Our place in history ...

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Because the GOP lacks vision: The case for President Obama

I am grateful that Wisconsin Congressman, Paul Ryan, the Republican tapped for the number-two slot on the GOP campaign team determined to make Barack Obama a one-term President, did not turn his nomination speech into a drinking game. Had hard-partying viewers committed to consume a shot or hit of their favorite intoxicant every time the Congressman attacked the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. "ObamaCare," using a blurb of unsubstantiated propaganda designed for a bumper sticker, millions of uninsured and underinsured Americans would have been hospitalized.

But I digress.

In the wake of once Republican, now Independent, former Florida Governor, and former Florida US Senate candidate, Charlie Crist’s decision to make the case for President Obama’s reelection via an op-ed published in Florida’s largest newspaper, The Tampa Bay Times, which also just happens to be the hometown newspaper for the city hosting the (now truncated by Hurricane Isaac) 2012 Republican National Convention, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on how elections work when politics are substantive, as opposed to when voting serves as a release valve for voicing discontent.

Here is the segment of the endorsement I hope to hear him expand upon:

“As Republicans gather in Tampa to nominate Mitt Romney, Americans can expect to hear tales of how President Obama has failed to work with their party or turn the economy around… But an element of their party has pitched so far to the extreme right on issues important to women, immigrants, seniors and students that they’ve proven incapable of governing for the people. Look no further than the inclusion of the Akin amendment in the Republican Party platform, which bans abortion, even for rape victims… The truth is that the party has failed to demonstrate the kind of leadership or seriousness voters deserve.”

President Obama has made a number of mistakes during his first term in office, and over the course of the political campaigns he has engaged in. Without question, it is impossible for me—for millions of immigrants and first generation Americans—to forget, that prior to establishing Deferred Action for DREAM Act eligible youth, the case it made before the Supreme Court in opposition to Arizona SB 1070, and its efforts to use Department of Justice resources to combat Alabama HB 56, this Administration’s record on immigration was defined by the unprecedented number of deportations, record number of ICE raids, whole scale embrace of predatory enforcement policies, such as Secure Communities and 287(g), and an utter unwillingness to use discretion to prevent family separation, stop the placement of American born children in the foster care system, and protect communities on the wrong end of anti-immigrant, pro-racial profiling, hate-crime facilitating, statewide and local authorities. And don’t even get me started on the lack of effort expended to prevent violations of the Voting Rights Act, when unconstitutional maps were drawn to manipulate state legislative and Congressional representation until 2020.

My severe emotions regarding these deeply personal issues, are similar to my visceral responses to President Franklin Roosevelt’s support for curfew and internment policies targeting Japanese Americans during World War II, the Repatriation of 500,000 Mexicans and Mexican Americans during the Great Depression, the exclusion of Agricultural and Domestic workers from the 1935 Social Security Act, and the decision to not receive Jesse Owens at the White House, or honor him in any way, despite the fact that he defeated Adolf Hitler’s best trained, and most widely propagandized athletes, in Nazi Germany, during the 1936 Olympic Games.

Despite the mistakes of his first years in office, and on the campaign trail there is simply no possible way to deny President Obama credit as the game changing, transformative leader, who made a federal plan to guarantee universal access to healthcare services a reality. Like the New Deal, the Affordable Care Act has reset the focus of American political life, because just as FDR invested established interests into his enterprise, Obama incorporated a plurality of players from the private sector in his plan to ensure its successful implementation.

Further, since the Republican Party’s big idea for healthcare reform, born and nourished by the crown jewel of all conservative think tanks, the Heritage Foundation, was the individual mandate, and President Obama successfully incorporated that idea into his proposal, this left the GOP without any big ideas in this policy arena. And because they don’t want to delve wholesale into issues like comprehensive immigration reform, or an overhaul of the education pipeline from early childhood education to college graduation, the Republican Party is forced to argue nothing more than managerial efficiency.

For all of the pomp and circumstance preceding the 2012 Republican National Convention’s keynote address, and all of the echo chamber media spin about how bold and courageous it was, after the fact, Chris Christie’s actual words on behalf of GOP nominee Mitt Romney—which sounded like, and came off as, the launch of the New Jersey Governor’s run for the White House in 2016—were for people to literally stand up for an approach to cutting taxes, balancing budgets, renegotiating pensions, and streamlining how money is spent in schools. The substance of his speech was, in essence, a carbon copy of H&R Block’s Second Look campaign in which the firm claims that if you let a professional look at your tax time filings they can save you money and/or get you a bigger return, despite real world evidence indicating this is not necessarily the case. This is a bookkeeper, or efficiency consultant talking, not a game changing, transformative leader. And no one expects any bolder parlance from Mitt Romney before Election Day.

The Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act. GOP nominee, Mitt Romney made “Day one. Job one. Repeal ObamaCare.” the core of his campaign. House Republicans engaged in political theater and voted to repeal and cut funding for President Obama’s signature healthcare bill over 30 times. Uwe E. Reinhardt, Professor of Economics at Princeton University, with financial interests in the healthcare field, went in search of a Republican alternative to the Affordable Care Act. After deeply investigating the matter, and even opening it up for correspondence, he concludes, “It should be clear even to non-actuaries that in this plan Medicaid would be the catch basin mainly for relatively sicker Americans, as it already is. So spare us uninformed, loose talk that asserts government-run health care is ipso facto more expensive than comparable private coverage. The fact is that the government is required to cover much higher actuarial risks than is the private sector.”

Not only are RomneyCare and ObamaCare the exact same thing, it turns out that Republicans don’t actually hate ObamaCare. Republicans—specifically the ones involved in voting, caucusing for, donating to, and/or volunteering on behalf of at least 2/3rds of the 2012 presidential field—hate Barack Obama.

There is no evidence whatsoever demonstrating this statement is hyperbole.

The GOP has emphasized Party unity, as well as consistent and unapologetic obstructionism, in one explicit mission: The purposeful, organized enterprise to deny President Obama reelection.

I agree with, Donna Brazile, that Mitt Romney’s decision to raise the specter of the 100% unsubstantiated “controversy” regarding the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s birth certificate, in a “joke,” delivered during a stump speech at a campaign rally, serves as incontrovertible proof of the deliberate use of dog-whistle racism as an element in the campaign to defeat the President. And I agree with, Ta-Nehisi Coates, that the hatred President Obama has had to confront is not some new and complicated expression of racial animus, but rather the “same old racism that once rendered the best pickings of America the exclusive province of unblackness.”

But one example is the recent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life shows, fully 30 percent of all Republicans, and 34 percent of conservative Republicans, believe Islam, not Christianity to be President Obama’s personal faith. As Paul Waldman points out, “[It] isn’t just the kind of venom you see among the [Republican] Party’s true-believing supporters but that the hate goes so far up, all the way to the top… Mitt Romney [who recently told a birther joke] said, and not for the first time, that [President] Obama has a ‘very strange, and in some respects foreign to the American experience type of philosophy”… This antipathy has multiple sources interacting together, so it’s overly simplistic to say that it’s just because of Obama’s race… But it’s getting harder and harder to claim that there’s ever been a Democrat Republicans hated more.” And as Ben Herzigand and Farid Senzai note, “Even now in 2012 dog whistle politics is alive and well… In 2005, seeking to raise his national profile, presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney publicly called for wiretapping American mosques. In a debate earlier this year, GOP contender Rick Santorum advocated religious profiling of American Muslims. Herman Cain, who at one point was atop the pack of 2012 Republican candidates, stated that he would bar American Muslims from cabinet positions… Is there some 7-year-old Muslim-American kid out there who believes he or she could be president? Perhaps… Most psychologists will agree that children are especially drawn to affiliate with successful individuals with whom they feel a sense of shared identity… American Muslims… will search for a political home. It is time… [to] treat them as loyal American citizens and less like hostile foreigners.”

That said, Barack Obama’s election to the role of Commander in Chief of a representative democracy that was founded on the institutionalized racism of the Three-Fifths Compromise, and the Naturalization Act of 1790, speaks volumes about the ability of historically marginalized, demographically diverse populations to incorporate into America’s legal, socioeconomic, political, social, and democratic systems.

The US is not a post-racial or a post-anything country, but the fact that so many people wished to view President Obama’s election through this lens, is proof of how invested millions of people are in achieving the vision articulated in his 2004 Democratic National Convention keynote address of America as a nation defined by E pluribus unum: Out of many, one.

After engaging in a series of discussions with Republican pundit, Lenny McAllister, as part of Politc365’s #VoiceYourVote effort to empower the “engines of America’s future to be socially conscious, politically active, and civically engaged,” what I most agree with is Theo Anderson’s assertion that the GOP hates President Obama because he represents the Democratic Party’s new vision and a measure of hope for Americans from a variety of backgrounds, in a variety of places, during a time when the Republican Party’s “big tent” is so full of hypocrisy, cynicism, and unconstructive criticism it has little room for moderates, women, people of color, or big ideas to redefine the political landscape.

Republicans hate President Obama because the successful passage and defense of the Affordable Care Act necessarily redefines American public policy for the 21st Century.

Republican President, Theodore Roosevelt, proposed a federal plan to guarantee universal access to healthcare services as part of his New Nationalism platform in 1912. He failed. Democratic President, Franklin Roosevelt, (FDR) considered adding it as part of the New Deal during the Great Depression, but was ultimately deemed too controversial considering how bitterly Social Security was opposed by his fellow Republicans—who labeled it “socialism” and “un-American”—and how prominently their opposition to Social Security figured into the campaign to prevent his reelection in 1936. He didn’t try. Democratic President, Harry Truman, was not able to get either the House of Representatives or the US Senate to vote on the healthcare plan in his Fair Deal. To paraphrase, Schoolhouse Rock’s “I’m Just a Bill,” since neither side of the bicameral Legislative Branch reported on President Truman’s proposal favorably—and labeled it “socialism” and “un-American”—it died in committee. Democratic President, Bill Clinton, the only Democrat to be reelected to the White House in the second half of the 20th Century, proposed a detailed plan to provide healthcare for all Americans. Not only was President Clinton’s plan defeated in Congress. It was vilified through a series of propagandist media efforts epitomized by the $20 million, yearlong, “Harry and Louise” television ad campaign. And yes, as you may have already surmised, President Clinton’s healthcare plan was labeled “un-American”; a “socialist agenda” for the national head of a “socialist party.”

President Obama’s election did not do away with the labeling of a federal plan to guarantee universal access to healthcare services as socialist and un-American. And it most certainly did not magically transform this country into a nation that celebrates its racial, ethnic, cultural, and religious diversity; that embraces an egalitarian distribution of power through pluralism.

Nevertheless, the 44th President of the United States of America, did something that the 43 Executives before him were disinterested in doing, or unwilling, or unable to do.

A game changer is a visionary who changes the way that something is done, thought about, or made. A transformative leader changes not only the trajectory of an individual entity, but how an entire system operates. By passing and defending the Affordable Care Act, President Obama proved himself to be a game changer and a transformative leader.

And that, above all else, is the reason why Republicans hate him the most.

But it’s not why the GOP has failed to demonstrate the kind of leadership or seriousness Americans deserve.

Despite its fetishization of the Founding Fathers, and its nostalgia for heroic leaders who stood up for Party principles in the past, the GOP no longer shows any signs of being the Party of the Illinois Rail Splitter, a.k.a. Honest Abe Lincoln. It lacks the desire to address deep divisions along class, race, religion, legal status, generation, gender, and sexual identity that affirm the veracity of the words, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” It shows zero willingness to propose 21st Century solutions for 21st Century challenges. Unlike President Lincoln’s GOP, this Party has abandoned any effort to reconcile a divided Union; lacks a vision for the future.

To paraphrase Scripture, Republicans without “that vision thing” shall only win elections through changing voter ID requirements, restricting voter registration drives, and reducing early voting periods.

Those invested in, and willing to fight for, the heart and soul of the GOP would be wise to heed President Lincoln’s wise words:

“We can succeed only by concert. It is not ‘can any of us imagine better?’ but, ‘can we all do better?’ The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise—with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Florida 2012: Day One

I’ve been in Florida for 24 hours, but I’ve already seen ads galore.

Incumbent Senator, Florida Democrat, Bill Nelson, leads 14th District Congressional District Representative, Connie Mack by seven points among “likely voters” with 10% undecided. But the Senator isn’t taking any chances, and has been airing a spot that both attacks the Congressman’s vote to “end Medicare as we know it,” and ties him to the lascivious side of the Hooters restaurant chain, a history of bar brawls, road rage, debts, liens, unpaid bills, and a sense of entitlement, under the tagline “the rules are different for him.” This in the wake of the Congressman’s ad accusing the Senator of voting for a stimulus bill so wasteful it allocated $144,541 to the study of monkeys on cocaine. The fact that it was rated false by Politfact notwithstanding, this video was as memorable as it is absurd. And in the world of political mudslinging anything that the public and/or the pundits remember, counts as a win.

Discussion of world affairs in the 2012 presidential election has been so minimal it has left many wondering if either, President Obama, or Mitt Romney actually has a foreign policy. Both simply appear to be in possession of a wish list that includes increased trade with China, resolution of the European economic challenge, and the continuous use of the US military to wage a war on terror cells, and intimidate uncooperative nation-states. As previously discussed, this disinterest in the peoples of the globe has a number of ironies and adverse consequences. Nevertheless, the Bill Nelson v. Connie Mack contest has provided a rare opportunity to discuss the US’s role in Venezuela, the oil producing Latin American nation that helped found OPEC.

In October 2010, Hugo Chávez, United Socialist Party member, president of Venezuela since 1999, and star of Oliver Stone’s performative mode documentary film, nationalized a fertilizer plant owned in part by a company controlled by prominent conservative donors David and Charles Koch. Concurrently, a mysterious group, launched an anonymous effort to enjoin neocons and conspiracy theorists in a crusade against the “Venezuelan problem in the Americas.” The Committee to Free Venezuela Foundation is a 501c4 nonprofit organization, founded in Delaware, with a domain name registered in Portugal, launched by an undisclosed donor who forked over $150,000 to get the group up and running. Its one tangible deliverable is a half an hour’s worth of propagandist video entitled, “Stop Hugo Chávez,” based largely around a speech that Connie Mack delivered to the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2011. Unfortunately, the Congressman has blurred the line of what is allowed in his role Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere Affairs of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

As reported in Politico, Internal Revenue Service filings show a close interplay between his staffers and this nonprofit “dedicated to educating the American public and policymakers about the dangers posed by Venezuela’s Socialist Dictator Hugo Chávez.” The group’s Executive Director, Jeff Cohen, was the Congressman’s Chief of Staff until June 2009, and actually returned to the House staff position of Top Aide until one month before the Congressman jumped into the Florida Senate race. Since February, Jeff Cohen has been listed as a “part-time employee” in the Congressman’s House office payroll, despite the fact that he is currently serving as the Campaign Manager of Connie Mack for Senate. Tax exempt nonprofit dollars, salaries for employees serving the public through the taxpayer bankrolled offices of elected officials, and partisan political campaign monies are not supposed to mix, much less in the singular pocketbook of one individual.

Prior to these revelations, the Congressman capitalized on attacks of Senator Nelson and President Obama’s foreign policy priorities for Latin America—whom he labeled soft on Chávez, as well as negligent of the challenges posed by the “pink tide,” writ large—and thus, successfully garnered support from a number of Latino leaders, voters, and community members, concerned with the abuses of power Venezuela’s President engaged in when curtailing the freedom of the press, and President Obama’s silence with regard to this pivotal matter.

Since these revelations, however, talk of world affairs has evaporated, leaving a void that will prompt a barrage of questions and comments from those who concern themselves with the role the US plays in a world that seeks to accelerate the pace and breadth of access for multinational corporations migrating the globe in pursuit of natural resources, manufactured goods, sources of capital, speculative and commodities markets, while impeding investment in human resources through the imposition of policies of austerity and severe foreign debt repayment schedules. Perhaps it is the very obvious irony that the labels on goods bought and sold in the US match the names of the countries from which we have historically or currently seek to restrict the number of immigrants that allows all discussions of foreign policy to come full circle.

Despite incontrovertible, nationwide shortages of scientists, technologists, engineers, mathematicians, and so many other highly trained and skilled professionals, we even place obstacles on qualified students who wish to attend college because of the status they or their parents enjoy.

After “undocumented and unafraid” youth organized with a passion and purposefulness reminiscent of those brave Americans who fought segregation and Jim Crow, President Obama moves to grant deferred action to DREAM Act eligible students, and then Arizona Governor Brewer signed an executive order denying any and all state funded benefits to the very same young Americans. Five US-born, American citizens whose parents happen to be undocumented Florida residents were forced to sue the State of Florida because they have been denied in-state tuition. Based on Constitutionally guaranteed rights, and well established legal precedent, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals was compelled to strike down and reject the article in Alabama HB 56 (a state level immigration law) that orders public schools to check the immigration status of their students. Yet, Mitt Romney campaign advisor and surrogate Kris Kobach, submitted amendments to the Party Platform to be adopted in anticipation of the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, based on language from the Romney campaign website, to complete the border fence, deny in-state tuition for “illegal aliens,” and end sanctuary cities, making it crystal clear that the GOP nominee would have lost the Primary if he had not been the most insistent on stripping away any and all “incentives” for “illegals” and their kids to remain in the US.

As I said, I’ve been in Florida for 24 hours, and I’ve already talked about all of this and more. Politic365 has invited me to speak with folks before, during, and after the RNC. I’ll be in Tampa, as well as Orlando, Miami, Gainsville, and Jacksonville, in an attempt to dive deeper in dialogue regarding the issues informing whether people show up or stay home on November 6, 2012. Even if you’re not a Floridian, if you believe it’s time to stop consuming political discourse passively, and start engaging passionately in a truly open and accessible public forum, disinterested in partisan rhetoric, but ravenous for real talk, please join me. Your savoir-faire, presages, and proposed solutions are welcome.

Please #voiceyourvote:



Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Olympic athletes, US Immigrants, & World affairs

We face a global energy crisis, a global economic crisis that began in 2007, a global climate crisis of which humans are almost entirely the cause, a transnational organized crime network financed in large part by the global drug trade, and a fight against terror cells hostile to Western nation-states that has gone global, and is being waged through the use of drones whose justifiability is debated, and whose use in targeted killings leaves unanswered questions.

Keith Porter writes, “US foreign policy affects almost every aspect of our daily lives. Prices, jobs, the supply of gasoline, taxes, and the life and death of our nation’s soldiers are impacted by how we interact with the rest of the world. And if we get past those self-centered reasons for caring about US foreign policy, we can start to think about how others are affected by America’s actions. At our best, the United States can bring hope and light to the neediest people in the world… At our worst, we bring pain, breed fear and unleash the fury of those who conclude we are part of the same tyranny against which they have always fought… Americans have mostly built lives where we don't have to be bothered by events outside our own little worlds. But being a good citizen, holding leaders accountable, and voting for the right people requires a little bit of attention.”

Alkman Granitsas writes, “Foreigners have long bemoaned the ‘isolationist’ attitude of Americans – safely protected by two oceans and their tabula rasa history. But over the last several decades, that isolation has deepened. Americans now pay less attention to international affairs, and read less foreign news than at any time in the last two generations… According to Gallup polls from presidential election years 1948 through 1972, Americans used to rank foreign affairs as the most important issue facing the nation. Since then, however, with the single exception of the 2004 elections, the economy has been ranked first. Over the same period, the percentage of American university students studying a foreign language has steadily declined. According to a report funded by the US Department of Education, in 1965, more than 16 percent of all American university students studied a foreign language. Now only 8.6 percent do. American media coverage of foreign affairs has also been diminishing… In 1987, overseas news accounted for about 27 percent of front-page stories in American newspapers – about the same as a decade earlier. By 2003, foreign news accounted for just 21 percent of front-page stories, while coverage of domestic affairs more than doubled over the same period. On television, both the number of American network news bureaus overseas and the amount of airtime spent on foreign news fell by half in the 1990s… Long before 9/11… Americans were already growing less interested in the rest of the world… The implications, however, are disturbing. Because of America’s pre-eminent position in world affairs and its role in ‘globalization,’ its foreign policy matters more than any other country on earth. But can America shape a responsible foreign policy with such an uninformed electorate? The world may be turning into a ‘global village,’ but the average American has moved to the suburbs.”

This disinterest in world affairs juxtaposes paradoxically with our eagerness for stories, involving athletes from around the world, as enthusiastic viewers of the Olympic games:

Mike Wise wrote movingly, on multiple occasions, about Tahmina Kohistani, the only woman to represent Afghanistan.

Natalia Jimenez, described Japanese women’s soccer player, Aya Miyama’s, patient, empathetic effort to comfort French opponent, Camille Abily, after Japan defeated France 2-1 in the semifinal match, in crisp, direct prose.

Tom Hammond painted a laudatory and compelling picture of a primetime NBC viewing audience about Grenada’s Kirani James, whose praise, embrace, and exchange of bib numbers with South Africa’s double amputee sprinter, Oscar Pistorious, following the 400-meter semifinal heat was described as, “the ultimate show of camaraderie and respect,” by Dave Zirin, and “a display of the best aspect of the competitive spirit” by Mary Elizabeth Williams.

When US wrestler, Jordan Burroughs, and his Iranian opponent, Sadegh Goudarzi, put their arms around one another while standing side-by-side on the medal stand, Cavan Sieczkowski, not only bannered it as a moment offering hope, but hailed it as, “the single image to encompass the spirit of the Olympics… a place for nations to come together.”

And when China’s Liu Xiang, the gold medalist in the 110-meter hurdles in 2004, collapsed after the first hurdle because of the Achilles heel injury that kept him from competing in 2008, removed himself from the track in excruciating pain, only to return so he could cross the finish line by hopping the entirety of the course on one leg, Hungary’s Balazs Baji was there to lift his arm in a gesture of triumph. Great Britain’s Andy Turner and Spain’s Jackson Quinonez were there as well, to support his weight, and escort him off the track with the accolades and dignity he deserved. Through still and moving images, Jack Moore told this story, poignantly characterizing it, “tragedy turned triumph, and… one of the most inspiring moments of the 2012 Olympics.”

Yet our eagerness for stories, involving athletes from around the world, as enthusiastic viewers of the Olympic games, juxtaposes paradoxically with our intolerance for our own immigrants’ stories, even if those immigrants are athletes who win medals for the US.

Leonel “Leo” Manzano won a silver medal in the men’s 1,500-meter final, running the fastest time ever by a US Olympic athlete. Now 27-years-old, he entered the US at the age of 4, as an undocumented immigrant. His father, Jesús Manzano, gained legal residency under the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, but it would take 10 years for the rest of the family to attain this status. Leo Manzano was the first member of his family to graduate from high school, much less go to college. Thanks to his innate talent and hard work, he earned a track scholarship to the University of Texas, and blew the competition away. A five-time NCAA champion and 11-time NCAA All-American, he went on to become the first American athlete to win a medal—of any kind—in the 1500 meters in 44 years. And when he won, he celebrated by carrying the flag of the soil that made him a citizen in 2004, as well as the flag of the one from the soil that first nourished his family tree.

Ruben Navarrette Jr. wrote, “The misguided and ill-mannered way [Leo Manzano] chose to celebrate his silver medal… As the world looked on, he held up both the U.S. flag and the Mexican flag. Not a good look. And not a good idea… The image didn't warm my heart. It upset my stomach… You don't get to have your cake and eat it, too. Sooner or later, you have to choose which country you’re going to represent… This country took you in during your hour of need. Now in your moment of glory, which country deserves your respect—the one that offered nothing to your parents and forced them to leave or the one that took you all in and gave you the opportunity to live out your dreams?”

27,919 people recommended this contribution to CNN’s opinion page.

The most popular of the 10,995 comments written beneath it reads, “What this guy did is wrong… He should apologize or leave USA.”

I don’t need to say anything about the egregiousness of Ruben Navarrette’s arguments, the hate populating the comments section beneath his column, or any similarly slanted screeds or pieces of anti-pluralist propaganda, because REBELDES, Esther Cepeda, Maria Burns Ortiz, and many others have already articulated comprehensive, insightful, and passionate responses.

The only thing I must insist, is that hostility toward immigrants in the US and American disinterest in world affairs, need not be.

If we are eager to learn the stories of world’s athletes, we can be eager to learn the stories of the world’s peoples, including those who have migrated (regardless of documentation). If we can demonstrate enthusiasm for symbolic displays by groups of nations with unique cultures and histories, who welcome coexistence in the same space, at the same time, we can demonstrate enthusiasm for symbolic displays by individuals who welcome belonging to more than one culture and history, in the same space, at the same time.

As Cokie Roberts and Steven Roberts wrote last week, “More than 40 foreign-born athletes are representing the United States in the London Olympics… And that total does not include the children of immigrants… Their stories reinforce an enduring truth: Our lifeblood is constantly enriched by the infusion of new immigrants. We are a far better country because people come here from all over the world to improve their lives and follow their dreams… As a country, we’ve always been ambivalent about immigrants. We tear up at the Statue of Liberty and fondly remember our own origins, and then resent the latest wave of newcomers as a threat to American culture and character… Today, our nativist impulse focuses on Latinos and Muslims. Consider Sheriff Joe Arpaio, conducting his own version of the Mexican-American War in Arizona, or five Republican congressmen, insanely accusing an aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of fronting for the Muslim Brotherhood. Those haters were always wrong. And our Olympic team vividly demonstrates how wrong they are today.

In the summer of 2000, Lopez Lomong was 15, a victim of Sudan’s civil war living in a refugee camp in Kenya. He had never watched television before and had no idea what the Olympics were. But when he saw American sprinter Michael Johnson line up for the 400-meter run, he had this reaction: ‘All I knew was the camera focused primarily on one man, a man with skin the color of mine. Across his chest were three letters: USA. He was about to change my life’… Athletes like Lomong make an impact far beyond their home countries, however. They reveal the huge benefits of globalization, the constant movement of people and capital, ideas and information, across national boundaries… Foluke Akinradewo was born in Canada of Nigerian parents. Raised in Florida, she holds citizenship in three countries… Khatuna Lorig is the first athlete to compete in the Olympics under three different flags: the Soviet Union in 1992, her native Georgia in 1996 and 2000, and the United States in 2008 and 2012… Bernard Lagat… a native of Kapsabet, Kenya, who attended college in Pullman, Wash., under a Chinese coach... lives in Tucson, Ariz., and spends summers training in Tubingen, Germany. His uniform says USA, and we’re lucky to have him. But it could also say WORLD.”

Stephen M. Walt recently used Benedict Anderson’s concept of “imagined community” to explain why we cheer for US athletes even though most of us do not know them personally, and might not like then if we did. We imagine ourselves as part of a common family. When one member succeeds, we all rejoice. When one suffers, we all weep.

This sentiment extends beyond the elation we feel for the team-gold-medal-winning women who represented the US in gymnastics whose roots are Jewish, Catholic, Irish, Lebanese, Puerto Rican, Japanese, Filipino, and African American. And what their success might mean for those who seek to expand access to youth club and travel teams, largely beyond the reach of all but affluent families.

This sentiment of brotherhood and sisterhood is why on September 11, 2001, and the days that followed, people from around the world mourned, prayed, shed tears, lit candles, observed moments of silence, rang bells, wrote letters, donated blood, and flew American flags. Human beings from more than 90 countries perished on that day, yet headlines, columns, and speeches around the world echoed the words of French newspaper, Le Monde: “We are all Americans!

The American family is an extended one. Our household is strengthened by those whose faiths, cultural traditions, bloodlines, and life experiences, tie them to every corner of the globe. We benefit from migrants, as well as investment in the places they migrate from.

The US alone cannot solve the world’s problems. Yet the world’s problems are our own. We can solve them if we work in tandem with a preponderance of peoples throughout the globe, if we demonstrate sincere and sustained concern for the wellbeing of those who reside in other nations, those who have been recently displaced, and those who remain perpetually stateless. This requires more than rhetoric on democracy and human rights. This requires policies in which short-term self-interest is balanced by urgent global need.

Monday, August 06, 2012


According to the Nation’s, Dave Zirin, “There are two kinds of political athletes. The first, and most memorable, are athletes who engage in the explicit politics of protest. This tradition is marked by Muhammad Ali… But then there is a different kind of athletic politics: the politics of representation. That’s Jackie Robinson… Whether or not these athletes embraced the burden, they carried the aspirations and expectations of countless others. We can now add Gabby Douglas to their ranks. The 16-year-old from Virginia Beach is now the first African-American woman as well as the first person of color to win gold in the gymnastics individual all-around competition. She is also the first US gymnast in history to win both individual and team gold at the same Olympics.”

Contrast this enthusiastic sentiment with television personality, Bob Costas’s purposely underwhelming, incredibly telling, scripted statement, uttered immediately following NBC’s delayed broadcast of the women’s Olympic all-around gymnastics final:

“You know, it’s a happy measure of how far we've come that it doesn’t seem all that remarkable, but still it's noteworthy, Gabby Douglas is, as it happens, the first African-American to win the women's all-around in gymnastics. The barriers have long since been down, but sometimes there can be an imaginary barrier, based on how one might see oneself.”

Political writer, Ana Marie Cox tweeted, “Bob Costas just re-affirmed that the success of a black person means we're not racist anymoreOne person over the wall does not a fallen barrier make.”

Jezebel founder, Anna Holmes wrote, “In a political and cultural environment in which the patriotism—the very Americanness—of people of color (including the current President of the United States) is often called into question, Costas’ scripted deep thought… was at worst dishonest, at best naïve… Who, excepting the most Pollyanna-ish or cloistered of cultural observers—the type who assert the legitimacy of phrases like ‘post-racial’—would believe that Gabby Douglas’ challenges were primarily psychic… [in] the undeniable whiteness of being that is high-level American gymnastics?... Douglas’ triumph seems extremely remarkable, both because of the commonality of her situation—the big dreams, the economic hardships, the one-parent household—and its unusualness: a minority in a historically ‘white’ sport… A 2007 diversity study commissioned by USA Gymnastics, the national governing body for the sport in the U.S., said that just 6.61 percent of the participants in American gymnastics programs were black... Members of USA Gymnastics… responded to (and within) the survey in a variety of ways, many of them unsympathetic: ‘This is just another example of political correctness gone CRAZY!’ Said another: ‘As a middle class, white Christian male, is the NBA doing any ‘reach out’ programs to me and my family?’… Doesn’t sound to me like so many barriers have been felled after all.”

Privilege is the mechanism that allows someone to look upon another individual or group and reach the presumptive conclusion that the reason said individual or group is not enjoying a better existence is because that individual or group is doing something wrong.

Bob Costas’ backhanded compliment of Gabby Douglas’ ability to overcome “imaginary barriers,” is undeniably a statement uttered by a rich white man, blinded by his privilege.

But such statements are not unique.

During his recent trip abroad, Mitt Romney said, “In Israel… [and] the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority… you notice a dramatic, stark difference in economic vitality. And that is also between other countries that are near or next to each other. Chile and Ecuador, Mexico and the United States… Culture makes all the difference… And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things.”

In Forbes magazine, Gene Marks wrote, “I am not a poor black kid. I am a middle aged white guy who comes from a middle class white background… [But] if I was a poor black kid I would first and most importantly work to make sure I got the best grades possible… I wouldn’t care if I was a student at the worst public middle school in the worst inner city… I know a few school teachers and they tell me that many inner city parents usually have or can afford cheap computers and internet service nowadays… If I was a poor black kid I’d use the free technology available to help me study… It takes a special kind of kid to succeed… But it’s not impossible. The tools are there. The technology is there. And the opportunities there… If I was a poor black kid I would get technical. I would learn software. I would learn how to write code. I would seek out courses in my high school that teaches these skills or figure out where to learn more online… Because a poor black kid who gets good grades, has a part time job and becomes proficient with a technical skill will go to college. There is financial aid available. There are programs available. And no matter what he or she majors in that person will have opportunities. They will find jobs… They will succeed… The division between rich and poor is a national problem. But the biggest challenge we face isn’t inequality. It’s ignorance… Many of these kids don’t have the brains to figure this out themselves… Technology can help these kids. But only if the kids want to be helped.”

Scholar Peggy McIntosh, adeptly describes white racial privilege through the use of a checklist. Following in her footsteps, Professor Will Barratt, adeptly describes the privileges of belonging to the socioeconomic upper class, as well as those associated with middle-class membership. Cartoonist Barry Deutsch, adeptly describes male gender privilege. An unknown author at Earlham College, adeptly describes sexual identity privilege. Professor Lisa Hanger, adeptly describes gender identity privilege. Blogger Nikaia Jadelyn, adeptly describes Christian privilege in the United States. And educator JuanCarlos Arauz, adeptly describes the privilege of documentation conferring status as a citizen or legal resident.

If I were to go through all of these checklists in order to dissect the privileges dripping from Bob Costas, Mitt Romney, and Gene Marks’ words, it would add an indeterminate number of words to this essay. But I can assure you only persons of privilege are capable of concluding, as these men have, that external circumstances don’t matter, and only internally applied ones prevent achievement, abundance, socioeconomic advancement.

Gabby Douglas is a black woman. She must navigate isms and archys. Her team gold medal does not change this fact. Her individual gold medal does not change this fact.

Although she led the field throughout the all-around gymnastics final, her lack of errors did not prevent countless criticisms about her hair. From Madam C.J. Walker’s formula to give the appearance of straightness introduced over 100 years ago, to the campaign to market “Just For Me” relaxer to pre-teens in the 1990s, African American women and girls have yet to experience a generation of independence form the hot comb without socioeconomic backlash; status and pocketbook consequences. Dodai Stewart noted, “Hair—black hair, especially—remains a hot-button issue. Hair is political, laden with subtext and meaning… But since Gabby Douglas’ hair did not stand in the way of a gold medal, it should be a non-issue.” Despite the fact that she wears it away from her face in a slicked-back ponytail like 99.9% of all other female gymnasts, her hair became an issue.

If she were white, her performance would have been the sole focus of conversation.

If she were white, NBC wouldn’t task, Liz Fischer, with managing public relations, after the network’s decision to air an ad featuring a monkey in a gymnastics uniform alongside their broadcast of her historic individual gold medal victory—a decision for which no apology to those offended has been issued, only a statement acknowledging poor timing.

There’s a photo making the rounds on Facebook of Gabby Douglas, hugging her coach Liang Chow. In customary image macro—a.k.a. Internet meme—fashion, the photo serves as a backdrop for a piece of social commentary.

The message is one word: “America.”

Although I do not know if the author’s intent is to focus only on the United States of America as a nation, or to speak widely about the American hemisphere, comprised of the North and South American continents, I am unabashedly fond of this image.

In the mid 19th Century, Chinese laborers were fast-tracked into jobs associated with transcontinental railroad construction, as well as the mining labor, supplies and service sector boom that accompanied the California Gold Rush. The United States, divided into “slave states” and “free states,” had just fought a war with Mexico. Went on to fight a civil war to end this “compromise” that allowed the existence of laws that defined some human beings as owners and others as property. Mexico outlawed slavery in 1829 (hence why wealthy whites devoted their resources to the establishment of a Republic of Texas). Canada as part of the British Empire abolished slevery in 1833. It wasn’t until 1862 that Abraham Lincoln overturned a federal ban on African American enlistment in the military, and told slaves they were “free” to be soldiers or military laborers.

African Americans fought to do away with the institutionalized dehumanization that would not allow a black man, woman, or child to count as more than 3/5 of a person, and to prove, as African Americans had in every war, including the Revolutionary War that the defense of the Declaration of Independence, (and later the Constitution bookended by a Preamble promoting the general welfare, and a Bill of Rights whose freedoms are uninfringeable) were worth bloodshed and possible death—despite the fact that white Americans resisted every effort toward establishing the legal equality of Americans of color for generations to come.

After the Civil War, Chinese Americans and Chinese immigrants were maligned and marginalized by the Chinese Exclusion Act, discriminatory, disadvantaging legislation that was not repealed until 1943, when China became a US ally in the war against Japan. After the Civil War, African Americans and black immigrants were maligned and marginalized by Jim Crow Laws, discriminatory, disadvantaging legislation that was not repealed until the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965.

When I look at the photo of Gabby Douglas hugging Liang Chow, I think of this history.

Their parents belong to the very first generation of human beings on this earth to live after Jim Crow and Chinese Exclusion, respectively. Yet her victory as an American athlete, and his victory as an American coach occur in a United States that not only remains haunted by its hateful, racist past. But lacks the self-awareness to acknowledge and confront the discriminatory, disadvantaging laws and practices that define its present.