The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. Psalm 118:22-23 NRSV

Monday, January 28, 2008

Creating a Pipeline

Without question there is a movement afoot and Barack Obama is inspiring and engaging the minds and hearts of Americans across generations and races and religions. In that there is something to celebrate for us all.

But I have to admit that my celebration of Obama's movement is not wholehearted. I searched myself and discovered that what's clouding the celebrating for me is the fact that while Obama and a few others are making headway and creating a pipeline for Black male political leadership, I don't see a woman of any color similarly situated. Mind you, this is NOT an argument akin to Gloria Steinem's stumbling and inaccurate portrayal of gender bias as more significant than racial bias. I am saying that women are going to have to be more intentional about finding and backing candidates up through the ranks so that there will be a similar female pipeline.

While I agree with those who lament Hillary's inextricable connection to the problematic Bill, I am also aware of the history of US politics in which the first woman governor took over for her husband and the first woman elected to the senate did so after completing her husband's unexpired term. Marriage has been the pipeline of political success (and sometimes ecclesiastical success, too)for women in the United States. As gifted and smart as Hillary is, we would not know about her were it not for her husband. That's a fact of sexist life.

I know I am feeling this concern particularly poignantly as a woman seeking a pastoral call. If you think about it, while Black men are at least as unlikely as white women to be called to the senior pastorate of a majority-white church, it is not likely that the reason they are rejected will be biblical. At this point no one credible is saying that it is God's plan that white men be in charge. Yet Black church women frequently remind one another that men are supposed to be the head.

I read AverageBro's blog this morning in which he talked about being able to say to his young son that he could grow up to be anything he wants to be. AverageBro views in Obama's candidacy the possibility that in America anyone can be president. I am not so sure that that's what an Obama presidency would mean for our daughters.

Note: For other reflections on the meaning of Saturday's South Carolina primary for Black women, check out Renita Weems's blog.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

C'mon Bill

I'm not going to belabor a point that is being made incessantly by almost everyone who cares about the Democratic party or the Clinton campaign. I am simply going to add my voice to all those others that say it's time for Bill Clinton to retreat. Attack dog mode suits him poorly, and it doesn't help Hillary.

But I have to say that Bill is not the only one I want to retreat. I would also like to see a retreat of all the identity politics playing out as Black folks square off against Bill for supposedly racist attacks against Obama. As frightening as it is to say this in public, for fear of myself being castigated as a race traitor, I think that that particular take on the politics is out of control. I do not say this because I think Bill was the best president for black people. I am not delusional on that level. Indeed I have remarked before that I found him disappointing - the crime bill and the Lani Guinier episodes particularly so.

Oh,and one more thing. People who trot out the "first Black president" thing and say it's "ridiculous" as Bob Herbert did in his column earlier this week, need to read what Morrison said during the impeachment hearings. Morrison was making a complicated argument about the tropes of blackness and the way that they were used against Clinton. Here's an excerpt:

Years ago, in the middle of the Whitewater investigation, one heard the first murmurs: white skin notwithstanding, this is our first black President. Blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children's lifetime. After all, Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald's-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas. And when virtually all the African-American Clinton appointees began, one by one, to disappear, when the President's body, his privacy, his unpoliced sexuality became the focus of the persecution, when he was metaphorically seized and bodysearched, who could gainsay these black men who knew whereof they spoke? The message was clear "No matter how smart you are, how hard you work, how much coin you earn for us, we will put you in your place or put you out of the place you have somehow, albeit with our permission, achieved. You will be fired from your job, sent away in disgrace, and--who knows?--maybe sentenced and jailed to boot. In short, unless you do as we say (i.e., assimilate at once), your expletives belong to us."

We are constantly being reminded that drug-dealing is a trope of blackness by Obama supporters who are accusing the Clintons of raising race through their surrogates. Toni Morrison's comments related to the ways in which Bill too had been slandered on the basis of those racialized tropes. More importantly, she was offering an explanation for why Black people especially rallied to Clinton's defense. There was a kinship with him and a resonance with his up from poverty story.

Here's my happy vision. We will get back to fighting about issues, including various kinds of experience and potential for inspiration. Black folks will stop measuring how black Barack (or Bill) is in order to determine whether to vote for him (or Hillary). We would remember that neither candidate would have the dubious luxury of being President of Black America but would have to do the difficult job of representing all. In my utopian vision, supporters of the candidates will be more thoughtful and less silly in stating their reasons for supporting one versus the other. And we will all get to the business of beating up the Republican nominee - since none of those candidates from a POLICY standpoint have anything substantial to say on behalf of or even to our community.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Nation's Standard

I am posting this to join in the chorus of voices calling for presidential candidate Mike Huckabee to make a pronouncement regarding his understanding of the role of religion in the public square and in the execution of one's duties as President of the United States. Recently Huckabee commented to evangelical Christians that he would make the U.S. Constitution conform to "God's standards," meaning to the understanding of the scriptures that he and his fundamentalist cohort share.

If you read this blog, you know that I am a Christian minister. I am proud to acknowledge Jesus as Savior and the ultimate authority in my life. But I am troubled by the idea that Huckabee might attempt to legislate Christianity, especially his narrow version that allows him to bolster his tough on crime stance by citing the number of execution warrants he signed and simultaneously to promise a human life amendment. While I believe that one's religiously informed personal convictions will ultimately have a bearing on one's voting record, there is another orthodoxy of freedom of thought, speech, and religion in this nation. The free exercise clause exists to protect religion from government and to protect religious dissenters (including nonbelievers)from the imposed or established faith of the majority. This is the Constitution's standard, the nation's standard.

After several weeks of avoiding discussion about his Mormon faith, public concern and falling popularity forced Mitt Romney to make a "religion speech." It seems time for Huckabee, the former Southern Baptist minister and expert on God's standards, to make his religion speech. Rather than his closed to the press preaching gigs, we need a clear statement demonstrating that he understands the difference between the White House and the Sunday School.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

C'mon Hillary

No, this post is not a passionate endorsement of Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama. I have not yet jumped so thoroughly off the fence I have been riding. What this post is is my cry into the blogosphere for Hillary Clinton and her campaign to get some sense. I have been telling my friends that I find that I like the campaign best when neither Clinton nor Obama is the running away with it. I think that ultimately makes the race more interesting and actually may produce dividends for those constituencies that the competitors reach out to.

When I say that I want the Hillary Campaign to get some sense, I am referring to their inability to see that Obama's camp is running away with the war of rhetoric by simply portraying themselves as above the fray of the politics itself. Now anyone with sense knows that you don't get as far as Obama has come in politics without having some sort of machine. The problem for Hillary is that her machine looks like a machine. She's got to work on that. I would advise that she take the advice offered by Frank Rich in the Sunday NY Times. I would also advise that she go back to the focus on what she is rather than spending time finding people who will say what Obama is not. And for God's sake, she needs to stop trotting out silly Black people like Bob Johnson,founder of BET, who is not exactly a paragon of moral authority. Hillary, stick with Maya Angelou.

As for the Martin Luther King, Jr. comment, I think that the reaction to it is overblown. She never said that LBJ (read the white man) was more important than King (read the Black man). What she said is that inspiring rhetoric and outsider activism (Obama's claim to fame) must be accompanied by legislative action and insider political work. "You need a president." We all know that is true. And how many black people have remarked that Adam Clayton Powell's in Congress work deserves more recognition than it has received, some even arguing that his legislative successes ought to be viewed as equally important as civil rights marches in transforming the material reality of Black life in the 1960s. To say that the dramatic changes of the civil right struggle depended on various actors, including but not limited to MLK, SCLC, CORE, SNCC, NAACP, the Supreme Court, the Congress, and the sitting President, is not to diminish the public face of the movement orthe sacrifices of those who lived their lives and even sacrificed them for the cause.

I am disturbed by the way that racial politics is being played in this phase of the race, principally because of the demographics of the South Carolina Democratic party. (Gender too, but that is a point for another post.) This back and forth where every criticism of Obama from the Clinton camp is automatically assumed to be racist is ultimately harmful not only to Clinton but also to Obama. Mind you, I do believe in the pervasiveness of racism in this nation, but I am convinced that Bill's "fairy tale" comment would have been directed at any candidate offering the kind of idealism that characterizes Obama.

The truth is that there is very little that distinguishes the platform of the Dems, somewhat in contrast to the Republicans, and all of the remaining contenders should give attention to making the strongest case for their approaches to their policies. I am saying that for the sake of the eventual nominee, they should play fair. Fight about issues or don't fight at all.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

History Repeats Itself?

As I suggested in my first post this year, the problem with the Democratic field is not that it is too shallow but that it is too deep. Unlike the previous two races during which it was impossible to get excited even about the eventual nominee, the 2008 race has attracted several likeable, clear-minded, and interesting candidates. And three of them, at least, seem viable in the general election as well as the primaries. Although electability still looms large on the minds of Democrats who are tired of losing, the truth is that Bush has made such a mess and the Republican candidates are so messy that the field is open for one of a number of interesting Democratic candidates.

Without a doubt, part of what is energizing the Dems regarding the race is the probability that our nominee will make history as the first Black or first female major-party nominee. The challenge of this history-making choice was initially clear primarily among Black women voters, who as carriers of the double-bind of gender and race were closely scrutinized and asked yet again "Which is more important?" The good news earlier on was that Black women refused to answer the question too neatly. Those who supported Clinton did so for complicated reasons not easily boiled down to racial treason or radical feminism. Obama's supporters too offered reasoning more than skin deep. But now the race is close, with Obama winning Iowa and Clinton New Hampshire. And the gloves are off.

To be sure, Gloria Steinem's analysis of race was not nearly sophisticated enough in her op-ed piece in yesterdays NY Times, but her reminder that women's rights and racial justice movements operate most effectively in tandem, not in competition with one another was appropriate and thought provoking. The chasm that developed over the issue of suffrage following the Civil War when white women who had struggled for abolition resented the enfranchisement of Black men in glaringly racist terms has obviously not healed almost 150 years later. Obama-supporters are charged with sexist motives in advancing the cause of the Black man; Clinton-supporters are charged with racism in their criticisms of Obama. And although at the end of the day, the de facto enfranchisement of Black men took and continues to take a lot longer than the enfranchisement of white women, the history of the struggle is a complicated one in which the rights of women, white and Black, have often taken a backseat to the rights of men, including every now and then a Black man. In a word, Black men do get some of the benefits of male privilege, just as white women get some of the benefits of white privilege.

While recognizing these truths is critical for our strategies in making history, we cannot allow these realities to create a charge in the atmosphere that will ultimately defeat our candidate whoever s/he is. The real tragedy of the 2008 Democratic campaign would not be the election of Clinton v. Obama, or of Obama v. Clinton. The real tragedy would be for the zeal of the primaries to render either unpalatable in the general election and restore the White House to forces that are inimical to African American and women's rights.

Guns Do Kill People Part 3

Although it was illegal to do so, a New Year's reveler, hereafter known as The Fool, in the East Germantown section of Philadelphia fired bullets into the air just after midnight. Police responded to the shots and an officer, claiming that this same Fool pointed his gun at him, shot repeatedly at the Fool who ran into a row house where a party was in progress. Inside the house, five of the officers' bullets found bystander Abebe Isaac, age 33, who died yesterday as a result of the wounds. Other bystanders in the house and The (suspected) Fool were also injured.

Assigning blame in this circumstance serves no useful purpose, but some observations are in order. First, some traditions, such as firing a weapon at the stroke of midnight, have outlived their usefulness and need to be abandoned in favor of practices that are legal and safe. Revelry and guns do not mix under any circumstances. Anytime you have a loaded gun and a crowded party trouble lurks just under the surface. Second, if you do something illegal, the arrival of the police should be no surprise and you should emerge from the shadows with your hands up not with your gun drawn. Whatever you do, do not flee into a room full of innocent children and adults and put them in danger because you are a FOOL!

Now for the police. I am sure the it is impossible for someone who does not live in harm's way for a living to imagine the tension and stress that Philadelphia's finest feel whenever they answer a call about a shooting, even if they suspect that the gunfire represents overzealous celebrating. But we rely on law enforcement to be professionals. We as a society would never put guns in their hands if we did not have the assurance that they have been adequately trained in the proper use of those weapons. Firing 11 rounds into a crowded house cannot represent proper use. Talk about shooting into the dark. And there has to be some government accountability for accidentally shooting a bystander not once but five times. This is not to demonize the police officer as an individual nor the force at large, but it is to acknowledge that even understandable actions have unintended consequences. To his credit, the new police commissioner has indicated that there will be a thorough investigation.

Bullets can have no conscience. But individuals and communities must.

Friday, January 4, 2008

In Praise of the Underdog

All around the black blogosphere there are shouts of joy for the surprising turn of events in Iowa that gave Barack Obama an outright victory during the caucuses, even though there are relatively few black residents in Iowa.

But I am not writing about Obama. I am heralding the victory of the West Virginia Mountaineers in the Fiesta Bowl on January 2. West Virginia 48 - Oklahoma 28. I am also celebrating the surprising but reasonable decision to give the head coaching position to the interim head coach Bill Stewart. Stewart kept his wits about him and led the team to a resounding victory over a much favored Oklahoma team.

The win was particularly satisfying for those of us who watched the team's flat play in the last game of the season, when #1-ranked West Virginia squandered their opportunity to play in the BCS championship by losing to Pitt.

Anyone watching the game would have to remark on the passion of the team that was also matched by the skill. On offense and defense West Virginia simply out played their rivals. Go Mountaineers!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

It's an Election Year

Happy New Year!

Of course, I brought the New Year in by going to worship last night. I greatly enjoyed the testimonies and reflections and gave thanks myself for 2007, a year of great joys and challenges.

We have now actually crossed over into the election year. Many are reflecting on an election year 40 years ago 1968 which was a year of enormous transition and struggle. In just a couple of days, Iowans will caucus and give a couple of Democrats and a couple of Republicans reason to celebrate and send a couple others in each party home until the next election year.

I admit that I remain undecided about the field. I still like Clinton, Obama, and Edwards and would be pretty delighted to have either as President. I have generally been rooting for Clinton because I think she is an able politician and leader. For me, it's not a Bill thing, because I found him to be a disappointing President. He was far too pragmatic and not nearly progressive enough for my tastes. Yes, of course, I missed him desperately once The Decider took office.)What I like about Hillary is that at every turn she does better than people expect her to do, in ways that are also unexpected. She has proven to be an able senator who has represented the people of New York and earned the respect of senators on both sides of the aisle - a grudging respect you can be sure. And I have to say that as far as I am concerned it is time for a woman in that office.

Obama is clearly inspiring, but I am concerned about his lack of experience in national politics. There is no question that his record of bipartisan activity while in Illinois was admirable. His early opposition to the Iraq war was right. But while Washington-as-usual is problematic, I am not sure that unfamiliarity with the system provides the strategic advantage needed to reform the system or even to know what you want it to look like once it's reformed. He's just too green.

I love Edwards's message. He sounds like a real Democrat. And if this were not a year when we have a shot at a woman or an African American or Latino President, he would be my favorite. There's just not enough that distinguishes his basic message to make me forgo my hope to break the white male mode that has monopolized our nation's highest office. But I really do wish him and his wife well.

So to recap: Hillary can be too pragmatic (some might say cynical) and centrist; Obama is a little too green; Edwards doesn't represent the fundamental change that this election could promise. By the way, you might notice that I did not mention electability as a drawback to Clinton. I don't think it's true. When people get to know Hillary, they tend to like her. They would get to know her during the campaign. In any case, we can't know how a campaign will turn out.

As for the Republicans, I don't like any of them. Each attempts to be more conservative and hawkish than the other. Perhaps their behavior as President would be less reactionary than their campaigning, but to paraphrase Mike Huckabee, "If you lie to get the job, then what will you do to keep it?"