Thursday, March 20, 2008

Obama's Generation Gap Excuses

The photo on the right is a picture of an 1800s Yemeni slave market. The one on the left is also of an Islamic slave market. Women were more often captured into slavery than men in the Islamic world.

So now the Democratic primary race would seem to be about race. Pardon me if I’m not sufficiently thrilled. Senator Obama’s recent pretty speech held to the middle school textbook declension of civil rights. Ninth and tenth grade, too. And eleventh. And grade twelve.

I remember about five years back when I was teaching high school classes at an alternative school where just about every single one of my students had been in trouble with the law. Some of them had come from jail to the alternative school. Others had been offered the chance to attend an alternative school instead of going to jail. The entire school lived on the edge and fights were any every day occurrence.

Ironically, the only area in which there was any kind of harmony was in the area of racial harmony. That is not to say that I never heard the “N” word because one heard that word quite often when my students were engaged in private conversation, usually in the following construct:

“My *iggaz did this”…. Or ……”My *iggaz did that…”

The unifying theme in my school was “gangsta’” so it really didn’t matter what shade of skin pigmentation seemed most prominent in one’s persona. But every year, we inevitably came to the part of our social studies textbook where I’d have to teach about Medgar Evers, Rosa Parks, Malcom X, MLK, and the marches in Selma and Birmingham, and I’d take it very seriously, wading through groans, sneering resistance, and claims of absolute and nearly hostile boredom to deliver the message of economic equality, civil rights, and the evils of racism.

“We learned that stuff since first grade. What does that have to do with us? That shit’s boring.”

One might say the boredom befits my skills as a teacher but the fact is that I was much respected at that school if not always admired. I had gone down under piles of fighting, struggling bodies, I’d had my shirts ruined by spilled blood, and I’d taken weapons and illegal drugs from my students. I survived in that school because I conquered my fears, worked out a lot, and treated everyone with respect.

I can only remember a single time when race became an issue and that was when a Neo-Nazi skin-head was admitted to the school one day and threatened he’d “stab” one of the students. Whereupon a certain white student, when he heard that his African-American friend had been threatened and disrespected, skipped the security and ran down two floors to violently attack the skinhead. Friendship, it seemed, was a stronger force than skin color. While one may cheer the moral high ground, the outcome was not good for any of the parties.

I’m willing to entertain and discuss the notion that I may be a cultural racist but not to the degree suggested by Reverend Jeremiah Wright. I’m offended by the exhortations that I may be part of an alleged American government plot to inject the AIDS virus into the African population. It offends me that Reverend Wright could show such condescension and disrespect of an accomplished African American woman by referring to the U.S. Secretary of State as “Conda Schiza Rice.” Was that “schiza” word derived from the 60s civil rights struggle? It offends me also that Barack Obama tries to excuse the hatemongering fulminations of Reverend Wright by attributing it to a ‘generation gap.’ Obama’s desultory speech referred to “the reality in which Rev. Wright and other African Americans of his generation grew up.” Didn’t MLK grow up in the same generation and endure even greater hardships?

It seems also to strike a false note to make excuses for those who would inflame resentments against a particular group. The ancestors of many people who live in the United States were living in other countries during the days of slavery. Of those who were living in the United States, many were vocal in the fight against slavery.

Nor was slavery historically confined to the United States. The religion of Islam found the institution of slavery acceptable, too. In the scholarly works of Bernard Lewis, the Prophet Mohammad and his companions are described as having captured, bought, and sold slaves. While most interpretations of Islam disavowed slavery in the 1800s, it still survives in the African republics of Chad, Mauritania, Niger, Mali and Sudan. The scholar, Bernard Lewis, describes the condition of slaves held under Sharia law as easier than that of American plantation slaves.

The reason for that may be because the Islamic world did not depend on a plantation system such as the one that existed in the American south. Islamic slaves were captured and typically put to other uses: cooks, porters, concubines, soldiers.

Women were more often captured into slavery than men in the Islamic world. Concubinage was a lawful motive for the enslavement of captured females and the historical ratio of female to male slaves was two to one.

Perhaps, Hillary Clinton should now follow Barack Obama’s example and make a speech about the historical enslavement of women. No, wait, wait! The media wouldn’t be nearly as infatuated with that prospect.

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