Samdog showed me a couple of his music videos after telling me a little bit about where he’s coming from. “I made this one in an alley.”
Election Eve 2012
Samdog came over with his boys, two of whom are regulars at the weekly Friendship Dinner. CNN’s coverage of election results droned in the background while the kids bounced around the living room and Samdog’s stories rumbled my mind. Friends from Kansas City touched base, hearkening back to the 1988 election when I had been a delegate for Jesse Jackson at the Democratic convention.
It feels strange to have a small personal connection to such historic events. I remember talking with mom about Jesse Jackson’s tears at Obama’s victory speech in 2008. I hope the re-election of black Barack Obama secures something unalterable for the nation’s future. An end, at last, to the effectiveness of the southern strategy of race-baiting and mass incarceration of black and brown men.
Last week I was privileged to simultaneously interpret (into American Sign Language) Michelle Alexander talking about her book, The New Jim Crow, for the annual Eqbal Ahmad lecture at Hampshire College. Her explanation of the intentional imprisonment of African American men through the War on Drugs campaign dovetails perfectly with Lawrence Lessig’s lessons regarding Lyndon B Johnson’s support of civil rights in the 1960s – which was controversial among the white leaders of the Democratic party because they recognized it as an opening the Republicans would exploit. Alexander uncovers how that competitive opening was pursued with a racial southern strategy aimed at getting the black (male) working class out of competition with white working class men. In order to be effective nationwide, the strategy had to play to white stereotypes without appearing to be race-based.
Obama has a high bar to cross during his second term in office. Chris Rock isn’t just lampooning the president for the sake of easing white fear; there’s real work to be done in the ‘hood: all of them, from gated communities to neighborhoods in every town, large and small. It is hard to imagine how the nation can rise to face the great challenges of this era if we continue to support intentionally discriminatory federal programs. In the meantime, plenty of other programs need investment, such as emergency management and first responders involved in recovery and mitigation from Hurricane Sandy even as a new nor’easter bears down upon significant sections of the damaged region. There are enough social challenges to keep Americans and our guests thoroughly occupied without stirring pots of old wounds. The times demand us to be bigger than the dynamics we get caught up in. If Samdog can do it, so can I, and so can you, too.