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Topic: Cultural Redemption

Obama Speaks on Verdict in Trayvon Martin Case
7/19/2013 5:46:06 PM

In a column this morning Eugene Robinson said that Obama should not be expected to speak on the Trayvon Martin case. Anything he says will be interpreted wrongly by large numbers of people in the country. Then later in the day I learned that Obama had spoken about the case to the press in the White House. Listen to the speech right here. Then read about some reactions below.

Paul Waldman and Jaime Fuller at the American Prospect discuss the speech in this article, Obama's Moment of Introspection:

Today, Barack Obama did something he has only done a few times in the years he has been on the national stage: He talked about race. In an extemporaneous statement to White House reporters, Obama discussed the reaction to the trial of George Zimmerman for the killing of Trayvon Martin. He spent the first third of his remarks talking about where African Americans were coming from, in an implicit plea for empathy from white Americans. He didn't accuse anyone of ill will, but he did in effect say, "Here's how black people are feeling and why," in an attempt to explain the sources of people's disappointment and pain. After that, he talked about what government might do to make these kinds of tragedies less likely—training for police officers, and perhaps a rethinking of "stand your ground" laws if they make conflicts more likely. He ended on a hopeful note, saying, "as difficult and challenging as this whole episode has been for a lot of people, I don't want us to lose sight that things are getting better. Each successive generation seems to be making progress in changing attitudes when it comes to race."

We'd challenge conservatives to pick out a single sentence in Obama's statement that they could say was unfair to white people, or encouraged anything other than greater mutual understanding. But all too predictably, some conservatives showed once again that empathy is something they are either utterly incapable of or simply find politically inconvenient. There is no anti-Obama rage like the rage he provokes on the right when he brings up race. It doesn't matter what he says. No matter how humane, how encompassing, how careful—should Obama ever so gently suggest that race is something with which we as a country still struggle, a tsunami of bile is inevitably directed his way. If you weren't on Facebook or Twitter to see it today, count yourself lucky that your faith in your fellow Americans wasn't brought down a notch or two by all the ugliness. If you had read that reaction without actually seeing what Obama said, you would have thought he marched into the press room in fatigues and a beret, shouting "Black power! Black power!" and talking about hunting down whitey.

We suspect that the part of his talk that irked conservatives the most was this: "There are very few African-American men in this country who haven't had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me. And there are very few African-American men who haven't had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me, at least before I was a senator. There are very few African-Americans who haven't had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often. And you know, I don't want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African-American community interprets what happened one night in Florida. And it's inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear."

The reason that this particular plea for empathy and understanding can generate such an angry reaction is that it touches on white privilege. It's easy to say, "Well I'm no racist," but it's harder to acknowledge that if you don't get followed when you walk into a store, if you don't have people lock their doors when you walk by, if you don't see women clutch their purses when you enter an elevator, if you aren't subjected to frequent "stop and frisks" by the police because they say you made a "furtive movement," and if you don't worry every time your son goes out at night that the wrong person will consider him a criminal and initiate a series of events that leads to his death, then you're the beneficiary of a society still infused with racism. To be told, even by implication, that you benefit from an unequal system? That's just intolerable.
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Watch Out for that Communist Folk Music
1/22/2010 4:50:08 PM

In the mid-1960s during summers when I was at the seminary I started a youth camp in northern Idaho. With a couple friends I took young people on probation on canoe trips on Priest Lake and mountain hiking in the Selkirk Mountains.

Around the campfire we sang songs, led mostly by my friend Peter Anderson, and these were mostly folk songs, and songs that were coming out of the civil rights movement at the time. Pete is the one who introduced me to this music which later I heard regularly when I became involved in the movement of Dr. Martin Luther King in Chicago. Now I find out that such music was a part of a dangerous ideological movement.

I stopped by the neoconservative journal First Things today and there was an article called Where Have All the Lefties Gone by a fellow named Lauren Weiner, a speech writer for Defense Sectretary Robert Gates. It seems a little hard to believe, but the piece is written from the point of view of a sort of Communist witch hunt like what was going on the 1950s. It proposes that we believe that the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was able to infiltrate the folk music in this country with socialist propaganda, as if there is no validity to any human yearning for justice and peace in the world, at least, that no real American can have anything other than hatred for any such expression. And there is no recognition of the fact that cultural expression in this country has not been free, that folk singers like Pete Seeger were blacklisted, not allowed on major media networks. Sure we live in a free society, as long as no one criticizes monopoly capitalism. If you do criticize what corporations are doing today you are then placed in the camp of socialists and communists.

The article is very well written and entertaining and you will learn something by reading it, maybe. But it sure reveals what First Things is about, pure ideological justification of the current economic system. Maybe because I have written this someone will put me on a dangerous persons list.

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Cultural Redemption: The Jewish-Arab Peace Song
3/13/2009 3:14:50 PM

I ran across this Jewish-Arab Peace Song on You Tube which expresses a spirit which opens new possibilities. It represents a kind of "cultural redemption" in that cultural expressions can be foretastes of and preparation for real and actual peace among peoples.

A link at the site moves one to another item from the Free Gaza Movement, "a human rights group that in August 2008 sent the first international boats to land in the port of Gaza in 41 years."

I also received this email from a friend which represents cultural redemption.
Recently a group called Yuval Ron performed in Seattle. The musicians are Israeli, Muslim Arab and Christian Arab. They play a repertoire influenced by the period in Spain before 1492 when Queen Isabella evicted the Jews and the Moslems from Spain. I have heard other groups try to reconstruct Ladino music, but I felt that the performances by Yoval Ron are the most authentic.

The group is associated with a development started in Israel by a man who was born and raised Jewish in Egypt, moved to Paris and became a Catholic priest. Jews, Muslims and Christians all live together in that community in peace and as equals. This is all on a voluntary, grass-roots basis.

The community is growing and becoming more popular.

There is also a combination of Arab and Jewish music in the work of Cantor Nehari, who might have some clips on You Tube. He is Syrian-Yemenite and sings Jewish prayers and secular songs in the Arabic tuning system, of which he has an expert knowledge. Some of his melodies are based on famous Egyptian singers of the early 20th Century such as Oum Khaltsoum.

I hope the grass roots can achieve peace if the leaders can't.

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