Monday, October 20, 2008

The Monday Moment

The Audacity of Hope Tempered by Racial Paranoia

I give thanks and blessings to the American Negro, conceptualized in 1897, educated through modern HBCUs, still relevant today, for the inspiration for this post.

Hope is the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best. Hope is the desire for a better result without any proof that a better result is even possible. Hope is a yearning for something without regard to whether that something is obtainable. It follows, therefore, that an objective observers typically describe those having hope as irrational, quixotic, arrogantly self-confident, insolent and audacious.

Why believe or feel your situation will improve or better yet “turn out for the best” when there are no markers to evidence your hope. Why feel like “what is wanted can be had” when you cannot conceptualize that what can be had or how to get it. It is madness indeed!

"Now faith is the substance of things hope for, the evidence of things unseen.” Hebrews 11:1. It seems, therefore, that faith is a product of hope. Faith is a conclusion based on additional factors that what we have hoped for will happen even if that something hoped for is yet unseen and the factor acting upon our hope is unquantifiable. As an example, I may simply hope for the healthy birth of my second child, but because I am a Christian, and, therefore, have accepted God’s grace in my life and been a witness to His blessings in the lives of others, I, therefore, have faith, based on the factor of God’s grace, that what I have hoped for, the healthy birth of my second child, will come to pass even though my second child has yet to be born and God’s grace acting upon me is beyond quantification.

I apologize. I lost you. That’s me being unapologetically Christian. Let me slow down.

In secular terms, hope is feeling that we shall overcome – when who knows, how who knows – but some day we shall overcome. As late as 2004, hope was the idea that a black man, with a funny name can one day be President of the United States of America. Today, in 2008, I have faith that a black man with a funny name will be President of the United States even though the election has yet to come to pass based on several factors some quantifiable and others immeasurable.

My faith in a black man’s ability to win this or any presidential election, however, is not unwavering. I am indeed playing the role of Simon Peter during these last days before election. (I know I lost you again). But why am I hesitant? Why am I not extremely confident in this election? I can admit that I have been far more confident in situations that offered far less expectations for success. So why do I secretly pump my fist with every debate victory, hold back my smile every time I look at the Electoral College map? Why am I hesitant when my critical thinking skills lead me to the conclusion that Barack’s election is inevitable? The answer, I believe, is paranoia.

I have been of aware of my own paranoia for years. Paranoia based on the color of my skin fueled by the confidence in my speech. Paranoia based on the inexplicable sequence of events that have occurred in my life that defy logic or explanation. Paranoia that have been justified by events that can only transpired because I was the biggest and darkest thing in the room, blessed with the gift of speech, limitless confidence and not an ounce of modesty. (See Stanford University, Ujamaa Hall, May 2004). Lessons of the past, manifest into paranoia of today where I cannot forget that no matter how much I transcend I am still a black man in this country. I, therefore, smile when I should speak my mind, nod when I should swing, accept when I should change. Cause bad things can and do happen to black folks in this country.

This paranoia makes me waver between the audacity of hope and the confidence of faith that Barack will prevail. I submit that because I have been witness to enough success in my life that I can afford the luxury of opting between hope and faith. For others similarly pigmented, this same paranoia minus the witness of success prohibits them for even having hope that Barack will prevail. Professor John L. Jackson, Jr. in his book Racial Paranoia: The Unintended Consequences of Political Correctness that describes this paranoia as racial paranoia.

Jackson theorizes that racism is characterized by hatred and power: the hate people express for other racial groups and the relative power they possess to turn that hatred into palpable discrimination or material advantage. The concept of racial paranoia, however, is the fear that targeted people harbor about other groups potentially hating or mistreating them and the resulting actions that other groups may take because of that hate.

Back in the day, it was perfectly acceptable to be a racist. Today, being a racist is no longer acceptable, but none of us would be so naïve to believe that the hatred of yesteryear has simply dissipated. In a post-Civil Rights environment, however, where readily identifiable sources of discrimination such as Jim Crow laws have been largely eliminated, how are we to quantify that existing animosity between the races? Where subtle practices perpetuating social inequities along lines of racial and ethnic identity persist without a larger narrative to explain them, the descendants of slaves are left only to pontificate conclusions or conjecture up conspiracies to explain the unexplainable. Some of our conclusions are correct other conspiracy theories less so, but that indeed is the very nature of paranoia.

Examples of these conclusions and conspiracies include the theory that the U.S. Corps of Army Engineers had deliberately dynamited the dams near black neighborhoods in New Orleans to spare white neighborhoods from the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina; that the US government created the HIV virus to target homosexuals and blacks; that one can and will be stopped as a black man driving the wrong type of car in the wrong neighborhood, that an unarmed black man can and will be shot by police in a hailstorm of 41 bullets.

Racial paranoia is that x-factor in this election. Take away paranoia, I believe Obama wins in a landslide. Black folks distrust the rhetoric of political correctness, and continue to see the threat of hidden racism lurking below the surface of America's public conversations. White folk fear that a black man in power will work to rectify the inequities in society that they know to exist but have been taught and socialized not to acknowledge in public.

Why else would any part of the 95% of Americans who makes less that $250,000 a year support John McCain? Is Joe Black thinking “I am not falling for it, not this time, there is no way a black man can be president in this country. What do Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Abraham Lincoln and John Kennedy all have in common? Do James Byrd Jr., Emmett Till, and Radio Raheem ring a bell?” Is Joe the Plumber thinking “Look, I know I’m not rich today, but I’m white and because I’m white I have hope, no I have faith that I can one day be rich. Why? Because others white folks with no more talent than me have become rich based on an unspoken system that rewards me for simply being white. As a result, I fear that if I let a black man in power, even though it will help my situation today, he will further erode the system that I have benefited from for generations.”

Are both sides suffering from paranoia? Aren’t both sides justified in their positions?

How do you feel about Barack’s chances? Pessimistic? Hopeful? Faithful? Optimistic?

Why am I paranoid about anything? This is America people. We live in a democracy! We are not like other countries where wealth and nepotism rule the day. Where one can have more people vote for you, but yet still lose the election. Where properly cast votes can be trashed, disqualified and not counted. Where one’s brother can unilaterally decide a presidential election in his favor and where the highest court in that nation can inexplicably uphold that family decision holding that the recounting of properly cast votes is unconstitutional and that no constitutional method of counting votes could be established within an acceptable timeframe.

Now how do you feel?

1 comment:

Nelda Brown said...

I'm paranoid too...and for many of the reasons you outlined in this post. I think, in some odd ways, we live the Bradley Effect (B.E.) every day. I know statisticians argue the merits of the B.E. or historians will argue that it no longer a factor in society today. But, I guess, as black people--even those of us who know what Ujamaa Hall is--get B.E.'ed on a regular basis in subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways.

So for months I've been trying to figure out why I've been slow to jump on the Obama Wagon with as much gusto as my white friends and colleagues. And I think that's it--paranoia, because if we've seen it once, we've seen it a hundred times.