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This Is A Chance, This Is A Chance

This is a chance
This is a chance
Dance your way
Out of your constrictions

“One Nation Under A Groove,” Funkadelics

I knew it would happen sooner or later. I wondered how long the Democratic Primary could continue without facing the issue of race and how it shapes us and our experiences. For some reason, in the good ol’ U.S. of A., discussions of race are tantamount to discussing one’s salary, religion, or porn preferences. Senator Obama got caught at the intersection (crosshairs?) of race and religion, and he turned it back on America: Hey, we all do and say things that are racist.

Yeah, like I’m sure Bill Clinton has objected every time he heard some white southerner use the N-word.

But I’m glad it happened. Now we’re free to really talk about it – the fact that, yes, Barack Obama experiences this country differently –as do most African Americans – because we ARE African American. This is a chance to really talk about race and the fact that African Americans are no less American, no less patriotic, for pointing out racial inequities that occur even to this day -- Geraldine Ferraro, anyone? Was Michelle Obama any less an American, any less patriotic, when she pointed out that this was the first time in her adult life that she was proud of this country? Heck, my dad is an 82 year-old World War II vet, and I’m sure that the Obama campaign is the first time he’s been proud of this country in his adult life. Coming from the Depression-era Jim Crow south and serving in a racialized military, this country hasn’t given him much to be proud of. We’re rife with hypocrisy – sending black men to fight in the European theater to end facism, only to have them come home and have to fight for the same freedom they helped secure for whites abroad. The American experience is not monolithic, and there’s a lot to not be proud of. And saying so doesn’t make any of us less American or any less patriotic. The white race-free experience is not the only one.

Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s sermon, looped interminably on YouTube, opens the door to having this frank conversation. And we shouldn’t fear it. It is an opportunity to “dance our way out of our constrictions,” i.e., the false construct that race doesn’t and shouldn’t matter and that to discuss race is to create differences instead of just acknowledging them. The only times in my life when I have been free of dealing with the race thing is when I’ve been somewhere where blacks are in the majority and I could pass for as long as I kept my mouth shut – Jamaica, Bahamas, St. Lucia.

Think about the irony of all this. Now everyone wants to know exactly what goes on in black churches. One white woman commented yesterday on NPR that she didn't feel welcome in the Black church (BTW, there are many black churches -- Baptist, Church of God in Christ, Catholic, African Methodist Episcopal, Apostolic, even African Orthodox Church of Saint John Coltrane -- but I digress). But we didn’t create black churches per se. Black churches were all that we were allowed to have because we weren’t allowed to worship with whites in this country at its inception. Where whites created subordination, now they see subversion. How rich is that?

And if you really want to know what happens in black churches, attend one. As the pastor who performed my wedding ceremony, Rev. Harris, said, “Black people spend more time in church than white folks because we have more issues to work out.” True that. When you consistently occupy the subordinate position in society, when you are constantly defined as “the other” and “what not to be,” when you are consistently shown the back hand of the law, well, if that doesn’t put you at the altar on a regular basis as a Black person, you’re probably self-medicating or in denial.

As I used to say when I lived in Mississippi, “Jesus saves, because white folks don’t even have a clue that the only thing keeping black folks from beating them down when the do and say racist things IS Jesus.”

Can I say that and not be a racist? Can we at least have the discussion without me being called a racist or less patriotic?

And now that we have race on the table, so to speak, memo to the Obama campaign: Now that you can’t deny the role of race in America and in this campaign, can we please change the campaign theme song to “One Nation Under A Groove”? Because even with our embedded racism, sexism, classism and other isms, at the end of the day, we are, with all our flaws, still just one nation.

Besides, I can’t help but smile when I think of a President Obama ending his first press conference with the line, “Giving you more of what you’re funkin’ for . . . “ Might be too much to hope for.

To quote another great George Clinton song, “Free you mind, and your ass will follow.”


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