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When Obama hears the voice of Jeremiah Wright or the voices of disgruntled poor whites in

small town America, he is hearing, in Thomas Jefferson's words, "a fire bell in the night." 



Books by Wilson Jeremiah Moses

Golden Age of Black Nationalism, 1850-1925 (1988)  / The Wings of Ethiopia  (1990)

 Alexander Crummell: A Study of Civilization and Discontent (1992)  / Destiny & Race: Selected Writings, 1840-1898  (1992) 

 Black Messiahs and Uncle Toms: Social and Literary Manipulations of a Religious Myth (1993)

Liberian Dreams: Back-to-Africa Narratives from the 1850s  / Afrotopia: The Roots of African American Popular History (2002)

Creative Conflict in African American Thought (2004)

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Obama and Bitterness
By Wilson J. Moses 


Barack Obama is under attack for making the common-sense observation that many poor whites in the USA are bitter and that in response to their frustrations they turn to guns, religion, and attacks on those who are different.  It is certainly no news to anyone that this nation hosts a militia movement of those who "love their country, but hate its government," or that people turn to religion in times of anxiety.  CNN and the Clinton campaign are desperately grasping to distort this statement of the obvious, but in the process they reveal only their own insensitivity to the bitterness, resentment and anger that are seething below the surface in small-town white America.

As for blaming those who are different, the Anti-Defamation League has long suspected the relationship of the militia movement to xenophobia (ADL).

The present state of bitterness results from problems generated, not entirely on Wall Street, but on Main Street, as well.  The American economy is the victim of feckless local real estate brokers, who encourage the ignorant to speculate against the American dollar, and wild-cat banks of the sort that have mushroomed all over America in recent years, promoting gambling with interest-only loans and exploiting the gullible with adjustable rate mortgages.  As the Federal Reserve bails out the banks and the stock exchange by lowering interest rates, it simply debases the value of the dollar, thus driving up food prices and pushing gasoline towards the $4 per gallon mark.   

When Obama hears the voice of Jeremiah Wright or the voices of disgruntled poor whites in small town America, he is hearing, in Thomas Jefferson's words, "a fire bell in the night."  With further allusion to Jefferson, Chairman Ben Bernanke might say that he and his Federal Reserve  have a "wolf [or a bear] by the ears; and we can neither hold him nor safely let him go."  

Our next president may have occasion to recall the words of William Berkeley, Virginia's colonial governor during Bacon's Rebellion in 1676, "How miserable that man [or woman] is that Governes a People where 6 parts of seaven at least are Poore Endebted Discontented & Armed."

April 13, 2008

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Media Response

Obama says he regrets wording of 'bitter' remarks—Obama tells the Winston-Salem Journal in North Carolina that he regrets wording things in a way that offended people. . . . The comments drew fire from Clinton, who called the remarks "elitist," "out of touch" and "demeaning." Clinton supporters handed out "I'm not bitter" stickers in North Carolina, and held a conference call with Pennsylvania mayors to denounce Obama. WBOC-TV

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Obama under fire after fundraiser remarks"You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them," Obama, an Illinois senator, said." And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations," he said. . . .

"Pennsylvania doesn't need a president who looks down on them," she said told a rally. "They need a president who stands up for them, who fights for them, who works hard for your futures, your jobs, your families." Clinton, a former first lady, once led Obama by double digits in polls in Pennsylvania, the next big battleground in their struggle for the right to face McCain in the November presidential election. That lead has dwindled to about 4 to 6 points in several recent polls in a state that has struggled from job losses and has a big population of blue-collar voters who have been Clinton's biggest backers. . . .

An aide to McCain called the fundraiser comments "remarkable and extremely revealing." "It shows an elitism and condescension toward hard-working Americans that is nothing short of breathtaking," said Steve Schmidt, a senior adviser to the Arizona senator. "It is hard to imagine someone running for president who is more out of touch with average Americans." Yahoo

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Obama Says People in Penn. Bitter (video)

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Obama expresses regret for remarks on small towns—Campaigning in Muncie, Ind., Obama called the controversy interesting. "Lately there has been a little typical sort of political flare-up, because I said something that everybody knows is true, which is that there are a whole bunch of folks in small towns in Pennsylvania, in towns right here in Indiana, in my hometown in Illinois, who are bitter," Obama told the crowd. "They are angry. They feel like they have been left behind. They feel like nobody is paying attention to what they're going through. So I said, well you know, when you're bitter you turn to what you can count on. So people, they vote about guns, or they take comfort from their faith and their family and their community. And they get mad about illegal immigrants who are coming over to this country, or they get frustrated about how things are changing. That's a natural response. "And now, I didn't say it as well as I should have, because you know the truth is that these traditions that are passed on from generation to generation, those are important." LA Times

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CNN: The Clintons' Millions - Corrupting Ties  (video)

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Millionaires Accusing Each Other of Elitism—Worst of all, Obama's words rendered him an "elitist" in the eyes of his critics, which in American political discourse is akin to being a child molester or a Frenchman. But is Barack Obama really an elitist as his opponents claim? Well of course he is—he's running for president of the United States! He wouldn't have gotten this far in life if he'd spent the past 20 years driving a truck or moonlighting as a fry cook at Arby's. Like every other successful politician in the United States, Obama is a member of America's political ruling class, which means that like every other presidential candidate in recent memory, he is typically insulated from the lives of ordinary people. Does Obama really have any idea what it's like to live like a "Real American?" Of course he doesn't, and neither do John McCain and Hillary Clinton! Does any rational person out there believe that Obama, Clinton and McCain spend their free time away from the campaign trail hanging out at Jimmy Ray's Chicken'n'Beer Depot playing darts with the common folk? In theory, this point should be fairly obvious. . . .  George W. Bush has not been a particularly good president for blue-collar people. From the bankruptcy bill that made it harder for Americans to escape debt, to the tax cuts that were tilted heavily toward the uber-rich, to his mercifully-botched scheme to privatize social security, all of Bush's major economic initiatives have been tailored specifically to shaft working-class people in order to benefit really, really, really, really, really rich people. While some major media figures, most notably Paul Krugman, tirelessly pointed this out, the vast majority of our bonehead millionaire pundit class declared Bush to be more in touch with the average American than elitist snobs such as John Kerry and Al Gore.—Alternet

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A Response from Jerusalem

There is too much blind racial bitterness in America. I am discovering that as internet correspondent and as a substitute teacher at the county high school. I've never lived in a poor racially integrated neighborhood, though I knew of many while a resident of Maryland. But now I am coming in contact with many more poor whites than I would living in the ghettos of Baltimore. Here, at the county high school, I see more socializing among poor whites and poor blacks. The more well off send their kids to private schools to avoid all racial conflicts.

There occurs more instances of white girls with black boys and white girls with black girls than  white boys and black boys or white boys and black girls. So they all seem to have an unwritten agreed upon isolation within school unity. In the computer room the white boys have their web sites they visit and the blacks have their websites that they visit. Blacks in the county are 3 to 2 and in the school blacks are in the overwhelming majority, including staff and faculty. 

Of course, there are the white rebels and black rebels on the socio-cultural level who are severe problem students. One white student drove a pick up truck with a with a great Confederate flag flying. Then there are those white students who openly say they are Republicans and will not vote for Obama, but McCain. I imagine that there was once more open antagonisms when the school first integrated in the 1970s. (I'm glad I was not at Central during that period.) Outside of school, on the whole, the white students and black students do not socialize at all. A continued isolation. For it is in isolation that the stereotypes and the myths develop.

One peculiar observation occurred last Friday in a computer lab. There's a smart young black boy. Let's call him DeShawn. I constantly see him walking the halls in mischief. He's an annoying, disconcerting little fellow. So he's not physically a bully like some of the guys. But he has a smart mouth and in that he's intelligent he always gets his work done before his peers. But he does not know how to sit still or be unto himself. So I observed him with a pretty young white girl. Let's call her Brittany, who was working on some project at the computer.

DeShawn began to taunt her about what he had done sexually to her mother and what he would continue to do with her mother. Brittany was cool and tried to ignore him with a smile. Overhearing this case of the dozen being played out, I told DeShawn to cut it out, "Don't do that!" Of course, he ignored me. After awhile he became exhausted with this bit of low life behavior and went about some other nonsense. Brittany, the pretty white girl, turns and says to me, "I hate him." And then she went on about her work.

In short, there is bitterness all around. One might say there is a cultural clash of bitterness that is repressed as a means of avoiding open violence. Of course in the days of white supremacy in Virginia an incident like the taunting of a white girl by a black boy might have ended in an Emmett Till incident. But these are class-cultural issues rather than racial ones.

That the Clintons are ever ready to exploit racial issues for political benefit, of course, goes back to at least 1996, and maybe back to 1992 with the cultural baiting of Sister Souljah by presidential candidate Bill Clinton. The Times has brought our attention to the issue of their use of myths and stereotypes for political advantage. In light of the Feds bail out of investment houses around the issue of sub-prime mortgage lending, the treatment of the poor is back again on the table.

Of course, passing the welfare bill the Clintons made use of the racial card. Republican conservatives and the masked liberal neoconservatives are all too willing to make use of racial myths and stereotypes. 

For them the poor, welfare recipients, and criminals have only a black face. Attacks on the irresponsibility and the criminality of the black poor have continued into the 21st century among black neo-conservatives like Skip Gates, Cornel West, Bill Cosby, and others.

If you have not read "From Welfare Shift in ’96, a Reminder for Clinton," you should. One should read also the Times (1996) report on the signing of the welfare bill in which Congressman Lewis of Georgia said the following:

'Where is the compassion?'' he asked. ''Where is the sense of decency? Where is the heart of this Congress? This bill is mean. It is base. It is downright lowdown. What does it profit a great nation to conquer the world, only to lose its soul?'' (NYTimes)

The welfare bill abolished Aid to Families With Dependent Children, which was created by the Social Security Act, signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt in August 1935.

With the growing impact on the economy of the sub-prime lending scandal, the so called social net will be pushed to the brink of a social disaster. The Obama problem, in this instance with respect to his view of the bitterness of the white poor, is that he took a rather vague stance on the 1996 welfare bill:

“Before welfare reform, you had, in the minds of most Americans, a stark separation between the deserving working poor and the undeserving welfare poor,” Mr. Obama said in an interview. “What welfare reform did was desegregate those two groups. Now, everybody was poor, and everybody had to work” (NYTimes).

So in trying to distinguish himself from civil rights and welfare liberals, Obama has in a sense talked himself into a situation in which he can only apologize for his choice of words, rather than a full force attack on the Clintons for their contribution to the dire situation of the poor, especially poor women, many of whom have been abandoned by their husbands because of the shortage of work. That is, in some sense, Obama has created his own set of white myths and stereotypes. But which are not entirely false. There is always some truth in myths and stereotypes. Are there those poor whites who are willing to make use of minorities as scapegoats? Yes. Are there other whites and blacks willing to use the poor—blacks and whites—as scapegoats to stir racial antagonisms? Yes.

So, yes, Obama did not quite get his words right. There are no right words for a people steeped centuries in racial antagonisms for the sake of the wealthy and their lynch men and women. Unlike Mrs. Clinton, I think Obama's heart is in the right place, even if his political expediency falls short of the truth of the present reality. There indeed will be a potential  for a growing bitterness among whites, blacks, Hispanics, and others as the economic crises develop. Will they turn against one another? I hope not. I hope that Obama, though he stumbled here, will see the larger picture and how we got to where we are today, namely, ideologies that favor the rich and set the white poor and working classes against blacks, but particularly poor and working class blacks. It will indeed be regrettable if black, white, and Hispanic demagogues (of whatever class) exploit (fuel the racial bitterness) to worsen relationships among Americans. For it is my view that black bitterness can be just as dangerous as white bitterness.

I find it quite ironical at this stage in the Obama campaign we have come to this bitter racial moment. Maybe we are indeed fortunate. For it shows that we Americans, indeed, are not that far apart in our potential to create myths and stereotypes about one another, whether we are elitists or not. It is not a a case of elitism, on the part of Obama, but rather such factors as isolationism, or a lack of sufficient empathy, or too much of a dependency on distancing sociological studies. I find it grand of him to apologize, despite the truth found in his words. For the Clintons as it has always been, it is a case of racial opportunism and political expediency.Rudy

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The Tractor Man

Rudy and Wilson:

Presidential hopeful, Mrs  Clinton, futilely trying to fan  the flames of an anti-Obama controversy by distorting the important issues raised in his “Small Town Voters” talk is clearly ignoring the wider issues in a message expressed in the civil disobedience of North Carolina’s “Tractor Man.”

The short memory Clinton have forgotten Mr. Dwight “Tractor Man” Watson (58) who hails from the small Town of Whitakers, NC. I believe that he is regarded by many small farmers and working families in rural America as some sort of hero because he embodies their frustration, pain, and suffering after he dramatically drove his farm tractor into a pond in a Mall in Washington DC and then claimed to be armed and dangerous.

In his protest, the small town farmer threatened to blow himself up in the national mall.

It resulted in  a two-day stand off, March 17 -19 2003,  between Watson in his tractor and the FBI’s SWAT team, but it brought to the nations awareness, dramatically,  the economic hardship that America’s small farmers and rural settlers have been experiencing under the nations trading policies.

I understood Obama’s talk about life and economic problems in small towns to be highlighting the very real problems of poor working families and small farmers in rural America.

North Carolina’s congressman, Bob Etheridge who hastily issued a statement about the event, clearly concurs with Obama when he said that “While none of us condones the actions or methods of Mr. Watson, those of us who have fought for tobacco farmers and rural communities understand his deep frustration. Mr. Watson personifies the growing pain and frustration felt in tobacco country.”

Those who are condemning Mr. Obama’s statement would be well advised if they examine instead the economic conditions created for working class families and small farmers by Bill Clinton’s foreign policies.

As Congressman Etheridge Declared at the time, “I thank God the Dwight Watson case ended peacefully. We must not miss this opportunity to address the very real problems of tobacco country and rural America.”

While Dwight Watson was sentence to prison for his wrong behavior, it is foolhardy to sweep under the rug the issue that he has raised, which Obama’s talk is now exposing.

Obama has correctly and empathetically dubbed the militant and religions reactions of America’s small-farmers and rural working families, as “antipathy.” He is not saying anything more or less than Etheridge from NC has already said about the “Tractor Man.Lloyd McCarthy

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Matthews vs. McNulty—A recent New York Times profile of Matthews describes a name-dropping dilettante floating between television studios and cocktail parties. The article documents the MSNBC host's $5 million salary, three Mercedes and house in lavish Chevy Chase, Md. Yet Matthews said, "Am I part of the winner's circle in American life? I don't think so."

That stupefying comment sums up a pervasive worldview in Washington that is hostile to any discussion of class divides. Call it Matthews-ism — an ideology most recently seen in the brouhaha over Barack Obama's statement about economic dislocation. The Illinois senator said that when folks feel economically shafted, they get "bitter." Matthews-ism spun the truism into a scandal.

The Washington Post labeled Obama's statements "Bittergate." Tim Russert invited affluent political consultants on "Meet the Press" to analyze the "controversy," with millionaire James Carville saying, "I'm hardly bitter about things."  Hillary Clinton called Obama "elitist," ignoring her mansions in Washington and Chappaqua, $109 million income, career as a Wal-Mart board member, and legacy pushing job-killing policies like NAFTA.

This sickening episode was topped off by ABC's Charles Gibson, who only months ago humiliated himself by insinuating that typical middle-class families make $200,000 a year (95 percent make less). Last week, while moderating a debate, Gibson segued from the "bitter" comment into a tirade against rescinding capital gains tax breaks, implying the proposal would hurt most Americans. This, even though the tax cuts in question delivered the vast majority of their benefits to the richest 1 percent.

By downplaying inequality and couching royalism in middle-class arguments, the Beltway elite pretend there are not two Americas but only one: theirs.Creators

posted 13 April 2008

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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A Wreath for Emmett Till

By Marilyn Nelson; Illustrated by Philippe Lardy

This memorial to the lynched teen is in the Homeric tradition of poet-as-historian. It is a heroic crown of sonnets in Petrarchan rhyme scheme and, as such, is quite formal not only in form but in language. There are 15 poems in the cycle, the last line of one being the first line of the next, and each of the first lines makes up the entirety of the 15th. This chosen formality brings distance and reflection to readers, but also calls attention to the horrifically ugly events. The language is highly figurative in one sonnet, cruelly graphic in the next. The illustrations echo the representative nature of the poetry, using images from nature and taking advantage of the emotional quality of color. There is an introduction by the author, a page about Emmett Till, and literary and poetical footnotes to the sonnets. The artist also gives detailed reasoning behind his choices. This underpinning information makes this a full experience, eminently teachable from several aspects, including historical and literary—School Library Journal

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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