Friday, October 09, 2009

How Obama is Different: The Global Impact and Effect of Effort

President Barack Obama’s nomination and selection as the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize recipient cannot be understated. President Obama becomes the first sitting United States President to win the award in ninety years. Notably, many historic figures past and current that Americans and the globe appear to idolize have not won the award. Moreover, given the list of accomplishments and efforts of previous presidents, President Obama’s selection may be an enigma for some.

However, in an attempt to briefly explain why President Obama’s efforts that won him the award are similar yet significantly distinct from the actions of others comparable, let us review some of the efforts and accomplishments of other U.S. presidents.

President Hoover did not win for efforts to feed the politically unpopular and eradicate poverty. President Franklin D. Roosevelt did not win though he was instrumental in bringing a gradual end to the U.S. Depression, established Social Security, was instrumental in the creation of the United Nations and oversaw U.S. military actions in World War II. President Truman did not win after ordering the complete desegregation of the U.S. armed forces nor did President Eisenhower for his effort to integrate Little Rock Central High School in the midst of America’s racial turmoil.

President Kennedy did not win even though he tried to decrease the presence of nuclear weapons, helped prevent a Cuban Missile Crisis, vastly supported equal, civil and human rights and sought to eliminate poverty. President Johnson did not win for his efforts in Vietnam or for his ability to enact many of his predecessor’s goals. President Reagan did not win even though he successfully negotiated a treaty to eliminate intermediate range nuclear missiles with the then Soviet leader. Even given his success in the Persian Gulf War, President George H.W. Bush never won either. President Clinton has not (yet?) won the award despite his national initiative to end racial discrimination, his role in establishing AmeriCorps, and his commitment to an expanded NATO while in office or his post-presidency efforts with the vitally important Clinton Global Initiative. Finally, President’s George W. Bush’s costly initiative against a war on terrorism did not lead him to Nobel victory either.

What makes President Obama's selection significant is that while he has yet to amass the list of comparable substantive achievements of his predecessors, he has been able to do in a short time what they all were unable to do. The fostering of immediate global impact and the effect of effort. In other words, how President Obama has articulated the global importance of hope, change, prosperity and peace is starkly different from yet simultaneously uniquely comparable to previous presidents' substantive successes. How President Obama chose to transfer his message and the immediate global effect of that message is something no previous president has accomplished. The domestic and global effects of that seemingly reverberating transmission of goals is as powerful as any major substantive result.

For example, domestically, the purported increase in volunteerism many scholars, non-profit leaders, and pundits have directly or indirectly attributed to President Obama's call to service in signing The Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act last April and his creation of the United We Serve initiative. In fact, the President next week is expected to join with former President George H.W. Bush and the Points of Light Institute to host a Presidential Forum on Service at Texas A&M University to honor presidential efforts to increase volunteerism. The impact those thousands of new volunteers have daily on the lives of others is real. As history informs, it is wise not to doubt the impact of inspiration.

Therefore, President Barack Obama’s nomination is unlike each of the potential ‘wins’ of those other presidents. As the first President of the United States who is not a White male and whose electoral and governing style embraces a powerful rhetoric of hope and prosperity, Obama’s nomination and victory speaks to more than his efforts as President as it does his galvanizing ability to capture the world’s attention. His success on the world global stage began well before his presidency and will continue much afterward likely no matter the results. The reason for this is because President Obama’s message, though at this point is short on significant substantive successes, is a message of serious effort and attention to national and global crises that have long been ignored by the Office of the Presidency or that have been addressed in uninspiring initiatives.

For example, for the first time in the history of American presidential politics, a candidate underscored the long-stated link between the errors of the U.S. Constitution, significant yet morally disastrous Supreme Court decisions, slavery, second-class citizenship, the failures of this nation’s founders, and the lasting impact of that legacy in a context that made the topic of race clearly important to all who listened. With nearly two million YouTube viewers, the vast impact is transparent.

Many will point to President Obama’s short tenure in office as a signal that this award he does not deserve and that the award itself has lost meaning. However, before one draws a conclusion based on his record solely as president, they should not forget his “record” and powerful voice as a candidate for the presidency – one who took the global stage by storm and transformed it even before he took office. He, in fact, led a movement to the office, which is in part why no opposition was evenly tooled to defeat him. Yes, his re-election will be measured on more substantive norms and details, and the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize will likely raise even higher expectations of a historic presidency that already suffers as a result of extraordinarily high expectations from all U.S. citizens, (but especially U.S. Blacks) and many across the globe who cling to President Obama’s message.

Yet, even though the expectations will remain impossibly high and he has yet to complete much of his agenda, his efforts at domestic and global peace today should not go unnoticed simply because he has more work to do. Understandably, for many the United States remains a systemically-founded imperialistic, racist, sexist, capitalist country of White male global dominance wherein a structure of inequality still exists. However, while elements of our ugly past persist, Americans and humanity across the globe should all be careful to remember that the effort at establishing peace can be just as powerful as the substantive results thereof, particularly when the individual is one who symbolizes a shift in America’s racial order that has long plagued the country.

Finally, President Obama’s selection as the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner makes even more poignant the substantive power and ironic substance of symbolic politics. Generally speaking, politics has the power and potential to inspire people. However, the best stewards of that political strength are those persons able to organize an unprecedented number of supporters and followers, and use the new platform as an opportunity to make significant strides toward lasting change all the while changing individual lives in the process.

Either as a result of substantive plans yet to be realized or simply because the spirit of peace many say he now represents, President Obama exemplifies the hope and spirit on which the Nobel Peace Prize was founded. Consequently, although incomplete, President Obama’s efforts meet that spirit of the Nobel Peace Prize. In fact, perhaps it is best to award the president the prize before his record is completely established given that one's merits for the honor is not limited to the results achieved but also includes the global impact the efforts generate.

For that, he is an obvious choice.

The Nobel Peace Prize is a worthy accomplishment for President Obama and for the United States of America not because of Mr. Obama’s substantive global results given ten months in office, but because of his rapid and substantive global impact and effect.

Ravi Perry, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Government at Clark University.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Past in Present Tense

This week the Justice Department correctly overturned two discriminatory state of Georgia "no match, no vote" voting procedures. Georgia is one of the states subject to federal pre-clearance, given its history of illegal voting intimidation methods that in part resulted in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The procedures Georgia put in place were designed to flag new registrants whose basic personal information did not match government databases. Another comparable procedure checked the citizenship status of new registrants against the government's records. Given that local, state and federal governments are notorious in all kinds of cases for having poor record-keeping, the fact that the Bush administration upheld these practices for years is unimaginable. The Obama/Holder Justice Department's decision is particularly significant given that the same department with a Hispanic head under President Bush routinely backed states' voting rules - rules that more often than not made it harder for minorities to register and vote.

Moreover, the Justice Department's actions could not have been more timely given that the Supreme Court is in the process of deliberating a challenge to the Voting Rights Act from jurisdictions and advocates who claim the Act has exhausted its necessity and utility.

However, after investigations, the Georgia procedures were found to have many errors and resulted in thousands of eligible voters having to go through the arduous process of verifying their identity records simply to vote (and we wonder why turn out is often low?). Most of those flagged persons, according to the New York Times, were Black.

Finally, the Justice Department under a Democratic, Black-led administration used the law to defend the voting rights of American citizens. Citing the need for Georgia to pre-clear any voting changes with the Justice Department as determined by Section Five of the Act, the decision has stopped the process that was allowed by President Bush and his Justice Department for far too long.

Now, the next battle is to ensure that this Georgia example is shared on loud speakers in front of the Supreme Court, as they may strike down the very section of law that was used to invalidate Georgia's 21st century voting intimidation acts.

As much as we would all like to believe that the Act and Section Five were remnants of a past era, the very fact that we are still having to address situations like what just occurred in Georgia is evidence that what is in the past for some, is still very much the present for others.

Until the past remains the past for all and is exemplified by corresponding actions, the Voting Rights Act and any other law supporting the civil rights of American citizens must be upheld.

The Gay Tap Dance

Call me a cynic, but President Obama's decision to allow his appointees and employees to defend the inequality of gay and lesbians' civil rights is inexcusable. Some historic moments don't wait for a convenient time to be changed. As Obama said often himself as a candidate who invoked the tenor of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., what ever happened to the fierce urgency of now?

This week President Obama allowed employees of the Justice Department to move to dismiss a same-sex marriage case in federal courts. However, the administration's choice to file a motion to dismiss Smelt v. United States is not particularly the problem. Rather, the issue is how the administration chose to make the argument. While the Justice Department spokesperson said the administration was "defending the law on the books in court," others have noted that in their defense the language used also chose to uphold discrimination and to compare gays' lives to immoral incestuous practices

Meanwhile, the New York Times wrote a fairly critical article about the President and his administration's slow start to advocate for equality of all. Finding that "busy calendars and political expediency are no excuse for making one group of Americans wait any longer for equal rights," The Times accused Obama of not following through soon enough of his commitment of equal rights for gays and lesbians.

In fact, what The Times indicated he has allowed instead, was to make the argument in federal court that states have the rights not to recognize same-sex marriage because of the Constitution's full faith and credit clause where decades of case law have been used to emphasize that states need not recognize incestuous marriages.

Clearly this comparison is a huge problem. And I will go out on a limb here and again indicate why Blacks need to be a clear advocate for gay rights. Not because Blacks' struggle is like unto the American Black civil rights movement of the 1960s (although an argument can be made for such a comparison), but largely because Black Americans have long been recognized globally as one of the most discriminated groups in history. One would think that quid pro quo or understanding would come in at some point. The fact that the president is Black and the head of the Justice Department is also Black when such trifling legal comparisons are made between incestuous acts and gay and lesbian marriage is inexcusable.

Indirectly, it suggests Blacks in powerful positions will not use their authority to at least craft respectful arguments even where in the final analysis many gays may disagree. That choice is severely regrettable.

During his campaign President Obama expressed an interest in over-turning "don't ask, don't tell" and the Defense of Marriage Act and has yet to do so. With climate change, the economy, and healthcare, he claims the moment is now. With a Democratic majority, he has argued in respect to those issues that if nothing significant is accomplished now before the midterm election season, than it won't be completed anytime soon.

Why my president can not apply the same fervor to respect the equal rights of all Americans is baffling. And no - extending some benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees is not in and of itself significant. Unfortunately full coverage was not extended and the maneuver is well over-due.

I find it sadly interesting how staunch conservative Republicans like former Vice President Dick Cheney, former presidential candidate Senator John McCain's daughter, and McCain's former campaign manager Schmidt can openly explain their support for equal rights for the LGBT community, yet President Obama and his administration continue to tap dance around the issue on many fronts - from 'don't ask don't tell' ambivalence to a discriminatory support only for civil unions.

Much more aggressive action is needed from President Obama and his team and if this is a country that truly stands for equal rights, every day the president wakes up and does nothing is an egregious act against the founding fathers and his own ancestors.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same.

Today is Friday June 12th and I am beginning a new weekly blog series that briefly covers the week’s major stories from my point of view.

When then candidate and Senator Barack Obama was elected President of the United States last November, people globally were in tears and proudly reflected on the significance of the change moment. However, as I have stated in previous posts, expecting checks in the mail because of the watershed victory is another story.

To my dismay we still live in a country where change occurs in a push and pull vacuum. In other words, like the story of sociopolitical electoral progress in many cities nationwide, while we can proudly continue to cheer the advancement of Black elected officials, the tenor of the country’s comfort with all that entails still tries to pull us back from the pushing progress many continue to fight for.

This push and pull phenomenon arguably has even affected President Obama’s judicial nominee. Sotomayor, while clearly competent, skilled, experienced, and a near-perfect mirage of someone who would fill race and gender holes on the bench - her record on key issues of Democratic interest remains unknown. Given that her confirmation is only subject to a near filibuster proof Democratic majority, the silent nature of her positions on many Democratic issues remains unfortunate.

Sadly, though, her racial and gender make-up do not shed light on that mystery either. Clearly identifying as a woman does not suggest one is progressive and one’s racial background does not indicate that either (e.g., Clarence Thomas, Ward Connerly, Michael Steele, etc). While scholars stress her wealth of experience, all of that experience still leaves unanswered why she does not possess a clear record on liberal issues. She largely remains unknown on issues like abortion and gay marriage, in part because the 2nd Circuit, based in NYC handles mostly commercial cases, not social issues.

Hence, President Obama’s choice to nominate a skilled, competent, experienced justice without a clear record on some of the major hot-button issues of the era only reflects his own role in the yin and yang or boomerang effect of change vs. maintaining the status quo. Arguably with a near filibuster proof majority, President Obama, who is comfortable with tackling big issues like health care and climate change in his first year in office, should have been equally comfortable with nominating a jurist with a clear record on social issues that will forever dictate the path this country takes in the future.

In either event, I am comfortable with the nomination and believe she will be confirmed. Her nomination is a departure from the last several nominations from Republican Presidents. Whether or not the departure is strong enough, we will soon find out.

In the end, though, President Obama’s moderate approach toward his first Supreme Court nomination can be characterized as an example of appeasing or maintaining the status quo. Think of it this way - President Obama’s choice to be more moderate in his governance than in his electoral campaign rhetoric suggests he believes re-election would best position him to make substantive change that has long effects on this country. While a strong argument, the question remains if a moderate approach will help him achieve that 2012 goal. More significantly, at what cost will a moderate governing approach delay the change he spoke so eloquently about on the campaign trail?

The tamely, yet significant Sotomayor nomination paints a larger picture that change occurs in the context of the status quo, and as a result, often means will be slower than imagined, previously thought, or for some, desired. A moderate governing approach also suggests that there is a political need to appease more conservative elements. Hence, that suggests for the sake of politics, progressive change cannot be too aggressive. Apparently, it must not march ahead of the tenor of millions who hold more conservative views. It’s like a theorist, who often may claim changing the discourse will result in the public policy change desired. However, getting the tone of the conversation to change and the opinions of others to change is often a task too difficult, and unnecessary when history suggests waiting for the majority’s opinion to change in favor of a particular issue may lead to the issue never changing. Moreover, a public policy change may require changing the discourse for the politicians or decision makers voting or deciding the issue, but that is arguably easier than getting the whole country to do the same.

The push and pull factors of change vs. the status quo could not have been more evident in this week’s news. I recall reading an article where the author noted how Alabama still had a law banning interracial marriage in the state in October 2000 and that 40 percent of the Alabama electorate wanted to keep it that way. Comparable sodomy laws still exist in some states throughout the country.

The presence of laws that enforce socially conservative views that legislate citizens’ private affairs perhaps is an endorsement for some of the moderate approach toward governance. However, while it demonstrates an interest and willingness to get as much support as possible for particular issues, it also validates and gives voice to many of the conservative views and laws that discriminate against citizens of this country.

Luckily, some bold politicians are willing, at least in the electoral arena, to challenge those norms. For example, 41-year-old Black Alabama Congressman Artur Davis, last week announced he is running for governor of a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat in that office in over ten years and of the same state where a famous former governor declared “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” in his inaugural address.

While much later in life Wallace changed his views, the contemporary story of a serious Black contender for the Democratic Party’s nomination for Governor in 2010 in Alabama is another example of the pushing of change taking place simultaneously with the pulling of the status quo..

Take, for example, the deathly violence in the lobby of the Holocaust Museum this week by an eighty-eight year old gunman was a well-known white supremacist. The rise in pride for the election of a Black president also coincided with a rise in hate groups according to the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI. Unfortunately, while the relation of the two events is not surprising it does reference my point that an uncritical lens toward change simply because we have a Black president is misguided. Change will come, we just may need to be more patient, pragmatic, and realistic toward that end.

It will take many a long time to get used to seeing a Black family in the White House and that family’s leader, for the sake of all of us, and himself, will cautiously tread the road toward change as a result.

This week’s news reminds us that change is a product of the status quo environment, both in terms of sociopolitical goals and governance related actions. Hence, progressive change always occurs along side status quo appeasement for some, deeper retrenchment for many, and aggressive forms of resistance for others.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Why Blacks’ Denial of Civil Rights to Others is an Affront to Themselves

I am still disturbed by those African-Americans who choose not to support marriage equality efforts for members of the gay and lesbian community throughout America. It remains especially baffling that so many African-Americans in California could proudly claim their ability to vote for President Barack Obama as a civil rights victory while voting on the same ballot to deny civil rights to members of the gay community.

It appears that those blacks seemingly view civil rights as solely synonymous with the 1960’s movement to improve the Black American experience. However, civil rights in this country are at least as old as the Declaration of Independence, well before blacks had any significant rights or legal protections in America. In other words, civil rights existed before oppressed blacks received them, and should exist for others now after blacks have largely received the same rights afforded whites.

Marriage is a civil right, conferred by the state. At least given one’s verifiable status as a state resident and citizen – that right should be conferred equally to all within every state’s borders. More and more, state supreme courts and legislative bodies – conservative, moderate and liberal – have recognized the basic legality of that fact. The only roadblocks to such civil equality that remain have been voters’ own interpretations of what they individually consider marriage to be.

Many of those blacks who have chosen to deny a state-conferred right to a marginalized group have argued that their faith and religious beliefs form their opinions thusly. However, one would think that blacks, of all people, would recall that the KKK used Christian-based arguments to sustain their Jim Crow control over blacks for centuries through intimidation, fear, and other tactics. One would think that blacks, of all people, would recall that some White southerners used Christianity to suppress blacks’ efforts toward equal treatment as they enslaved blacks for centuries - either by way of the institution of slavery or the institution of second-class citizenship. One would think that blacks, of all people, would recall that in some states since the late 1600s until 1967, blacks were not given the freedom to marry whomever they pleased given rampant miscegenation laws that did not allow ‘race mixing.’ Each of these historic recollections are examples of James Madison’s tyranny of the majority and are evidence of the use of religion against black people in their pursuit of economic justice, legal civil protections, and marriage equality.

In each case blacks often argued their pursuit of equal legal protections were not only civil rights, but human rights. Do you remember reading King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail? Therein, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. used quotes from St. Thomas Aquinas and others to persuade white southern ministers who were reluctant to challenge unjust laws against segregation. King argued that unjust laws were no laws at all and cannot be justified. Moreover, he suggested that all persons, but especially Christians, have a duty to challenge the unequal treatment of human beings.

As a minister, King invoked preferred tenants of the Christian faith to make his arguments. However, I’m conscious enough to realize that I am also guilty of picking and choosing which Bible verses speak most readily to my point of view. However, that’s the point. No matter our opinions on contentious issues like abortion, the death penalty and marriage equality, we all can find Biblical references to support one’s argument. Take women’s rights, for example. In the first book of Corinthians, the Apostle Paul suggests that women should remain silent in church. Yet, in the book of Romans, Paul's view is that women could and should be church leaders.

As a civil right, marriage equality should not be about religion, but I had to address religion because I know that, for many, it is the reason for persons’ opposition to marriage equality.

Hence, there are differing views in the Bible with respect to major issues based on individual interpretation. The same is true for marriage equality.

Regardless of how Christianity has been used to further the social agendas of varying groups historically, I understand and respect the merits of both sides of the contemporary marriage equality debate. For example, recently, scholars and media pundits have increasingly suggested why “gay rights,” should be viewed as a civil rights issue. However, others share a different view.

Recent evidence of the competing views is noted within the membership of the NAACP. Leaders such as Julian Bond and Coretta Scott King have noted that support for gay rights is in line with the organization’s mission. Detractors, such as civil rights leader Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, find that gays are rightly discriminated against “because of their behavior.” Thus, proponents of “gay rights” have long framed the issue of marriage equality as a human, rights-based issue with ties to the civil rights movement. However, others view their concerns as distinctly different from the content of rights, human or civil.

The problem with detractors’ arguments concerning marriage equality is that their arguments keep shifting. Many opponents of marriage equality have argued that ‘activist judges’ should not legislate social changes from courts. Some have suggested that is what occurred originally Massachusetts, later in California and Connecticut, and most recently, in Iowa when the Supreme Court ruled state-sponsored discrimination against gays in marriage equality as unconstitutional.

Those opponents argued to leave the decision to the people or their elected representatives. Yet, in New Hampshire, New York, Maine, Vermont, and the District of Columbia where state and local legislatures have voted in favor of marriage equality or are in the process of doing so, those detractors now alter their tactics from claims of judicial activism to one of moral reasoning.

In either event, however, the spirit of the law remains the same – the denial of rights to a protected class of people is illegal. Separate civil unions will not work. Civil unions still deny gays more than one thousand federal benefits and responsibilities received by married heterosexual couples. More importantly, it establishes a separate institution that is inherently unequal. Brown v. Board of Education, whose 55th anniversary we celebrate this week, already struck those structures down as illegal.

I prefer the term ‘marriage equality’ rather than ‘gay rights’ or ‘gay marriage’ on the basis that the infusion of the context ‘gay’ implies the establishment of a separate institution. When, in fact, the rights gays seek are civil rights that do not and should not require the establishment of separate institutions, rather, the legal inclusion of gays within pre-existing constitutionally-based structures of American culture.

I realize that there are differing opinions in the marriage equality civil rights debate. As President Obama recently implied in his controversial Notre Dame commencement address, we should be able to have differing views on major issues and not succumb to degradation. I can understand and respect one who shares a different view on marriage equality. I would hope that in America, where we have the freedom to speak freely, that my views on marriage equality can be equally respected.

Marriage is a civil right. We know that because no marriage is considered legitimate unless it is validated by the state. As long as marriage licenses are printed using state, tax payer funded dollars, and are validated by state employees, every adult should have the right to marry whatever human being they please. Moreover, African-Americans, more than any other group, have a historical duty to support the cause of civil rights of others. Such support would not only be fair, but based in Jesus’ instruction to love everybody. It’s also quid pro quo.

Notable black ‘supporters’ of the gay community also fiercely supported blacks’ struggle for equality – Bayard Rustin, Zora Neale Hurston, Bruce Nugent, Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, Alice Walker, Wallace Thurman, Angela Davis, Langston Hughes, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, Samuel Delaney, Angelina Grimke, Countee Cullen, Jewelle Gomez, Huey P. Newton and others.

Do we not view these scholars and leaders as equal?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Obama has upper hand on the topic of race relations

(As printed in the Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester NY, September 26, 2008)

Ever since 1960, both major political parties have consented to presidential debates of their respective nominees. Tonight’s debate on foreign policy, however, marks a historic moment on the nation’s racial landscape - for the debate features a major party’s nominee who identifies as Black.

Pressing, though, is the unstable economy, made evident by John McCain’s recommendation on Wednesday that the debate should be postponed.

Yet, one topic should not be camouflaged – race. Tonight’s debate hosted by the University of Mississippi or ‘Ole Miss’ is the site where in 1962 White students and residents rioted, and Governor Barnett blocked the entry, despite the Supreme Court ordered admission, of the university’s first Black student, James Meredith.

A watershed legacy presents an opportunity for McCain and Obama. Both can share their view on the role of government in respect to civil rights at home and abroad, while we can recognize the subtle significance of the Commission on Presidential Debates’ selection of Ole Miss.

McCain needs to clarify his record on civil rights and explain why his campaign website includes no mention of civil rights. As it stands, a reasonable conclusion can be that it’s not of concern to him. The gall of claiming to bring civility “changes” abroad when one’s own backyard is filthy is incomprehensible.

Obama needs to remind voters of his March speech on race to calm their chastisements of his purported inattention to that very topic.

According to a New York Times article published Wednesday, “Debate Host, Too, Has a Message of Change,” even Chancellor Robert Khayat acknowledges that hosting the debate ‘speaks volumes’ of how Ole Miss has transformed from 46 years ago.
Yet, with Black enrollment at the public university at 14% in a state that is nearly 40% Black, more progress is needed. The chancellor’s overruling of a jury which chose to include mention of ‘fear’ in an erected memorial to Meredith’s triumph, is another indication of more progress being necessary. Embracing the role fear played in the riots surrounding Meredith’s enrollment should not be considered ‘negative’ as the New York Times article reports, but factual.

Fear is a valid emotion that affects the status and quality of race relations in the United States.

For instance, a AP-Yahoo News poll released Saturday found that 1/3 of White Democrats and independents view Blacks negatively, citing perceived laziness or violence as reasons for their views. The same poll suggests Obama’s race could cost him 6% in the election.

Hence, the stakes tonight are extremely high and the expectations are likely even higher, relative to global and domestic issues.

While the implications of tonight’s historic debate remain unclear, one thing is transparent: the choices before voters indicate that identity politics matters. For McCain – it’s his age and his running mate’s gender. For Obama – it’s his race.

By reversing their status quo positions of dancing around or ignoring race, McCain and Obama have the opportunity to emphatically endorse the desirable “changes” they both advocate for here and abroad.

But, odds are they won’t.

Why HIV and/or AIDS is a Sociopolitical Issue YOU NEED to Do Something Substantive About!

The new HIV infection rates, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are simply devastating. Make no mistake - this is a political issue. It is a social issue. It is both a Black community issue and a global issue. It is – for some – a moral issue. But beyond whatever label you put on it – it is a life and death issue. Either you do something about it or you don’t. I hope you choose the former. Here’s why you should.

First, in the United States alone, more than 1 million people are living with HIV and/or AIDS. So, it’s not a silent epidemic. It’s likely right in front of your face – whether it’s your neighbor, your cousin, your brother, or your grandmother – HIV and/or AIDS’s close proximity to you means that you have access and opportunity to substantively make a positive contribution to the lives of those who are HIV positive.

Second, your participation would create an opportunity for education. Among other things, you will learn from your entre into the science of the epidemic that HIV and AIDS are not medically the same. In terms of the field of medicine, HIV is a virus that attacks your immune system and can develop into AIDS. However, it does not have to. And, thanks to medical and antiretroviral advances over several years, many afflicted with the condition live ‘normal,’ healthy lives and potentially may never develop AIDS in their lifespan. True – for others, depending on the strand of infection, time of diagnosis and infection, etc. one’s prognosis may differ. But, the point is, proper education is needed so we can become better equipped with the appropriate knowledge. For the purposes of this article, I deliberately refer to the epidemic as HIV and/or AIDS versus just AIDS or HIV/AIDS because of the medical distinction.

Third, the knowledge is needed to help stifle the stigma. This stigma is present nearly everywhere a person afflicted with HIV travels. While it is not as bad as it once was when, say, the Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington movie Philadelphia debuted (which is ‘celebrating’ its 15 anniversary this week) – the stigma, however, is still bad. If many feel they can not talk about it, how well do you think they are addressing it?

Frankly, we need to fight the stigma. It must be a topic of ministers’ sermons – regularly (not just during certain holidays and events). It should have long become an issue of concern to the Urban League and the NAACP. And by concern, I mean, a proactive method of attention that includes preventative methods and serious steps at intervention – intervening in the lives of those afflicted with care and support (financial and emotional). I don’t see that. Many of our Black organizations have simply failed. And, honestly, many churches are the main culprits. Ministers need to get beyond the sexual orientation doctrines that they attribute to the epidemic. Why?

First of all – globally, more people contract the disease through heterosexual contact than through any other means. Second, the last time I checked, God asks us not to judge but to love. You can still pray for someone with HIV, attend to someone with HIV and their needs, and hold true to your doctrine, without asking how they contracted the disease, if they’re gay, etc. The fact is – you don’t need to know to care for the individual. And given the statistic I just highlighted, they likely won’t be gay, anyway.

Bottom line – HIV and/or AIDS and homosexuality are not synonyms and are not necessarily related.

While I will debate a minister theologically if he or she holds a position on sexual orientation that denies equal rights to those not heterosexual, (and I’d be happy to) - difference of opinion on religious scripture should not prevent all of us from making every effort to positively impact the lives of those who are positive – no matter their sexual orientation.

Do you know that some people with HIV hide their affliction from their friends and family, ignore treatment options, and consequently potentially shorten their mental and physical lifespan by years? Do you know that many of those individuals are Black?

As Phil Wilson, the CEO and founder of Black AIDS Institute recently said, “AIDS in America continues to be a black disease as manifested by the numbers.” Well, what are the numbers? According to the CDC, African Americans accounted for 45 percent of the new HIV infections in 2006. Yet, we are only 12 percent of the population. Among Blacks, Black women are contracting the disease at alarming rates!

A number of issues are said to be the cause for high rates of infection among Blacks – poverty, stigma, limited access to healthcare, drug abuse, etc. Well, thanks to Jack Ford – in respect to healthcare and drug abuse, he’s help to create CareNet and SASI to deal with those. Contact CareNet if you’re positive and do not have health insurance. See if they can help. If you’re a drug user, I’d ask that you do the same with SASI and other organizations like it in Toledo.

And if you’re a concerned citizen willing to help those afflicted, I beg of you to contact those organizations and others like it to see how you can.

Literally – our community depends on it. With Black gay men ages 13 to 29 being twice as likely to get infected as white and young Hispanic men – if you believe in that ‘the youth are our future,’ mantra - I ask you to ask yourself, what actions of yours help to make that belief a reality?

With Black women being almost 15 times as likely than white women and four times more likely than Hispanic women to contract HIV and/or AIDS, I ask again, where do our beliefs meet our actions?

This is not just political. This is serious. With available mental and physical treatment, many with HIV and/or AIDS can live ‘normal’ (I hate that word) and productive life spans. However, without, many will not. And, you play a role in that. Your church plays a role. The Urban League and the NAACP play a role (whether they realize it or not). Black fraternity and sorority organizations play a role. Your small book club plays a role. Everyone does.

Now, I understand that a murder in the Black community, for example, (especially by a white person, presumably) may attract our attention and touch our sensitivities. But, if these numbers as it relates to HIV and/or AIDS don’t shake your faith, rattle your conscience, give you goosebumps, or at least make you think – I’ll ask another question – would you pinch yourself? Because - you must not be awake nor paying attention!

Why is this political? Well, for starters – we need the votes of many HIV afflicted individuals to sustain a democratically based country. Second, we need policies – in government, church bureaucracy, and groups’ organizational structures - to change to make it easier for persons with HIV and/or AIDS to receive the attention they deserve. It’s also political because we can do something about it through collaborative social action.

Finally, this treatise has been a plea for every human being - African Americans, especially – whether individually and/or within our respective groups - to make the issue of HIV and/or AIDS a major concern about which we devote serious time, energy, talent and other resources. I’ve argued that our community’s livelihood is at stake if we choose to turn a blind eye. I’ve gladly called out those who choose to support stigma and ignorance over and beyond truth and knowledge – whether it’s behind a pulpit or at the family dinner table.

But, of all of this, I ask that you remember that we are all human. The commonality we share as humans – whether male or female, rich or poor, black or white, straight, bi, gay, transgender, or some other label - that commonality, I hope we will cling to as we work together to reverse these devastating CDC numbers, particularly as it relates to Blacks and the issue of HIV and/or AIDS.

If we don’t – if you don’t – actively and willingly work to improve the quality of life of a fellow human being in need of help – what are we doing?

How Black Turnout Suppressed Civil Rights

It continues to baffle me how the most prominent group who champions civil rights on their behalf fervently fails to see the hypocrisy of not supporting the same rights for other groups.

The fact that 70% of Blacks voted to ‘eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry’ in California is a very sad and ironic consequence of the excitement generated in the Black community to help elect Barack Obama.

News outlets worldwide are crying foul that American Blacks, the group of persons who should most understand the significance of the denial of basic civil rights, can in one moment cheer and celebrate their ability to vote for a Black president, calling it a ‘civil rights victory,’ and yet vote to deny civil rights to others.

And, they’re right.

Experts abound who state that had it not been for the large number of Black voters, Proposition 8 would have passed.

Black should be ashamed. One of two things happened: 1) Blacks are ignorant of the definition of civil rights, or 2) Blacks selfishly think civil rights is only synonymous with the 1960s, Dr. King, and the American South. Either reality is simply pitiful.

Civil rights are rights to personal liberty (full legal, social and economic equality) as established by the 13th and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution and a variety of Congressional Acts and Executive Orders.

If you don’t believe me, ask any lawyer on the street or ask the NAACP.

Here’s another definition: marriage is a legal, formal agreement between two individuals for mutual benefit. Why is this definition most accurate? Because you can perform the ceremonial act of marriage in a church with a minister and never be legally married. In the United States, the marriage of two individuals is valid insofar as it is recognized by the state. Hence, marriage is a contractually recognized agreement between two parties.

The stigma of our individual views of morality that we often associate with marriage is derived from social and religious mores.

The problem with Blacks holding this view in respect to the rights of same-sex couples to marry is that Christian White racists (i.e. the KKK) made same argument for centuries concerning their view that Blacks should not have the same rights as Whites and that African Americans should not be allowed to marry non-African Americans.

How can that argument be valid for Blacks, but invalid for those of a certain sexual orientation?

Furthermore, Proposition 8 in California was not only a vote to amend the state constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and woman; it was also a vote to eliminate the fundamental right of same-sex couples to marry already given.

Why Blacks, of all people, would vote in such high percentages to eliminate a right already conferred upon a protected class of individuals is unconscionable.

Every Black person who holds the view that same-sex individuals should not be offered the civil right to marry should fully understand they their decision oppresses the oppressed.

What Good is an Apology?

Acknowledging the "injustice, cruelty, brutality and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow," on Tuesday July 29th, The U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution apologizing to African-Americans for slavery and the era of Jim Crow.
The nonbinding, voice-vote resolution was introduced by Rep. Steve Cohen, a white representative who represents a majority black district in Memphis, Tennessee.

As the resolution signifies, this is the first time a branch of the federal government has apologized for slavery and injustice toward African Americans, and as a result, it is a significant action.

What I found most compelling about the resolution is that it states, "the vestiges of Jim Crow continue to this day." Recognizing that slavery’s shadow still is alive and well in American culture and society today is a key argument of proponents of affirmative action.

African Americans can now join the ranks of Native Americans, Japanese Americans and native Hawaiians, who have all received some form of an apology from the federal government in the past for injustices.

The problem with a non-binding resolution whose purpose is to apologize for past injustices toward African Americans is that it does little to change the substantive quality of life of African Americans in the present and does not in any way address the vestiges of slavery of Jim Crow that the resolution itself acknowledges – but in word only. African Americans’ economic circumstances have gone unchanged; our children, nieces, nephews, and cousins are not in better schools, and many of our neighborhoods are still in disarray.

The resolution does not address the controversial issue of reparations, either.

The timing of the resolution is also odd. Why now – 389 years after approximately 20 blacks from a Dutch slaver were purchased as indentured workers for the then-English settlement of Jamestown, VA?

Simply put, this is purely symbolic. Yet, the work of the average slave was more than substantive. Our ancestors deserve a substantive apologetic action. If we are seriously interested in honoring their forced service to this country and the economy of the south, it is only fair.

Why Obama Won: Notes on What Now

Contrary to the media pundits’ views, Obama did not win the election of president of the United States because he’s Black. He didn’t win because this is a ‘Democratic Year.’ Obama did not win because McCain made a poor choice in his vice-presidential candidate. Obama also did not win because of his rhetoric of hope and change.

Obama won because, as President Clinton has said, he had the better ideas.

Now it’s time to put those ideas to work.

With Democratic gains in Congress, Obama can theoretically make some headway on many of his strong proposals. But, do not expect his presidency to function in a fundamentally different way from previous presidents. From a management perspective, much will be the same (i.e. slow Washington progress at addressing real problems).

In other words, I wouldn’t expect much substantive in his first year, though a focus on the economy and healthcare are likely to be key issues he champions.

Now that we’ve voted, it’s time to listen and offer suggestions. We must listen to Obama’s ideas and how he plans to make them reality. We must offer suggestions candidly – don’t be afraid to write an Obama White House staff member, or Congress member to offer input.

We can begin by going to and writing a letter for potential inclusion in a serious book project edited by notable political scientists coming out in April 2009.

With Afro Sheen in the West Wing, African Americans, particularly, have good reason to be proud. I can only hope we channel that pride into constructive energy to bring about substantive change we need.

Many have worked hard for this victory – now the real work begins.