Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama will give a speech tomorrow he wouldn’t have to give – except that the corporate, and white-dominated, media in this country can’t seem to get past 1969. Senator Hillary R. Clinton has taken several interview questions she should never have had to address – except that the corporate, and white-male-dominated, media in this country can’t seem to get past 1969.
Simply because it’s more timely, let’s address the “How far does Senator Obama have to back away from his church before the likes of Chris Matthews will be satisfied?” question first. One way to analyze the question is to look at it from the “framing” and “narrative” perspective. To do this requires stepping back and looking at its context in the empowerment of African Americans, and the subsequent White reactions.
A trip down memory lane:
In 1969 we were embroiled in Vietnam, and the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were still fresh memories – not historical ‘artifacts.’ On April 14, 1969 the Student Afro-American Society at Columbia College occupied an abandoned NROTC office and renamed it the Malcolm X Liberation Center, [BSO] [Time] and a week later African American students took over Willard Straight Hall at Cornell University. Even music icon Aretha Franklin wasn’t immune from the turmoil, she was arrested in June for “creating a public disturbance.”
The patrons of the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village clashed with police and the “Stonewall Rebellion” announced the birth of the homosexual rights movement in June, 1969. An FBI memo “New Left and Extremist Movements” revealed that California Governor Ronald Reagan had plans for the destruction of ‘disruptive elements’ on college campuses using “psychological warfare and other methods.”
California was dealing with another hot topic – the Grape Workers Strike. Between 1967 and 1970 hundreds of striking workers spread across the continent to organize an international boycott of all California table grapes.
One of the most disturbing riots of 1969 took place in York, Pennsylvania, where July 21st rioting left two people dead and former members of the Girarders white street gang were given ammunition by the police and told, literally, “Kill as many n—s as you can.” A settlement in the death of one victim wouldn’t be made until 2005. Things were calmer in Woodstock, which began on August 15, and many women were a bit more relaxed when, on September 4, 1969 the FDA officially declared that birth-control pills were medically safe.
Events heated up again as the Chicago Eight were brought to trial on September 24, 1969 over events at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago the previous year. The convictions of Tom Hayden, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, and Rennie Davis would be over-turned on appeal.
Race relations hit the headlines again on October 29th when the U.S. Supreme Court dropped the “with all deliberate speed” part of the de-segregation rulings and ordered immediate integration of public schools. Jacksonville, Florida, promptly had a race riot two days later. Native Americans entered the lists, occupying Alcatraz Island on November 20, 1969. Early in December the Chicago police force stormed an apartment on the West Side and killed two members of the Black Panthers, Fred Hampton and Mark Clark; another prominent Panther, Bobby Rush, had left the apartment just hours earlier. Violence also erupted at the Altamont Speedway in Livermore, CA, during a Rolling Stones Concert, demonstrating that perhaps hiring the Hells Angels wasn’t the best choice for security. [Timelines]
The Year of the Great White Whine: If nothing more, the tenor of 1969 headlines, and the civil unrest palpable from one coast to the other, made the year a perfect illustration of the Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times. Conservative white men weren’t having a good time, not at all. Hispanic Americans were organizing in California. African American students and the Black Panthers were telling them that “black was beautiful – and powerful.” Women were telling them that the pill was perfectly safe and that they intended to use it. Native Americans had the temerity to remind the government that it had once promised to return abandoned lands to the tribes. The Supreme Court was telling them that, yes, your lily white daughter may, in fact, sit next to an African American youngster in class – Now. Gay men announced, forcefully, that they were tired of getting rousted by the cops. And, John Lennon and his wife were asking them to “Give Peace a Chance.”
Because it was no longer socially acceptable to refer to African Americans as “uppity,” the media was only too happy to apply the adjective Radical. Students were Radical. Black Panthers were Radical. The campus office or building sit-ins were Radical. Native Americans were Radical. Hispanic Americans were Radical. Gays were Radical. Adding to this unsettling situation for White American Males was the fact that their “girls” were no longer satisfied with a schedule load of Home Economics classes in high school, and weren’t any more delighted with the prospects of getting a college degree in one of the “three respectable occupations for women” – secretary, nurse, teacher. Now, even their women were Radical.
So, from the late 1960’s onward, the wonderfully handy word ‘radical’ took its place in the lexicon of current events narrative. Once associated with the provinces of abolitionists, suffragettes, labor organizers, communists, and anarchists, the ‘radical’ could now be applied to African Americans, Hispanics, young people of nearly all ethnicities, women, and Native Americans. No matter where a White Man might look he’d find a Radical.
We all know what Radicals are; they are angry, mad, fuming, irritated, and wrathful; filled with resentment, indignation, excitement, and turbulence. They are virulent, raging, and furious; and in their vexation we can dismiss their issues as irrational.
With this in mind, read the description of the Reverend Jeremiah White by columnist (and very White Male) Howard Fineman:
“By now you probably know who Wright is: the brilliant, learned, eloquent, charming but also often angry and sometimes virulently anti-white (and now retired) pastor at the Southside Chicago United Church of Christ. A disciple of what came to be known as “black liberation” theology, Wright mixed social and moral uplift with nasty (even if often justified) stabs at the white power structure that has dominated American life.” – Howard Fineman [MSNBC]
Why would Fineman use the word “angry” instead of “passionate?” Why would he characterize being opposed to White oppression as “virulent?” Why is Black Liberation in quotation marks? Why would he use the word “nasty” and then seek to provide a parenthetical palliative? This isn’t to argue that Fineman is a poor reporter or columnist, but to observe that he, like so many others called upon to comment on American society, comes with a verbal toolkit of short-hand descriptive terminology that conforms in large part to the White Male narrative in which opposition to that “white power structure that has dominated American life” is Radical
Whether the corporate media wishes to acknowledge it or not, there is a double standard in its reportage. Consider the Wall Street Journal’s description of Rev. Mike Huckabee.
The former Baptist minister and governor of Arkansas is surging in Iowa, and is tied with Rudy Giuliani in national polls. He’s selling his party on a simple message: He’s not those other guys, with their flip-flops and different faiths, and dicey social positions. As to what Mr. Huckabee is–that’s as unknown to most voters as the Almighty himself. Mr. Huckabee is starting to get a look-see by the press, though whether the nation will have time to absorb the findings before the primaries is just as unknown.” [WSJ] However, Huckabee is know for using more honey than vinegar in his public speeches, and his Church hasn’t released copies of his sermons. However, there have been some White preachers who could get every bit as “nasty” and “angry” as any purveyor of fire and brimstone. One of these was the late Dr. Francis A. Schaeffer, a founder of the modern religious right, and the author of one of Huckabee’s favorite books.
In the confines of the White Male narrative, White Males are not Radical – even when the verbiage comes out as in the following excerpt:
“I would now repeat again the word I used before. There is no other word we can use for our present situation that I have just been describing, except the word TYRANNY! TYRANNY! That’s what we face! We face a world view which never would have given us our freedoms. It has been forced upon us by the courts and the government — the men holding this other world view, whether we want it or not, even though it’s destroying the very freedoms which give the freedoms for the excesses and for the things which are wrong.” Dr. Francis A. Schaeffer (sermon to the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church 1982)
Schaeffer’s son noticed the difference in the way the reporting game is played between African American and White ministers of the Gospel.
“My dad’s books denouncing America and comparing the USA to Hitler are still best sellers in the “respectable” evangelical community and he’s still hailed as a prophet by many Republican leaders. When Mike Huckabee was recently asked by Katie Couric to name one book he’d take with him to a desert island, besides the Bible, he named Dad’s Whatever Happened to the Human Race? a book where Dad also compared America to Hitler’s Germany.” Frank Schaeffer, Huffington Post
Senator Clinton has managed to avoid being declared a Radical, but she still has trouble getting beyond the “Little Woman” mythology. If she seems stern and addresses an issue firmly, she’s “cold, and calculating.” If she shows an emotional side, then Newsweek is asking if this is a “Muskie Moment, or a helpful glimpse of the ‘real Hillary?’”ABC News asked “Can Clinton’s Emotions get the best of her?” Fox News felt compelled to produce an entire “Special Report: Panel on Hillary Clinton’s Emotional Moment.”
White Males are ‘powerful;’ women are ‘strident’ – as in “…At the same time, Clinton’s strident reaction to her Iowa loss, and some of the extreme policy positions she’s brought into her campaign since then, are making Obama seem like the safer choice in these dangerous times.” [SmrtMny]
Oh, if only she had stuck with Home Economics classes in high school – then she wouldn’t have had to come with that oatmeal-chocolate chip cookie recipe to appease the press? (The cookies are really pretty good!) However, instead of taking on one of those grand old traditional roles for women (house wife, secretary, teacher, or nurse) she had the audacity to attend Yale Law School and serve on the Board of Editors of the Yale Review of Law and Social Action.
This is truly a pipe dream, but wouldn’t it be nice if the reporting and punditry associated with the 2008 presidential election had advanced beyond the days when “Build Me Up Butter Cup” and “A Boy Named Sue” were top plays on AM radio stations?