The Racist Walls of Jericho

Last night I saw the America often expressed in its ideals, but too little seen in its landscape. First, there was the results of a campaign season that was itself historic. A black man has been elected to the highest office of the land, an act that goes along way toward moving America beyond the rippling consequences of slavery and racism.

Along with this, the losing candidate, John McCain, gave an absolutely stellar concession speech, a speech full of grace and humility, a speech that called Americans to move beyond the tribal politics of division and toward a spirit of unity and peace. Honestly, if this was the McCain on the campaign trail, I would have been drawn to him, but at least this is the McCain that will continue to serve his country as one of our most outstanding senators.

Finally, I saw America become all the more the land of opportunity when I looked at the hundreds of thousands of Americans gathered in Grant park to celebrate the victory of Barak Obama. As I looked at this crowd, particularly at the faces of African Americans, it was not hard to see how profoundly significant this moment was in our nation’s history. This really struck me when I saw tears streaming down the Reverend Jesse Jackson’s face, a man who marched with Martin Luther King in the Civil Rights Movement. And then, I felt deeply moved as I saw Obama on stage, accepting his place in history, and I recalled the words of Dr. Martin Luther King:

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

Like the tragedy of Moses, it is, of course, sad that MLK did not enter the promised land, but last night, though we did not quite enter that land, it seems pretty clear that the racist walls of Jericho are tumbling down. We are and will likely continue to be an imperfect nation, but we can proudly rejoice that we are closer to embodying our founding ideals that all men are created equal.

7 Responses to “The Racist Walls of Jericho”

  1. K.L.B.  

    You know, it’s curious to me why folks continue to refer to the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. as “Martin Luther King.”

    This is, I belive, where faith and politics intersect.

    The rules by which Christians govern their lives is and should be reflected in their governance. And to a great degree, I believe it is, particularly with regard for laws which espouse justice for the widow, the orphan and the stranger among us. They are part of the so-called “least of these my brethren.” There are more.

    One only need observe the movements which have transformed this nation to see their founders’ Christian convictions and ideals.

    We also are to be “about (our) Father’s business.”

    What is that business?

    “Occupy till I come.”

  2. Kevin Benson  

    While I voted for McCain, I am proud that our country elected Barack Obama to the office of President and did not allow race to be an impediment in this process. While there are still too many who judge based on skin color, the people of this nation have demonstrated that as a whole we have made incredible strides from where we were 4 decades ago.

    Tony, as someone of Puerto Rican descent, does this election have any special significance for you? I would also be curious to hear from any minority readers of this blog what special significance this election has for them.

  3. Anthony Velez  

    Kevin – While I am half Puerto Rican, this part of my heritage is not a felt reality as far as my experience in our culture. To look at me, most people would not pick me out as Hispanic, and a lot of people are rather ignorant as to the ethnic significance of the surname “Velez.” So, my experience growing up was pretty much like that of any white, middle class kid.

    As an interesting point of tension in all this, my dad’s family on his mom’s side were land owners, which would indicate a lineage going back to Spain. As the story goes, when his mom married his dad, she married down, and afterward had to use the servants entrance when she came to visit her parents. And so, though my dad is an ethnic minority, he actually had the blood of colonizers in his veins.

    Regarding my dad’s experience, it was almost a classic immigrant: he was raised in humble means on the island of Puerto Rico, migrated to New York, fought in WWII, returned to the states and went West, married, had kids, and lived a decent middle class life. He did tell me that through all of this he did face some prejudice, but it didn’t seem to affect him too deeply, or at least he did not talk of it much.

    Finally, it was my Mom’s influence that dominated the feel of the household. My mom’s maiden name was Chandler, which is to say that my English heritage has had a more profound influence on my sensibilities and sense of identity. And so, I do see significance in Obama’s presidency in relation to my heritage, but I also, perhaps tragically, feel alienated from it as well.

  4. John Espino  

    is in inappropriate for me to suggest that we didn’t elect a black man into the white house, since he is more than 50% white? could it be true just the same for some of us to choose the white part of Obama and not the black part of him, and furthermore would that statement suggest racism? Hmmmm……..

    And of course Tony, I’m the other half of our Caribbean brotherhood so coined some 20 years ago. In my case most will assume by looking at me that i’m white, which technically I am, but I am also 50% Cubano/Hispanic, which I have chosen on official records since the 3rd grade.

    So…..Barack Obama the White president? I don’t think it’s inappropriate to suggest that since at a 50/50 shot, we as Americans have a choice and well……I guess so does he.

    Hope all is well bro

    John

  5. Anthony Velez  

    John – First, how is Obama more than 50% white? His dad is Kenyan, and his Mom is American of some kind of Anglo descent. Sure, there are a number of ethnic groups in Kenya, but none of them are Anglo in origin as far as I know, and so I don’t understand your assertion that he is more than 50% white.

    Beyond this, for the longest time in the history of the United States any man who was half white would have been marginalized and therefore culturally disqualified from any chance at the presidency, and so in light of this alone Obama’s presidency is significant. Also drawing from history, and here I hope I am doing so in a manner that invokes poetic justice, the one drop rule certainly identifies Obama as a black man. Finally, since we in American culture uphold the notion of self determination, and because Obama in some measure or manner identifies with black culture, he is America’s first black president… Other than Bill Clinton, I mean. :-)

  6. Darcy  

    Ok, John and Tony…
    rather than jump immediately on the boat with John and ay… ummm yeah, obviously Obama is not Black, though he may be black, let me ask instead what exactly determines race? There isn’t really a scientific determination, only what we as a people define. So, Tony, you’re half Puerto Rican and yet… rather white. John, you’re a quarter Cuban and a quarter Hispanic and yet… also self proclaimed to be white. I happen to be a quarter Puerto Rican, a quarter Greek and a quarter German for the grand sum total of 100% white. Obama is one of the few African Americans whom I feel can honestly and in good concience use the term as his father does actually hail from a country in Africa. What John maybe didn’t point out was that he was raised by his Anglo mom, who later re-married an Asian man and lived in southeast Asia and Indonesia before returning to Hawaii where he continued to wonder what it meant to be Black. During (or just after college) he went to Chicago and began volunteering and working in the urban areas to bring about change and to find out what it was to be Black. So… is that when he became Black?
    Before you answer, look at Eartha Kitt. She was half black and raised all Black all her life, and by standards already presented here earlier, there would be no question of her race. So she marries and has a daughter, Kitt Shapiro, who for all practical purposes is black and yet looks white.
    So who then is more Black? Barak Obama? Born with dark pigment in his skin yet raised in a cauc-asian home? or Kitt Shapiro? Born with lighter pigmentation, and yet raised by a famously black woman?
    I think it’s finally time we start redefining race. I’m afraid the United States isn’t ready for it, but I sure am.

  7. Anthony Velez  

    Darcy – Your point is well taken, and in fact I have addressed the issues you touched upon in a composition class I taught a couple of years ago. One of the essays we read regarding the matter of race was titled “Black Like I Thought I Was” in which the author tells the story of a well known black leader who takes a genetic test and finds that he is in fact Indo-European, Native American, and Asian, but not one drop of black blood courses through his veins. The essay then goes on to discuss how the author processed the results of this test in light of being raised in black culture identifying with the plight of the black struggle in American history. The whole essay raises the issue of the constructed nature of race as well as the complex factors that play into ethnic identity.

    Having said all this, I would still say that on the level of social semiotic, Barak Obama is a black man. The mere color of his skin functions symbolically in our culture such that regardless of his white mom and middle to upper middle class upbringing, any Anglo who is prejudiced would not embrace him as one of his or her own, and in fact would consider him a transgressive figure as he would be the product of miscegenation. So, the fact that he is now our president says a lot about how far we have collectively come regarding the nature of race and race relations in our country.