Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Statue of Liberty Wears Shackles

BENEATH THE SPIN • ERIC L. WATTREE

The Statue of Liberty Wears Shackles

For over a hundred and twenty years the Statue of Liberty has greeted immigrants to these shores with open arms and the promise of the kind of freedom that they had never known. As a result, that towering, stately, and majestic lady has come to represent the quintessential symbol of freedom, liberty, and justice for people all over the world. Just the sight of her brought hope and inspiration to millions of European immigrants as they entered New York Harbor, and that initial vision sustained them as they started their new lives in America.

The scene must have seemed surreal as their boats slowly moved past her in the harbor. Oceans of tears must have flowed as the immigrants stared in awe at this magnificent lady. In her right hand she held the burning flame of passion and enlightenment--outstretched and high, as though reaching for the very face of God. In her left arm she held the tablet that represents the rule of law, and the guarantee of equal justice for all, and on her right foot, the broken shackle of a freed slave. That's right–millions of European immigrants were welcomed to America by the statue of a freed slave.

On the pedestal upon which she stood, were the words that had inspired their journey. It says... "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse to your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

As a child in school I was taught that the idea of the Statue of Liberty was conceived by a Frenchman, Edouard Laboulaye, as a monument to the collaboration and friendship of the United States and France during the Revolutionary war, and that it was sculpted by sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi. But at the urging of one of our readers I revisited the issue, and did a little research. As a result, I found that Laboulaye did indeed conceive of the Statue of Liberty, but not as a monument to the Revolutionary War. The Statue of Liberty was conceived as a monument to the end of slavery, and to honor those men, women and children who had been enslaved.

Laboulaye conceived of the Statue of Liberty in 1865. That was a hundred years after the Revolutionary War, but it just happened to be the very year that the Civil War came to an end. And it also turns out that Laboulaye wasn't just any Frenchman--he was not only an abolitionist who had dedicated his entire life to the abolishment of slavery, he was a leader of the French abolitionist movement. In addition, the sculptor who actually created the Statue of Liberty, Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, was connected with the abolitionist movement as well.

In an Associated Press interview, Richard Newman, a research officer at Harvard University's W.E.B. DuBois Institute for Afro-American Research is quoted as saying, "It is widely believed in academic circles that Laboulaye meant for the statue to honor the slaves, as well as mark the recent Union victory in the Civil War and the life of Abraham Lincoln."

The Statue of Liberty wasn't actually completed until 1886, but there's a 21 inch replica of the statue that was completed in 1870 on display at the Museum of the City of New York. That replica, or, original, is not white, it's terra cotta (brownish-orange), and it is said to have been designed in the likeness of a Black woman. In addition, the replica has a broken shackle around her left hand. The 151 foot statue in New York Harbor has a more . . . Discrete shackle around her foot.

The words at the base of the Statue of Liberty from the poem, "The New Colossus", by Emma Lazarus wasn't added to the statue until 1903, during a time when there was a huge surge in European immigration, and that's when the fiction began. During an interview with the Associated Press, Rebecca M. Joseph, a Boston-based Park service anthropologist is quoted as saying, "There is wide agreement that Liberty's now-familiar association with immigration was not planned by the statue's creators."

Nevertheless the thoroughly ironic scene of European immigrants weeping as they passed the Lady's flame must have played out thousands of times. It's the stuff that movies are made of–and just like most movies, the irony of a magnificent subplot churned discretely beneath the surface. One of the ironies is that now, many the grandchildren of some of those very same immigrants--those indigent immigrants that Lady Liberty welcomed into this country with open arms--have used voting fraud, unfair labor practices, redlining, blatant discrimination, and every other device, in an attempt to undermine the very people that we now know the Lady was originally created to embrace.

So irony is the operative word in this piece, and exquisite in its irony is the deplorable state of ingratitude of many of the people that this magnificent symbol of Black liberation welcomed to the country. It is all but a complete indictment on human nature that some of the very same people that Lady Liberty served as a symbol of hope, and who she welcomed to this country as literal vagrants, would now attempt to slam the door of hope and justice on the very people that she was created to enshrine.

Considering that ironic twist brought a tear to my eye as I researched this issue, because as a kid, I couldn't help but be awed by the majesty of that Lady--and that was in spite of the fact that I thought she was created for everybody but people like me. But now to find that she was created specifically for me, and even that was stolen, is almost too much to bear. Just think of how many young Black lives might have been salvaged by just the simple nudge to their self-esteem that something so grand and majestic could have provided had they known what it was created to represent. Just that knowledge alone could have given them the sense of pride, dignity, and purpose that might very well have sustained them throughout their lives.

But in spite of that, or maybe because of it, the Lady continues to hold her flame high as a tantalizing subplot silently plays itself out beneath the surface. For even as pernicious ingrates continued to indulged in their evil machinations, yet another immigrant quietly sailed passed the Lady's burning flame. He was a solitary young man from Kenya who presented papers in the name of Barack Obama.

I'm sure the immigration official laughed as he examined the papers and said, "Who?" But little did he know that it wouldn't be long before the entire world would answer his question.

Eric L. Wattree, Sr.


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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Is Same Sex Marriage Really Against the Will of God?

BENEATH THE SPIN • ERIC L. WATTREE

Is Same Sex Marriage Really Against the Will of God?

I just read an editorial entitled Don't Shake Your Fist at God, by Larry Bufford. In the editorial Mr. Bufford comes out against same-sex marriage based on the Bible and his view that it is not a civil rights issue. He refers to gays as "reprobates" and implies that by allowing same sex- marriage our society is on the threshold of becoming a latter-day Sodom and Gomorrah.
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Larry Bufford is a friend and a very gifted writer, but I found his position on this particular issue to be absolutely ridiculous. While I'm as straight as they come, and it's beyond my comprehension why with all the beautiful women in this world one man would want to marry another, it is just as incomprehensible to me why one group of people would insist on shoving their belief system down everyone else's throat.
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It simply eludes me why a person who's against same sex marriage can't be satisfied with simply taking the position that since I'm totally against same sex marriage, I'm going to make it a point to marry someone of the opposite sex, then just leave it at that. But that's not good enough for some people. Some people aren't satisfied unless they can make their opinion THE LAW. There's simply got to be some kind of pathology attendant to that kind of obsession.
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I was raise by devout Christians, and most of my values are consistent with the values reflected in the Bible, but I didn't get any of them by reading the Bible. All of my values evolved around the principle of minding my own business, and treating people the way I want to be treated–and I didn't get that from the Bible either, I got through what God gave us to live by long before there was any such thing as a Bible–it's called, common sense.
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For that reason, even though my values are consistent with those of the Christian tradition, I have refused to formalize my association with the Christian community, because I've known too many Christians over the years who are more interested in looking down on other people than looking up to God. Too many tend to be narrow-minded and discriminatory in mind-set. They also tend to be more interested in preaching you a sermon, than living you one.
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I've pointed out several times in my columns that true Christians are some of the most loving and beneficent people in the world, but unfortunately, there are far too many demagogues hiding among their number. Some of the most vicious bigots in the world find the Christian community a very convenient place to hide, and spread their hatred and bigotry. By feigning to be Christians, these demagogues are allowed to say, "It's not that I hate everybody who don't look, think, and act like me, it's just that God does, and I'm simply following his will." That allows them to demonize and slaughter anyone who is different from themselves, while at the same time being propped up by the legitimacy of the Christian community.
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That creates a serious problem within the Christian community, because much too often these bigots are in positions of authority, and since many Christians believe that these authoritarian bigots have a direct pipeline to God, their poisonous bigotry tends to seep into the thinking of legitimate Christians.
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We've seen the demonic impact of these people throughout history–we saw them during the Inquisition, and the burning of so-called witches; and they raised their ugly heads again with the brutality of slavery, and again during the so-called "Manifest Destiny," where they justified the slaughter of nearly all the Native Americans across this land. Now we see them, once again, spreading their malevolence in the middle-east, while at the same time disseminating their poison here at home.
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So I want to take this opportunity to point out to my well-meaning, but grossly misguided colleague, that whenever one group in our society attempts to demonize another, that's not God's will - that's the will of bigots, and it is, indeed, a civil rights issue.
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When I was a kid, about five years old, I had a friend who was quite effeminate. It was clear that he was "different" long before we even knew what sex was. The adults knew that he was going to be gay, because they use to whisper and giggle whenever he'd come around. But of all my friends, even then, he was the smartest and the most loyal. Later in life, it turned out that he indeed was gay, but there is no one on the face of this Earth that can tell me that he had a choice in the matter, anymore than I had a choice in growing up to love women, because he was effeminate before he was old enough to make a choice. Therefore, if God made him gay, who are we to discriminate against an act of God?
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With respect to the Bible, many Christians tend to be quite hypocritical in picking and choosing what scriptures they choose to adhere to. While those who are against gay marriage often select scriptures that tend to justify their bigotry, there is another scripture - one that seems to me to be much more reflective of what Christianity is suppose to be about. It says, "Judge ye not."
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What makes that scripture so important is that it seems to be a warning from God. It tells man to stay out of God's business, because man is much too narrow-minded and stupid to understand why God chose to do what he has done.
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It is important to remember that the people who taught us the attitudes and religious beliefs that many Black people so passionately embrace had us tied next to the mules when they taught it to us. They were killing and abusing us even as they taught us to "Love thy neighbor," and it seems that many of us have learned our lesson well - that God wants us to love our neighbors, except for the ones the bigots taught us to hate.
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We should also remember that at the time that Barack Obama was born, there were many states in this union where it was illegal for his mother and father to marry. There were many people who thought that reflected God's will as well - and they still do.
Eric L. Wattree
wattree.blogspot.com

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Monday, November 17, 2008

The Making of a President

BENEATH THE SPIN • ERIC L. WATTREE

The Making of a President

Certain things in life are just meant to be, and the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States was one of those things. What were the chances that at the lowest point in this nation's history that a young Black man would walk unto the world's stage from out of nowhere, and capture the hearts and confidence of not only the American people, but the world? The chances were slim to none, but when dealing with providence, chance doesn't enter the equation. Barack Obama was simply meant to be. From the moment the first Black man was chained to a slave ship, his role in posterity was assigned. It was written in the wind. And isn't it ironic that just one Black man from Kenya would be destined to come to the aid of the children of a million of his stolen brothers.

Yes indeed, it was written in the wind. The symbolism surrounding everything this young Black man represents is so powerful that just trying to explain it forces one to become melodramatic. It's poetic in its effect. He's the very personification of the prayers of a million slaves.

First, he's the product of both Africa and America, just like the African American people as a whole. Some may say, "yeah, but he has White blood." Well, news flash–so do most of us. And beyond that, everything about him contradicts the lies that have been spread about us by racists every since the moment we set foot on this land.

They said that we were ignorant, yet, this young Black man with the African name will probably be one of the most intelligent presidents this country has ever had. They said that we couldn't be educated, yet, Barack Obama will quite probably be one of the most learned presidents this nation has ever seen. They said that we were lazy, yet, even before he's been sworn in, President-elect Obama is hard at work trying to resolve this nation's problems, while the current president is all but napping under a shade tree as the country falls apart. But the most symbolic irony of all, is the fact that this nation is likely to be saved by a president who comes from the very people who's been treated so badly.

But could it be true that this man's ascendency was written in the wind? Let us consider the events that had to come together to make A President Obama possible. First, the DNA of an African boy in Kenya had to be mixed with a young White girl in Kansas, the heartland of America. That entailed the African boy traveling all the way to the United States, then of all the women in America, he had to find just that one who, combined with him, would produce the qualities of Barack Obama. Once that was done, Barack's father had fulfilled his task. So shortly thereafter, and after a brief bonding with his son, he passed on.

And he chose well, because Barack's mother had to have the insight, determination, and knowledge to wake her young Black son every morning at 4 a.m. To prepare him, and lay a foundation to ensure that he had a fighting chance in a world that she knew wouldn't cut him a bit of slack.

She then traveled, with her son in tow, exposing him to a knowledge of different cultures–including the Muslim culture, a knowledge that would prove invaluable to his future task. Then once her task was done, she suffered a lingering death–and even her death served a purpose. It exposed her son to the suffering of the middle class and poor who became ill without the resources to sustain themselves.

Barack was also exposed to the lifestyle and attitudes of his White middle class grandparents, giving him a specialized knowledge of White cultural mores in the heartland of America. They could have very easily chosen not to deal with the pressures and stigma of raising a Black child in their lily White world. But they turned out to be people of very strong character, and their love for their grandson completely overwhelmed any adversities that they would have to face. So through the devotion and struggles of his grandparents, Barack learned that people are people, and that we all love and suffer, in the very same way.

Once his grandparents' task was done, they too died–first his grandfather, and finally, his grandmother--but not before she delivered her grandson to the very threshold of greatness. Ms. Madelyn Dunham died just one day before her grandson would be elected President of the United States of America.

It's almost enough to make one feel sorry for Sen. McCain, because as Val would say, he never had a chance. The confluence of events made his task insurmountable: Katrina, Republican scandals, the collapse of the Bush administration, the financial crisis, and a very formidable Barack Obama, a man who had groomed by God himself, to lead America through these very trying times. It had all been written in the wind.

I know, it sounds ridiculous, but certainly no more ridiculous than if I had told you that on the forty-fifth anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's prophecy that "I Have a Dream," a young Black man with the Muslim name of Barack Hussein Obama would accept the Democratic nomination for President of the United States to cheering crowds all over the world. And while it might sound ridiculous, it's no more ridiculous than if I had told you that a conservative preacher would suggest that all Republicans pray that it rained on Obama's acceptance speech, only to have the ill wind and rain of a mighty hurricane, disrupt the Republican National Convention, blowing in the controversy of Sarah Palin and "Troopergate," making it all but impossible for the Republicans to win. And while it may sound ridiculous, surely no more ridiculous than if I'd told you that former officials of the Bush administration, a member of the Eisenhower family, and the son of William F. Buckley himself, would cross party lines to support this young Black man. So, ridiculous? I don't think so.

But some might say, if this is truly an act of God, why would he be so cruel as to allow the untimely death of Barack's grandmother just one day before the proudest day of her life? In response, and as a person who's not even particularly religious, it says to me that there must be something beyond this life. Thus, I don't think taking Barack's grandmother away was a cruel act of God at all–on the contrary. It was a blessing.

What the world may see as an untimely death, was actually a reward from God for a job well done. He rewarded that grand lady with the best seat in the house--free of suffering, free of the ravages of age and physical pain–and gave her a sky box, right along beside her husband and daughter, to witness the wondrous moment that their love, selfless sacrifice, and dedication hath wrought.

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!

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Eric L. Wattree

wattree.blogspot.com

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Howling Winds

BENEATH THE SPIN • ERIC L. WATTREE

Howling Winds

As I watched my son, dapper as they come, walk down
Our walkway and into manhood, what I remember most is
The rushing wind. I'd seen such winds before, but
Never like this--my old foe was pulling up trees by
The roots.

So I watched, but I watched alone.

As the winds raged on and the mighty palms bowed, a
Single leaf from our Winter bare Ficus Tree
Held tough against the ferocious storm; It fought
Valiantly against the angry gale, as though hanging
On just to witness the changing of the guard.

So I stood, but I stood alone.

Like that solitary leaf, all my life I've fought the
Ferocious winds, and now they've returned, this
Mighty foe, poised to seize the hopes and dreams of
My only son.

So I cringed, but I cringed alone.

But then, posterity glanced back and squared its
Shoulders, beat back hopelessness as it trudged
Through fields of ivy, then spread its wings and rode
Those howling winds over yonder mountaintop...

So I wept, but I wept with a crowd.

God Bless America.

Eric L. Wattree

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

EMERGENCE

EMERGENCE

I now stand firm. My dedication to the power of knowledge is the platform upon which my podium rests. I stand firm, strong, and now free-- free of anger, free of self-delusion, free of the folly of empty vanity, and free of the pernicious bane of meaningless pride without substance.

I stand now free to look upon the eyes of other men, reflecting dignity over sorrow, accomplishment over pain, and with a burning passion, fueled by the very flame that forged ancestral shackles, with a deep sense of pride, and a pride that flows deep.

I now stand erect! The steel that once degraded my forefather, that chained him in bondage to this bitter Earth, now reinforce my character, making me more, rather than less; and the blood and sweat that once drenched his brow, and oozed from the yoke against his heaving chest, now rage with resolve and a sense of purpose, deep within my burning breast.

I now stand as a new being--neither simply African, nor simply American, but a hybrid forced to transcend the sum of my parts; no longer simply African, since being torn away from the African motherland to suffer and toil in the fields of America, and nurtured by America, to become more than simply American, but a renewed American, especially prepared to survive, in a new and challenging land.

Thus, I stand now armed—armed with the wisdom of deprivation, the courage of my conviction, and a deep conviction of my courage; And fortified--with the confidence of a survivor, the empowerment of knowledge, and a ravishing hunger for justice.

I now stand the product of love, struggle, and sacrifice; a witness to man's inhumanity to man, a monument to the hopes and dreams of a million slaves, and charged with the trust and destiny, of this great land.

Yes, I Now Stand Firm. Firm, Black, and Free.

Eric L. Wattree


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Monday, November 03, 2008

Pimps Up, Hughley Down?

BENEATH THE SPIN • ERIC L. WATTREE

Pimps Up, Hughley Down?

Comedian, D.L. Hughley is being severely criticized in the Black community over his new CNN show, D.L. Hughley Breaking the News. I first heard the opening salvo in an email sent to me from Dr. Boyce Watkins. Dr. Watkins was, and is, highly agitated over the tone of the show. He indicated that "Nearly every joke on Hughley's show came back to some generalized stereotype, reminding us that African Americans are seen as relatively trifling 'social critters' and not much of anything else."

Dr. Watkins admitted, however, that he had lost respect for Hughley two years earlier during the Don Imus episode when Hughley allegedly told Jay Leno, "Yes, those women really WERE a pack of nappy headed hoes!" I hadn't heard about that, but if true, and I've never known Dr. Watkins to lie about such things, such a remark would have been highly objectionable to me as well–in fact so much so, that it might have tainted my opinion of his current project. So I decided I'd better take a look at Hughley's CNN show for myself before making a comment.

So I went to YouTube and pulled up a segment of the show. In the segment that I selected, the Freddie Mac corporation was being portrayed as a pimp–no problem, so far. Actually, I was beginning to think it WAs kind of funny until the pimp got to a part where he called Barack Obama a fellow pimp. Then when he went on to say that Barack was pimping the people out of their money, I began to see why Dr. Watkins was so upset. That was a seriously irresponsible thing to say–especially considering the fact that it was just days before the most important election in the history of this nation.

For the very first time in our history, we've finally stimulated the interest of a significant number of Black, and young people in the political process. Now to have a Black comedian appearing on CNN–a network known for reporting straight news–saying that Sen. Obama was a pimp, and indicating that the money the people are donating as "campaign contributions" is actually a pimp's game designed to rip them off for their money, is not only deeply troubling and over the top, but constitutes a direct threat to the integrity of the political process.

On Hughley's behalf, however, the concept of having Freddie Mac played as a pimp was brilliant. It's a device that can be used to educate the public about what this bailout was actually all about. And education is the key–it is a must that Hughley use his new platform to educate. Anything short of that will result in a disaster for both Hughley, and CNN.

Being Black, and the only comedian on CNN requires walking a very fine line. If Hughley uses that platform just to tell Black jokes and indulge in buffoonery, he's going to embarrass himself, embarrass the Black community, and destroy his career, because he'll be perceived as helping CNN to send the message that the only news they have to disseminate about Black people is that they're a joke. But on the other hand, if he uses this opportunity in a dignified and intelligent way, and use comedy to enlighten and inform, he could become one of the biggest, and most beloved stars in the country.

He needs to forget about all of the "Pimps up, hoes down" nonsense, and all the racial stereotyping, and begin to focus on political hypocrisy. He could use his show to take up where journalism leaves off–and that should be the easiest job in the world, since he has an entire nation filled with politicians who are living out his material for him. Politicians are known for being sneaky, disingenuous, and deceitful. The journalists at CNN are well aware of this, but they don't have the evidence to prove it. That's where Hughley would come in–as a comedian he doesn't need proof , all he needs is his intuition, and a funny scenario to point out the hypocrisy. It would also give him the power to focus the direction of the news.

I can think of several issues that could be addressed right of the top of my head. Sarah Palin is accusing Obama of "Palling around with terrorists", for example. But everyone seems to be conveniently silent over the fact that her own husband is a member of a political group that wants to secede from the union. In addition, Sarah herself addressed the group's convention before being picked to run for vice president. In her remarks she said, "We have a great promise to be a self-sufficient state, made up of the hardest-working, most grateful Americans in our nation" (She must have gotten that "hardest-working, most grateful Americans" line from Hillary Clinton). I wonder how many Black people they're going to let in their newly ripped off state, once they take their oil and secede from the union?

And consider this–Sarah's association with this group makes her intimately connected to a group that's a threat to our national security. So if she's elected vice president, how is she going to get a security clearance? What are they going to do, have her leave the room every time the grown ups have to talk? In addition, at her rallies she's always talking about who is and who's not "one of us." When she says, "one of us", who is she talking about–one of us, as Americans, or "one of them", who wants to tear the country apart? She moves quite easily among both groups.

Then there's the fact that even while both Sarah and McCain (notice that she has top billing now, and known by first name only) are calling Obama an elitist and embracing "Joe the Plumber", the "hockey mom" is walking around in a dress that cost $23,500 more than Joe's house–and the $23,800 that they paid to have her hair done for two weeks would probably pay off Joe's mortgage. That's a joke in itself.

And finally, here's the biggest joke of all. It seems that Todd Palin's "buddies" are an exceptionally talented bunch. They not only helped Todd build Sarah's brand new home, from the ground up, but also pitched in to build Wasilla's new $12 million sports complex less a mile away. And these are obviously a great bunch of fellas, because they also renovated Sen. Steven's house. You remember Sen. Stevens of Alaska, right? He's the one they just convicted for failing to report all that this great bunch of guys did for him--and why.

Eric L. Wattree

wattree.blogspot.com

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