Obama, Racism and Charitable Giving

I have gotten one public comment and several private ones to my last post concerning politics.  Thank you for responding and for pushing me to reflect even more.  Seriously. I’m not just saying that.  The following are a few of my responses.  Again, I do not claim to have all the answers on politics or Obama or the very complex issues of racism or charity.  Just offering my perspective and hoping to keep a conversation going on these issues.  They are significant.

Racism

I have only taken two undergrad classes in sociology (which makes me barely even qualified to comment here), but I do feel the need to clarify some terms.  I was taught that racism is prejudice PLUS the use of power by one group over another.  Prejudices are attitudes, judgments, characterizations of groups of people.  White Americans exercised racism over African Americans, and in some ways this racism continues today.  African Americans have not exercised racism against white Americans. They may harbor prejudices against white Americans, but it is impossible for them to be racist. They do not hold power over us.

In the case of Rev. Wright, I agree that he has a prejudice problem.  He is angry and his anger is frightening.  I am, however, satisfied with Obama’s response to the issue of racism in America and the need for racial reconciliation and cooperation (you can watch or read his speech entitled “A More Perfect Union” at www.barakobama.com).  He is correct that sound bites are not a fair characterization of anyone’s remarks.  He is very clear about where he agrees with his pastor and where he does not.  I choose to judge Obama (and anyone else) by his own words and actions, not someone else’s.

Obama took a major mis-step when he used the phrase “typical white grandmother” during a radio broadcast in Philadelphia.  I do not think it would have been wrong for him to talk about his grandmother’s attitudes or actions in the specific, but when he added the term “typical” to the phrase… that is problematic and raises some caution in my mind about the way he sees white Americans and relates to them. As I continue to research his actions and writings, I will continue to keep my eyes open. But I will not judge him by this one sound-bite. I would not judge McCain in this way, nor Clinton.

Charitable Giving

Someone posted a “joke” on the ABC News website under one of the headline stories. It went something like this: A Dem and a Rep were walking down the street. They passed by a homeless man.  The Republican stopped, handed the man a dollar and a job application.  The Democrat was so impressed that he thought he should do something, too, so he picked a $20 out of the Repulican’s pocket and handed it to the man and walked away.

Funny… and perhaps a fair jab at the “tax-and-spend” reputation of Democrats.  I will push back at the Republicans a little here, however.  How much good is a job application going to do someone who can’t read or write?  …or if they do not have an appropriate outfit to attend an intervew?  I could see Jesus taking an entirely different approach: “Take my hand, brother, and let’s figure this out together. I will walk with you to the shelter and the assistance office and will help you navigate all the obstacles that are standing in your way. You are not alone.” Calling for personal responsibility is good and right, but it can be blind to the societal barriers that keep people down.  It lets us off the hook when it comes to caring for our brothers and sisters.

Charity is not only about money. It’s about time and energy.

Yes, the Obama’s giving looks frighteningly inadequate.  I did hear him respond to this issue by saying that their giving went down as they invested in a home, land and paid-off their pile of student loans. That may or may not be an adequate reason for lower giving in your mind.  But let’s not only judge people by when they have written checks and for how much. Let’s judge people by how they spend their LIVES.  Obama spent significant time working for poor families in Chicago, even before he went to law school.  I am not letting him off the hook here. I think he needs to say more about how he has spent his money.  What I am saying is that it is easy for us to write checks and feel that we have done our duty.  It is much harder to orient our lives around service.  Even as we scrutinize politicians, we should be scrutinizing ourselves.  Again, let’s keep researching Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain and Mrs. Clinton.

Obama welcomes scrutiny. His actions have borne that out so far– he has freely released his financial records, has worked for campaign finance reform, has admitted his mistake in taking money from a criminal and has given that money away. He has not taken money from lobbyists. H has acknowledged and answered questions about his church and his pastor.  We still have questions for him, and we should.  They are good and fair questions.  Let’s let him answer them himself– not the media, not the Republicans, not his other critics, not even his fanatical (crazy?) supporters… but HIM.  Any candidate deserves that level of respect.

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