Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Follow Up From Guest Blobber Dick Swanson

Everywhere For 5 Minutes ( You HAVE Been There, Right?)

Obama’s speech on race made me think about the values and pitfalls of experience and the arrogance of empowerment that can come with it (my resumé includes Time, Life, Fortune, Look, Saturday Evening Post, (how’s that for dating myself) Newsweek, National Geographic, The Washington Post, etc., so I’ve done my share of traveling in 40 years).

“Arrogance of empowerment” is a term I first heard out of the mouth of…wait for it…George H. W. Bush! He was being interviewed for a Time Magazine piece (He was CIA director at the time and was asked about his WWII experiences as a Navy pilot). He said that being a fighter pilot was empowering, elitist almost, and his arrogance about it is what put him in harm’s way.

The memory of that honest self-assessment surfaced during Obama’s speech last Tuesday explaining his character and beliefs. I thought, what’s so unusual about understanding other cultures including the black culture?

Hasn’t everybody experienced a rousing sermon in a black church? Hasn’t everyone had the experience of having a meal at the kitchen table of a black family? Hasn’t everyone had the rowdy experience of getting a hair cut in a black barbershop? Well, no.

It came to me that having been everywhere for five minutes (a description of photojournalism that comes from David Burnett) there was a certain “arrogance of empowerment” of being an insider in the cultures of others.

And therein lies the arrogance. One tends to forget that millions of decent non-black Americans don’t understand the depth of anger displayed by Reverend Wright because they had not been exposed to the legitimate grievances of the black community. They hadn’t been to a black church or had a meal with a black family in their kitchen or spent time soaking up the atmosphere in a black barbershop.

To be sure, Reverend Wright’s more lurid accusations about AIDS and race and 9/11 were over the top. But in a larger context he emphasized the perceptions of a large part of the black community.

And that’s what Obama was trying to explain to us. Don’t take for granted that we are all one big happy family. To paraphrase Peppy, a favorite chef of mine, as in any family, dialogue becomes “the glue that binds us together”.

And if Obama’s “crazy uncle” goes off the reservation from time to time, well, so be it. To disown him would be more revealing of Obama that Rev. Wright. To listen to his message and start a dialogue would reveal how far we we’ve come and how far we have to go.

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

Finally, someone gets it.

A dear friend has two handsome sons. She was a Peace Corp volunteer who fell in love with a man who was born and raise on the African continent.

I watch these two wonderful young men grow up without a father who lived in their household most of their life. Oh he was around, but not often. So they grew up in their mother's universe of affluent Alexandria, VA.

One son went off to UVA. Bright, funny, handsome young men, who are looked at through other people's filters and then judged.

Obama is more Hawaiian then he is white or Africa. Not that Hawaii doesn't have classism and racism, but the Hawaiian filter is different than the mainland.

In many ways, Obama, see America far differently then the majority of people. I believe his path in life gives him his advantage of 'seeing' America differently.

And yes I've hung out in African-American barber shops, dinner tables and churches. We white Americans DO NOT get it.

Too bad George W is too arrogant to listen to his dad. George W was a fighter pilot flying the parties of Alabama instead of seeing his generation's war first hand.

Arrogance of Empowerment and Power indeed.

Thanks,

W

bob said...

The 'guest blobber' certainly adds richness to WJS. Keep up the good work, Dick.

G. Withers

Walter Briggs Photographic Images said...

Nice try..and I respect your view on the Obama minister..BUT all I saw and heard from "Rev. Rant" was rage and hate.

I've been in all types cultures all over the place, been in black churches, have black friends...

Hate is Hate, and the pulpit should never be a forum or excuse for its usage!

bob said...

I attended my first political rally not associated with my work yesterday. During my 43 years with the AP I was careful to be zero-political. I even turned away those collecting for a clean water fund. My wife convinced me to drive to Anderson, IN from our home 30 minutes away in Noblesville to attend Hilliary's campaign appearance.

It was like watching my past life pass before my eyes. I watched as the campaign staff carefully chose those who would serve as background on stage, being careful to be PC. The traveling press arrived and was ushered to the buffer zone down in front of the stage.

This depressed city lost a couple of GM plants not long ago and thousands of jobs. I listened as the candidate promised several miracles (don't they all). Everyone appeared to believe she could deliver. Interestingly, Andrea Mitchell garnered almost as much attention as Hilliary. Curious!

I watched AP's Charlie Dharapak shoot and file his images from a laptop before she finished her remarks. This is nothing new, but I'm still fasinated with the technology. This was the highlight of my day. I came away still wondering why she or anyone else would aspire to the presidency and wondered how I lasted all those years covering similar events. Times have certainly changed for both politicians and the press.

Granville. Withers(retired)

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