much easier to pretend that there isn’t a problem because while there is nobody that wants to be labeled a racist, no one wants to defy the “norm” and be called a radical either.

To answer the first question, as a black woman, it is hard for me to disassociate the comments made towards African American culture. For Grinrich to refer to the president as a "Food Stamp President" is both ignorant and crass. I don't know his reasoning behind referring to the president in this manner, but I do know that when most people see food stamps they associate it with poverty and poverty with black people. In the movie "Rosewood" Ether Rolle states, "black means guilty." Although these aren't the same circumstances throughout our history many terms; poverty, ignorance, guilt have been associated with black.
All of these statements are problematic in African American culture. For example, to say we all live in the "real streets" of America could offend some people. People who believe they live in the "real streets" without anywhere to go, or any better life to turn to. While others bulk at the notion of "real streets" when they have everything in the world handed to them. Most African Americans do not have the luxury of living in a place where they do not have to struggle on a daily basis. Don't get me wrong I am not making excuses for black people I am just saying that when it comes to who has more privilege the first thought that comes to my head is white people. Also when it comes to whether or not the statements are problematic they are simply based on the fact of double consciousness. W.E.B Dubois states, "this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others." If a black person even thinks a statement is derogatory he or she will presume it is about race, and once that idea is formed it is hard to let go. Hopefully a country like America will be able to accept that its history damaged races, separated generations of families and wiped out a culture. But once there is acceptance, there can be growth. Maybe this is my own optimism that everything can get better with time and education. But I do truly believe that.

Habiba,

I agree with your statement regarding these politician's statements that no one wants to defy the “norm” and be called a radical either. I think that is why all of the Republican candidates for president in a sense reiterate what their opponents are saying. No one wants to be the odd man out. Someone needs to call these politicians out for their borderline racist comments, but who? I also think that if we continue to turn a blind eye toward these remarks which have continually stereo-typed under-represented individuals such as African-Americans, we are perpetuating racism and passing it on to younger generations. Every time the myth of the “welfare queen,” is brought into the public’s spotlight, even if it is repackaged, it is reaffirming this stereotype for many individuals in the younger generation in our culture. To me it is like the little boy in the movie Rosewood, being called over by his father to learn how to make a noose. By keeping silent and just listening to these comments, our society runs the risk of continuing the practice of keeping under-represented individuals down and the hateful practice of racism alive.

Joiele,
I agree with you. You brought me to a place where I can finally understand why I get so offended and defensive when people make borderline racist comments. I have read that same quote by WEB Dubois and this is the first time that it has really resonated. You mentioned that as an African American woman, you find it very difficult to disassociate racial comments such as the ones made by the political figures mentioned above. I empathize with this feeling and it is because of the constant battle with my double consciousnesses that I feel perplexed, annoyed, inquisitive and remorseful when I discuss various topics pertaining to race. So now I can finally come to terms with the fact that I am struggling with double consciousness, I guess the next question would be how do I overcome this struggle? Will I ever be able to defeat this double consciousness? If not, how do I learn to live with it without letting it consume me and modify my apprehensions?

As an African-American male, I feel that it is very easy for me to interpret the comments spewed by the Republican presidential candidates aimed at President Obama as bigotry, to say the least. I don't know the exact context of the remarks, such as "Food Stamp President" or "real streets of America", but if Romney and Gingrich made such statements without expecting political and social backlash, then they really must be confined to those "rich, gold lined streets" Donna described. One of the of many stereotypes people tend to place on African-Americans is that they are lazy, government-dependent 'welfare queens' and 'food stamp' scavengers. That is indeed a stereotype as I believe we are all probably familiar with the low down on its true statistics, and with that said, I can see why so many people, especially Black people, were disappointed in the republican candidates' bombastic rhetoric. Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich may have meant those statements in a different context than many have interpreted, but the sensitivity and reaction to those statements are well-justified and understandable. Obama is the first Black President of the United States, and no, I didn't say that to be the one numbnut who states the obvious - I'm saying it to put this issue into proper perspective. Republican candidates should not expect a decent black voter turnout while simultaneously pigeon-holding a Black president with one of the flattest stereo(types) in this society. Had Obama been Caucasian, I don't think those comments would have resonated as intensely as it did for some people, or even if such comments would've been made at all - but he isn't Caucasian, he's Black, and because he's Black, people will construe their statements from a perspective that is remotely relevant to him and to them. And in this case, that perspective is still very much under constant fire (just watch the movie 'Precious' for details of the continuous food stamp stereotype). So however or why-ever the candidates said those things is beside the point: Try to envision the day when a Mexican or Hispanic takes the oval office, and the opposing party refers to him as the 'Immigration President', or if a woman becomes president and her critics perceive her as 'Diva' or 'bitch'. Despite the reasoning behind using such terms, that would still be, like Habiba said, "ignorant and crass" - two primary factors of racism a lot of us are all too familiar with. It is impossible to disassociate the republican party's comments from African American culture/history because those same comments are the ones African-Americans deal with on a daily basis, and because they have evidently been given a monopoly on those comments.

Mitt Romney said he comes from the "real streets of America", but are the real streets he's referring to the highway in front of his second mansion in La Jolla, California, or the highway with no stop sign in front of my apartment building in East NY, Brooklyn, where it's practically dangerous to walk alone at night time. If he came from THESE streets, then he would most certainly disagree with Santorum's ridiculous assertion that "there are no classes in America. We are a country that doesn’t allow for titles, We don’t put people in classes." These men are speaking from a place of endless opportunity and privelage and clearly aren't cognizant to the depth and breadth in having a Black president, and what that means to African-Americans. If Santorum made those comments to connect with America, I'm afraid he's just distanced himself from a sizable portion of it, as his claim that class doesn't exist is very belittling to the so-called Americans sitting at the back of the class with no book to read or pen to write with because they can't afford it.
The only way I can read such comments on a fair scale is if they were in fact said it with an objective course void of racial bias. But being that Obama is the first and only president to have been referred to as the "food stamp president", and he just so happens to be Black, makes me very uncertain of whether or not they being were objective, or if those were comments were partially a result of deep-seated prejudices coming to light. And if the latter is indeed the case, and the republicans continue to deny it, then they make it very difficult for 'a country like America to move beyond its racial scars.' And trying to camouflage those scars with sweeping statements like "We don’t put people in classes" is only going to make this problem worse, or worse, create new problems.

Or y'know what, maybe I am being overtly sensitive to this topic as a whole, as some of Gingrich's proponents have suggested; maybe I am being that "too defensive" or 'angry black man' disappointed with the 'system', since my very reaction to racism and it's impact on African-American culture have become yet another forum for others to stereotype me. Or maybe...it's just my double-consciousness: "this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others."

I think that it is impossible to disassociate any of these comments with the history or culture of African Americans. The John Singleton film Rosewood shows us in terrible detail that we are barely removed from a time when our African American citizens were butchered like animals without hope of protection from the law or the community. The events of the film took place not even a hundred years ago, and there were subsequent events which at least equaled the violence of Rosewood. It was unabashed violence with the sole purpose of asserting the inferiority and helplessness of people of color, and how can McConnell’s statement, that the NUMBER ONE goal is to ensure that the first bi-racial president serve only one term of the possible two. What other message could be sent, that our attempt to ‘diversify’ had been made, had failed, so let’s get back to the real business of running the United States? The denial of a class structure, which so clearly supports and branches out into things like racism and sexism, is absurd in the face of the even the smallest portion of evidence at the public’s disposal. The only possible explanation seems to be ignorance on the part of the public, which allows these politicians to manipulate and capitalize on them. Walter White reports a similar tactic used by the factory owners in Detroit around the time of the riots, who “capitalized upon race prejudice as a means of checking the organization of workers in Detroit plants.” And, the only answer to ignorance over the long term must be education. The knowledge that I’ve had the privilege to be exposed to must be disseminated in wider and wider circles, until the majority of people will be able to make informed decisions.

It is very difficult to disassociate the Republican candidate’s comments about current President Barack Obama to African American history and culture. The recent presidential debate has been the most crude that I have been experienced. Many people refer to Barack Obama as a Black President without acknowledging that he has both white and black roots. This reference can date back to slavery and also post emancipation when a child that had a drop of African blood ,despite being mixed with other cultures, was considered black. Also being that the recent Republican candidates are from the South could influence such hatred they have towards Obama. “White society discovered that what it has always suspected was indeed the case – if black people are given some freedom, they will begin to feel that they have the right to more” (263). The current Republican candidates as well as some whites feel as though giving Barack Obama the chance to serve a second term could possibly lead to African Americans taking ownership of the country. Some Whites also have the slogan “Take our country back.” It is obvious that these references are associated with race.
These statements are problematic to African American culture because the upcoming candidates are bluntly trying to keep the minority at the bottom while they reign and stay in power. “Some are our enemies because they do not want to see the Negro rise; some because the organization supplies the opportunity for exploitation; others because they are unable to resist the temptation of the evil one who would have the, betray is in our most righteous effort of racial love and freedom” (Brotherman, 42). It is sad to believe that more than 150 years after slavery was abolished racism still survives because of White views which are parralell to that of slave owner’s mentality. It will be difficult for our country to move on from these racial scars because it was embedded in our foundations. The United States of America began on the backs of African Americans so for people to think otherwise can be difficult. We often deny that racism is gone but it is right in front of us.

To openly and confidently EVER say,“there are no classes in America. We are a country that doesn’t allow for titles, we don’t put people in classes,” is very disturbing to me. To think that, that individual is in a power role, so powerful in fact, that he could potentially be a presidential candidate is terrifying. There are classes and there is a race/class boundary in this country. These statements are problematic because they neglect a history and presence of racism in this country. These statements represent a blatant denial of where we are now and where this country has been. I simply cannot disassociate these comments from african american culture or history.

First and foremost I think it's important to acknowledge your last question,"How does America ever move beyond it's racial scars… when some complain about the racial biases that others vehemently deny?"What America has to do is own the fact that there IS still racial bias, before it can ever move forward and address the first two questions issued. Navigating through this topic with rose colored glasses, pretending that the bias isn't there or that those scars have already healed is a departure from any type of progression that this country could hope to work towards.

Yes, folks there is still racism and there is classism no matter what you want to think, hear, see or say. So, making people realize that having conversations such as these, is a step in the right direction. Thats the easy part. Continuing the conversation and continually challenging peoples perspective in a thought provoking and compelling way with persistence and dedication is where it's really at. Taking the fear out making race and class a conversation is important. People need to empower themselves to initiate a conversations about race and class. When someone hears a racist joke or a derogatory comment they need to take action. Use those moments as a platform to educate, inform or challenge the perspectives of people making such ignorant statements. It's no easy task. In fact, effectively challenging a perspective and replacing ignorance with education is an act that is nothing short of an art form. It's important to be conscious of making a compelling point while being sure not to yield to patterns of mitigated speech when addressing each subject. As a culture we excuse or ignore these comments all to frequently.


Look at the big picture. To deny racism and classism is to negate any action toward ever actually eliminating either. You can't fix a problem if you can't even acknowledge it. The next question that comes to mind is, why then wouldn't these presidential candidates want to address and solve these problems? They have the power and platform to do so and create incredible changes in our society. It is my opinion that racism segments and fractures different racial communities in this country, which then creates racial boundaries among americans and further divides communities. I'm sure then that if you looked back through history there would be a correlation between united communities and more evenly distributed wealth.

Simply and clearly, what I am saying is that to deny racism is to perpetuate the cycle of racism in this country. Racism creates barriers within our community. If the "99%" is to busy being distracted by our physical and cultural differences to see all that we have in common, then we will never be able to collectively reestablish the uneven distribution of wealth within this country. We will never be able to see behind the thinly veiled issue that the 1% doesn't care about revealing and eliminating racism. Because if we are divided as a community, city, state or country we will never unite and redistribute wealth in this country. Why on earth would the individuals who control the majority of wealth in this country want to rock the boat and give up their piece of the pie? Consider what part of that percent Gingrich and Romney are from. Consider the fact that they are and have been privileged in this culture . . . just for fun, consider what would happen if Romney were in the real "real streets of America" ( I live in the bay area, I can think of a few real streets I could take him to and I think he'd be real nervous).

It's not an easy task but in order to take steps in the right direction it's going to take awareness, education and persistence. We need to get real about what is going on in this country. We need to take note of why some complain about racial bias, while others are in complete denial. Instead of passively accepting information, use your objective lens. Deconstruct comments like those of Gingrich and Romney. Find the full context of the information you are being presented and where it is coming from. That is what we have to do as a country to ever even approach healing those scars.

J.W. thank you again for provoking thought in order to spark action and create change within the community at large.( As a former student I can already tell you that this is not up to par with the standards that you set for spelling, sentence structure and grammar. Sorry but I only had a few minutes to chime in.)

Your post has made me think about an question from another perspective. This is absolutely rare when I change my opinion about such arguments but it looks that you’ve done it. The day has started with something new! Thank you!

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