Friday, June 20, 2008




(Since this writing Dr. West has become a Sen. Obama advisor)

At this writing, it has been less than three hours since Senator Barack Obama has declared his candidacy for President of the United States of America, and already the feeding frenzy has begun. Just once I'd like to see Black people come together without reverting to the old "crabs in a barrel" syndrome. Just once I'd like see Black people come together and say, yes, he is Black, and Black is good. But we just can't seem to bring ourselves to do that–and the sad part about it is that we've never stopped to examine the reason why.

The fact is, as African Americans we are the product of a racist society–and not just any racist society, but a society that is more efficient in producing subtle racists than any other society that has ever existed on the face of this Earth. Due to the necessity of America's need to subjugate Black people, while at the same time, live up to the hypocrisy of our "All men are created equal" credo, a form of racism has spontaneously evolved that is so subtle that even Black people have become racist against themselves–and amazingly, without even knowing it. As a direct result, Black people in America hate other Black people just as profoundly, and even more violently, than the most virulent White racist in the South. Clear evidence of that is the fact that of the thousands of homicides committed against Blacks every year, not one perpetrator was reported to have been wearing a sheet.

While I've been aware of this fact for sometime now, I've been suffering under the illusion that it was also recognized by our most learned thinkers. So I was shocked beyond belief to hear the comments made by the eminent Black, Harvard professor, Dr. Cornel West at The State of Black America Conference held literally two hours after Senator Barack Obama declared his candidacy for president. During this Black History Month, and at a time when Black people across this country should have been wiping away tears at the very irony of the first viable Black presidential hopeful declaring his intention to run, while standing in the very shadow of the state house for which Lincoln served in the legislature, Dr. Cornel West ranted on national television that the Black community's questions for Senator Obama should be, "How deep is your love for your people" and Where is your money coming from?" In spite of Dr. West's reputation as an eminent Black scholar, in all of my years of observing the political environment, I have never heard a more silly, self-serving, and ill-advised assault on the collective interest of Black people as a whole.

In respectful deference to the sensitivities of a growing number of Black people over the use of the n-word, I've been trying desperately not to use it. But as I watched that gross act of stupidity being broadcasted across America, it only reinforced my fervent belief that words are simply tools, and from time to time there comes a need for every tool in the box–and that was surely one such time. I previously considered Dr.West one of the premier intellectuals in the world today–young, Black, accomplished, and brilliant. But after hearing that brother make such an inane, ill-considered, and yes, racist comment at the very worst possible moment in the history of this country, it makes me wonder if all of the hype over his supposed intellectual prowess, just that–hype. One would think that any Black man of even average intelligence, would know by instinct, not to denigrate such an important moment in Black history.

Now, I'm certain that a brother as well read, and has as many obscure facts at his command as Professor West, would probably mop the floor in political debate with an average brother like myself–after all, knowledge is indeed power. Yet, he's demonstrated once again, that wit without wisdom is a waste. His words brought to mind words stated by another group of Black people--a group who were far less educated, but obviously endowed with far more wisdom. Those were the words of our Black elders that went something like this–"Beware of educated fools." His words also reminded me of words that my grandfather said to me when I first enrolled into college. He told me, "Education is a very good thing–as long as you don't let them educate away your good, common sense." I didn't understand the wisdom of those words back then, but all of a sudden, they've taken on a new, and much more profound meaning.

Doesn't Dr. West–OF HARVARD UNIVERSITY–with all of his political sophistication recognize that before you can do anything for anyone, YOU MUST BE ELECTED FIRST. And what does he think would be Senator Obama's chances of being elected if he comes right out of the box talking about what he's going to do for Black people. Dr. West has obviously confused the senator with Rev. Al Sharpton, and his instincts would send the senator's candidacy in the same direction. One of the reasons that Senator Obama is so popular across all racial, political, social, generational, and economic strata of the American people is because he has positioned oftlinehimself as a candidate who wants to promote the welfare of ALL the people. So the very worst thing that he can possibly do is to go around from venue to venue asking, "Am I Black enough for you?" Surely the good doctor has the political sophistication to understand that.

Further, I didn't hear Dr. West asking any of the other politicians–and quite a few have declared–where their money was coming from. It takes multi-millions of dollars to run for president of the United States, so in order for Obama to run a successful campaign he's going to have to raise money from a multitude of sources, as will all the other candidates. Many of those sources from which all of the candidates receive money are going to raise questions, simply because all of the people and corporations in a position to give away that kind of money, all have a vested interest. But that's not Senator Obama's fault, that's the way the game is played. So if Dr. West doesn't like the way the game is played, he should question the system, not the senator. I don't know what their values are up there at Harvard University (they won't even let me through the gate), but down here at South West Los Angeles City College, we have the wisdom to recognize that you don't hate the player, you hate the game. But of course, the very best alternative would be for Dr. West to give the senator the money to run out of his own pocket–but then, if he's willing to dog the most viable Black candidate for president in the history of this country for a simple sound bite, he'd probably want something out of it too.pard fs32

So the writing is on the wall, and there's one thing for sure–if Senator Obama manages to get past his own people, he can't help but become the greatest president that this country has ever known. But I guess it all comes with the territory. What pains me, however, is that White people are beginning to see our value, before we can see our own. Many White people are managing to move forward, while we still have mud in our eyes. Wouldn't it be ironic if Black people turn out to be the last Black haters in America? I can just see it now–we'd have to stage a march on Harlem.

But the only thing that gives me hope in that regard, is to see how the seed that Dr. King, Ralph Abernathy, Thurgood Marshall, and the other insightful thinkers of the last generation has taken root. They had the insight to plant a seed that has begun to flourish–in spit of our current leaders. It's not those so-called Black leaders that we always see running their mouths on television that's changing America's perception towards Black people–on the contrary, if anything, they've delayed the process. What's changing America's perception towards blacks are people just like you, the reader–the everyday, hard working Black person. America has been watching the competence, integrity, creativity, and in many cases, brilliance, that you have been quietly bringing to your jobs on a daily basis. You don't hear them, and you're so busy that you're probably not even paying attention, but when they're alone they're saying, "Did you see how easily she handled that?" And at other times they find themselves saying out loud, "Don't worry about it–William will be back tomorrow, and he'll know how to handle it." Those are the perceptions that's changing America–one person at a time.

What these so-called Black leaders fail to understand is that you can change the laws over night, but perceptions don't change nearly as rapidly. They can give speeches with their little witty turn of phrases until their tongues fall out, but perceptions that have been taken for granted and inbred over hundreds of years do not change that easily. It took the competence, and very often excellence, that millions of everyday Black people brought to the table and demonstrated over the years that has given America the confidence that Barack Obama, this young Black man, is capable of leading this nation. You've done this–one workplace, one incident, one person at a time. So, it is you–the James Barnetts, the Eugene Jeffries, the Sheron Knights, and Joann Snows--that have placed Barack Obama in the position he is in today, and you shouldn't tolerate anyone, Black or White, who seeks to derail what you have accomplished.

Frankly, I had every intention of supporting Hillary Clinton in the coming election. I like both Bill and Hillary, but not as much as I like you. For that reason, I now feel obliged to support this young, Black man. Not only because he oozes an air of competence, honesty, and high moral character, but because every vote that America casts for him, is nothing less than a vote of America's confidence in you. For as Senator Barack Obama stood to declare his candidacy for the president of the United States of America, in the shadow of a state house that once smiled upon Lincoln, he stood drenched in the pride of this nation's forefathers, as the walking, breathing personification of Martin's dream, the dreams of a million slaves, and the fulfillment of this nation's promise, to Americans yet unborn.

Eric L. Wattree, Sr.

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