Archive for Thursday, January 10, 2008

Blacks must accept progress

January 10, 2008


These things happened last week in America.

Federal officials were quoted as saying Latino street gangs in Los Angeles have been killing people at random because they are black.

A new study found that ER doctors are less likely to prescribe strong pain medication for black and brown patients.

Barack Obama won Iowa's Democratic caucus.

If the first two events are more of the same old same old, if they speak yet one more time to the wearying intransigence of American tribalism, chauvinism and prejudgment, what shall we say about the third? Not about its portent for politics, but about the simple fact that a black man, running for the nation's highest office, went into one of its whitest states and came out triumphant.

Maybe you think the answer is simple, and in one sense it is. What else is Obama's win if not graphic evidence that we have made racial progress?

Still, it has been my experience that we - meaning African Americans - are sometimes loath to concede the reality of progress. Who can blame us? That same wearying intransigence, its tendency to play out in violence, poverty, discrimination and insult that delimit and deform our very perception of self, leaves little time or inclination for the counting of blessings. It doesn't help that white people - again, in my experience - often cheerfully overestimate the amount and meaning of progress.

And yet ... hello? Barack Obama just won Iowa. And the ongoing argument over the volume of water in the proverbial glass - half empty? half full? - fades behind a simple realization and celebration that we have, in fact, come a very long way.

In April, it will be 40 years since Martin Luther King told us he had seen the Promised Land. "I may not get there with you," he warned, "but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the Promised Land."

We are not there yet. Forty years later, the destination remains elusive. But at the same time, we have certainly moved somewhere. No one could have conceived of a Barack Obama, a Michael Jordan, a Condoleezza Rice, a Denzel Washington, a Shonda Rhimes, a Douglas Wilder, a Bob Johnson, an Oprah Winfrey, a Colin Powell or a me on the night Dr. King spoke.

The challenge facing African Americans is whether we can build upon the progress we have made. But before you can build upon a thing, you have to trust it, and that's not always a simple thing. I was talking the other day with a black preacher who said he has heard some black folks say they won't vote for Obama because they like him - and don't want to see him shot.

You wish you could simply dismiss that fear, but you can't: African-American progress has too often been thwarted by gunfire. Indeed, King himself was killed less than a day after he issued his famous prophecy. So the danger is frighteningly real.

Still, grounded as the fear is in reality, I tend to think it also grounded to some lesser degree in the fact that our history has conditioned us to wait for the other shoe to drop, to regard apparent progress warily, to look for the dark cloud behind the silver lining. I submit that in Obama's victory there is none. I submit that black people should see this, and use this, as a building stone. I submit that what Obama accomplished should warm all of us - black, white, brown, liberal, conservative - for it speaks well of all of us and our progress in the journey to the kind of nation we want to, and ought to, be.

Last week, Barack Obama won Iowa. What should we say about that? Maybe we should just say that Sam Cooke was right: a change is gonna come.

And the fact that we have a long way yet to go should not blind us to the long way we have already traveled.

Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald.


SettingTheRecordStraight 10 years, 2 months ago

Most of us have accepted black progress for as long as we can remember. It's not an issue.

blackwalnut 10 years, 2 months ago


Why would you be "proud" to be white? Why would you be proud of something you did not accomplish and had no control over?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 10 years, 2 months ago

What a load of crap. There are countless celebrations of "white" culture throughout the US, probably most prominent of all St. Patrick's Day, and no one claims that they are "racist" celebrations.

Jason Bowers-Chaika 10 years, 2 months ago

Every day is White Pride day. Groups that have been marginalized have pride organizations to counter society's discrimination, persecution, oppression and internalized messages that the group is not as good as the the predominant group perpitrating the above abuses.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 10 years, 2 months ago


I think "denial" was the term you were actually looking for.

Haiku_Cuckoo 10 years, 2 months ago

There are countless celebrations of "white" culture throughout the US, probably most prominent of all St. Patrick's Day, and no one claims that they are "racist" celebrations.

For the record, black people live in Ireland. I've seen them and drank pints with them during a trip to Dublin. There's no rule that says St. Patrick's Day is a "whites only" event. In fact, one of Ireland's favorite daughters and top musical acts (behind U2) is Samantha Mumba. She's the one in the middle:

SettingTheRecordStraight 10 years, 2 months ago


You are subjugating yourself and whatever group you choose to identify with by believing what you've written.

Your belief that you must publicly and vocally somehow identify yourself in society as something different " counter society's discrimination, persecution, oppression and internalized messages...." is nonsense.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 10 years, 2 months ago

Well, there are quite a few "blue-eyed" soul singers, but that doesn't make soul music any less "black" culturally, and it indicates that some element of culture can be identified with a particular ethnic group without being "racist."

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 10 years, 2 months ago

Your ignorance of US racial/cultural history is palpable, Dolly.

black_butterfly 10 years, 2 months ago

Marion, I have never heard of anyone being called a racist for being proud of their race, heritage and culture. when you project hatred toward another race or culture collectively that is called racism. Even though we had no control over who we are I am very proud of my race and heritage. I don't feed into the negative stereotypes of my race. Yes there are bad people who happen to be black, but we are not all bad. There are also bad people of all races, and good. I focus on the good. What irritates me about Pitts is he doesn't pass up an opportunity to criticize. Every article of his I read hints of self loathing, which is sad. But he is just trying to get rich and he knows that if he wrote contless articles promoting pure positivity and uplift among the black community he might not impress mainstream america, so I won't steal his joy. Everyone has to have a hustle in life.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 10 years, 2 months ago

Se my previous post, Dolly. Attending to your education is beyond the scope of this forum.

Jason Bowers-Chaika 10 years, 2 months ago

Dolly, one look at Senator Obama will answer your question. If he said he was white you would be asking the reverse question. If someone is half Swedish and half British is it alright with you if they celebrate Independence Day? Is it up to you what group someone choses to identify with?

fu7il3 10 years, 2 months ago

I once had a professor who was half-German, half-American Indian.

His German half was somehow loosely affiliated with the Nazi party. His Indian half had to leave their land because of the white man.

Talk about a guy who has some ancestory issues.

Haiku_Cuckoo 10 years, 2 months ago

Marion, I have never heard of anyone being called a racist for being proud of their race, heritage and culture.

I'm not so sure. If I saw a person wearing a shirt that said "White and Proud" or "White Power", I'd think he was a racist. Maybe I'm wrong for jumping to that conclusion though.

Afroman 10 years, 2 months ago

first of all Dolly, I am half black half white (to my best knowledge), and I am still persecuted and was called a Nigga walking home from school in fourth grade by a group of all white college students. So open your eyes, Yes, he is half white, but he is also half black. In this case the fact that he too has been persecuted and discriminated against because he appears to be a fully black man. (he's just has light skin which is not uncommon) I don't know why your cultural ignorance is as prominent as it is, but I am sorry that you didn't learn anything during Black History month in school. Cuz even though African-American history doesn't get the props and the teaching time as, "U.S. and American" (White) History does throught out education starting in elementary school if not earlier!

ramsrevenge 10 years, 2 months ago

If Mr_Ramirez wasn't banned he'd post on this topic.

RIP Mr_Ramirez, and thanks for over 1,000 intelligent posts. You'll never be forgotten.

moment of silence please

alm77 10 years, 2 months ago

"White" isn't a race!! You can be proud to be Irish or German or any other "white" heritage, but being proud of "white" is not the same as black people having pride. African Americans in this country were robbed of their history and heritage and lineage when they were kidnapped and brought here on slave boats. They're working to overcome that, and that's something to be proud of.

Tom Miller 10 years, 2 months ago

hmmm...I must have missed something...Mr_Ramirez banned? When? and, fo' what? Somethin' offensive? On THIS forum, that'd be sorta like remodeling an old house...where do ya start, and where would you stop...I was certain, what with all the sanctity of anonymity, and free speech being a certainty, well, heck, 'though I might have vehemently disagreed with said poster, unless threats were made, and/ or insurrection was fomented, I must believe you jest...surely not banned, for "opinion"...gawd.

local_guy 10 years, 2 months ago

I was born and raised in Lawrence and so was my grandfather. We both agree that even though we face different issues, we have both, all of our lives, been dealing with some type of discrimination or racism beacuse of the fact that we are African American. Yes, we have come a long way in the terms of laws and regulations in our country. As individual communities and they way the people who make up those communities think, we're still pretty far behind. I know someone (who has never been subject to something like this) will swear up and down that we're wrong and looking at it the wrong way, or whatever you have to say. Do I really need to start telling all my personal stories? A lot of us have dealt with it, I'm nothing special, I've just had to go through it like the rest of us, firsthand. And just so you know, I am not a 'thug' or 'gangster'. I'm decently educated (high school and some college), have never been to jail, dont wear baggy clothes or use "bad grammar" but still people do me like this. It's not a question of how you carry yourself or how you present yourself, its simply about what color you are. Sad.

alm77 10 years, 2 months ago

Blue, you get my point. and the definition of "race" is hotly contested. Should have used "ethnicity"?

thomgreen 10 years, 2 months ago

"What a load of crap. There are countless celebrations of "white" culture throughout the US, probably most prominent of all St. Patrick's Day, and no one claims that they are "racist" celebrations."

St. Patrick's Day is a secular celebration, not a "white" culture celebration. It is a Christian festival celebrated by the Catholic Church.

adriennerm 10 years, 2 months ago

I have a few different opinions about the above posts.

  1. The reason African Americans are so proud of being black is b/c we were told we shouldn't be. We were told by people of a different races that blacks are lower-class citizens. Then we overcame that and hince the saying in the 60's/70's "say it loud, i'm black and i'm proud" came from

  2. There is nothing wrong with being proud of your race. Just don't threaten to kill, linch, rape, hurt/harm people of other races..Be proud of your race and leave everyone else alone. A lot of groups hide behind race pride when they are really hate-groups...

I don't understand why someone chooses to hate another person based on the color of their skin, who they choose to love, their financial status, or career....I just don't get it .

Magpie 10 years, 2 months ago

Alleged white pride, colorblindness, spurious re/definitions of the word "race"--All of these reactions betray stubborn denial and latent racism. Leonard Pitts is ultra-moderate. He bends over backwards to appease white sensibilities, sometimes to the detriment of his arguments. And STILL the LJW commentariat bleats on and on about how racism is either okay or nonexistent, or both at the same time. Embarrassing!

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