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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The White Republic's Bitter Pill

From Urgency of Now: Turning Point Blog--

“People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction, and anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster.”

These words were written, not by Rev. Jeremiah Wright in 2008, but by one of the most eloquent and famous American writers of the mid-twentieth century: James Baldwin (in his 1955 collection of essays titled Notes of a Native Son). After witnessing the frenzy with which the corporate media complex manufactured a major controversy out of a few poorly-chosen words by Obama during a private fund-raiser, we're now being forced to witness the explosion of the second phase of the manufacture of the Jeremiah Wright controversy.

We've seen how the corporate media has been struggling to structure this story in ways that set Obama and Wright against each other, so that our racialized Republic’s spectator-consumers can once again be entertained by the tragic spectacle of two black men fighting against each other. As Baldwin noted in the 1950s, “One of the things that distinguishes Americans from other people is that no other people has ever been so deeply involved in the lives of black men.” Baldwin’s words are being proven all too prophetically true once again.

But the American people, not the corporate media complex, are ultimately in charge of determining how this controversy plays itself out in the current presidential campaign. There is a clear alternative path to the one the media complex is trying to lead the American people down by manufacturing a racialized spectacle that positions Obama and Wright as combatants in a mutually destructive slug fest.

To follow this alternative path, Obama and Wright can refuse and denounce this racialized set-up by the media. But more importantly, all the rest of us--who value our democratic citizenship and don't wish to have our political future dictated by the corporate media--can reject and denounce the racist spectacle that is being manufactured for our consumption and corporate profit.

As citizens rather than mere consumers, we have the power to choose a different path by refusing to participate in the production and consumption of such a racialized spectacle. And we need to be urgently asking--with Baldwin's words in mind--whether the U.S. media is not now in the process of turning itself and its public (once again) into monsters.

Citizens of this country are being invited to participate in the production of a slug fest between two black men. Instead of cooperating with this manufactured and racist media spectacle, there is another option for all citizens who care about the future of this democratic Republic: REFUSE TO PARTICIPATE in the creation of this spectacle, and direct criticism at the structural sources of power in society and the media that are working to produce this racialized spectacle.

Jeremiah Wright is part of a long tradition of critique of the injustice of specific American policies, dating back to the time of slavery. From the long biblical tradition originating with the Jewish prophets who understood the bitterness of oppression, to the ringing cries against the bitterness of slavery that founded the American tradition of social protest and provided foundation to the great twentieth-century American civil rights movement, an understanding of the "bitter" fruits of injustice and suffering has had deep roots in American culture.

Yet our national media pundits and certain politicians, seemingly "innocent" of this history, have suggested that Obama must be terribly "out of touch" with reality. Because Obama dared to state bluntly that many Americans are "bitter" about the current state of our economy and country mired in an unnecessary war draining the resources needed to address much more important issues.

Just as media pundits focused on Obama's clumsy choice-of-words while ignoring the primary emphasis of his statement in San Francisco, they also seem to ignore a fundamental message of Obama's campaign--which is rooted in the historical power of previous successful efforts at responding to the sufferings of the American people.

Faced with a government insensitive to the needs of the majority of this country's people--not to mention the billions of people of the rest of the world who will be most impacted by the effects of global climate change--and unwilling to play its proper role in altering the way we do business in the world, the very roots of the American Republic are turning bitter.

James Baldwin frequently used the word "bitter" in his essays. In doing so, he was reflecting a long tradition of American commentary that had already made "bitter" a fundamental adjective for describing the fruits of this country's unjust and racialized structures of power and privilege. In 1955 Baldwin had begun to understand both the bitterness and passion that fueled the creative drive of the civil rights revolution in the 1950s and 1960s.

But bitterness in response to injustice was certainly not a new phenomenon in the 1950s. Nor is it now. And it should therefore not be surprising that a major political candidate IN TOUCH with the suffering of the majority of the American public, should NOW use specifically this word to describe the current state of many Americans. What IS surprising is that major media outlets and punditry appear so ignorant and "innocent" of this bitterness in 2008.

This pretended "innocence" continues to reveal just how deeply rooted are the racialized structures of power in our dominant corporate media. And what remains unexamined is how profitable the production of such racialized spectacles remains in our unreconstructed Republic. If there is any justice in the universe, one positive outcome of this 2008 campaign season will be a significant breakthrough in understanding that brings the public to the kind of turning point that caused it to reject overt forms of segregation in the 1950s. But to bring about such a change in 2008, all citizens of this Republic need to utterly reject the racialized spectacle in which the corporate media complex would like to embroil us in the name of profit.

Since this media complex is driven by profit, one clear way for the American public to reject this racialized spectacle, along with all those who stand to profit from its production, is to withdraw financial support from any media sources that seek to propagate this spectacle.

If the American public clearly rejects this racialized spectacle, and turns its criticism against the structures of media power that seek to profit from the manufacture of this kind of spectacle, perhaps this Republic will yet be able to build the foundation for a better future of opportunity for all its citizens--free of the kinds of racialized inequity that will otherwise continue to reproduce inequality and injustice.

The willingness of certain political currents to label Obama "elitist" because he dared to name the disease embittering the soul of this country--along with the new attempt of the media to manufacture a black-on-black slug fest between Obama and Wright--offers the American public the opportunity for a fundamental turning in this election. Which direction the majority of the American public chooses to allow itself to be taken will determine not only the outcome of this election, but the character of the American Republic for decades to come.

After we were forced to witness the ridiculous facade of the staged ABC "debate" on April 16, we can only hope a majority of the American public will note how desperately the corporate media are attempting to distract us from our interest in discussing real issues during this campaign. If the American public allows its corporate media to continue to lead it by the nose along this absurd path of distraction, our Republic will betray its own best hope for transcending much of what has plagued its previous history.

We can only hope that enough of our fellow citizens will have the wisdom to see through this racialized spectacle being offered up to the white Republic for its titillation. And we can work to ensure that our Republic turns the tables on the media by rejecting and denouncing this spectacle in ways that demand greater accountability from our media corporations.

And wouldn't it be nice if our collective rejection of this media-produced spectacle would help to draw the entire country back to what should be the central concerns of this campaign year--regarding the future of this country and all of its people:

How will our newly chosen President work together with, and inspire, the American people to rise to the challenge of successfully tackling the major problems of global climate change, the energy crisis, increasing poverty and war that otherwise threaten to draw the entire country and world into a century of chaos?

The character of our new President will be determined by the character of our own collective action in the months ahead. And where our new President takes us will determine the conditions, for better or worse, in which we will live out our shared future.

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