I grew up on the south side of Chicago in the 1970s and 1980s so I have a bit of local interest in Senator Barack Obama’s race for the White House.
Obama and his family live in my old neighborhood, Hyde Park. My siblings and I all attended our local public high school – Kenwood Academy. Obama’s wife Michelle went to Whitney Young High School. The city swimming championship was always held there. My older brothers were members of Kenwood’s swim team. Aside from its swimming pool, I never saw much of Whitney Young. It was a magnet school. But my parents always said that didn’t mean much. All of Chicago’s public schools were basically horrible.
Kenwood was reclassified an academy rather than a regular high school sometime in the 1970s. It was the principal’s way of expelling the gang members from the school. In the Chicago public school system, if you attended an academy and weren’t passing your classes you could be expelled. I understand that the distinction was removed a couple of years after I graduated in 1987, and the school rapidly declined to its previous status as a gang and drug infested flophouse for adolescents. The year after I graduated, in a sign of what was happening, the school authorities installed metal detectors at all the entrances.
When I went to Kenwood, the school was 85 percent black and 15 percent other. The others were mainly white with a sprinkling of Asians and Latinos. Going to school there probably gave me a somewhat skewed view of the reality of race relations in America, because the only bigotry I experienced was black bigotry against whites.
I was one of the only white girls on the track team and my coach was quite a black bigot. She made every white girl on the team run the mile and two mile. Only the black girls could sprint. It didn’t matter to her that I was better at the 200 than the mile. When I asked to run sprints, she just said, “No, that’s not for you girl.” So I quit.
I was in 9th grade in the lead-up to the 1984 presidential elections. Most of the kids in the school were fired up about Jesse Jackson’s candidacy. I was personally offended by their support for a man who referred to New York as a “hymietown,” and I let my feelings be known. I don’t think that anyone thought worse of me for saying I didn’t support a man who was anti-Jewish. But then, it never occurred to me to care. If they had thought worse of me for standing up for my rights as a Jew, then that was their problem, not mine.
At any rate, I remembered my exchanges with my classmates about Jackson today as I read Obama’s speech about race and his pastor Jeremiah White. It was an excellent speech as far as it goes. But it left me feeling very uneasy about the quality of Obama’s character.
I was 13 years old when I stood up alone to all my classmates and told them that I thought they should be ashamed of themselves for supporting an anti-Semite for president. I was a child. But Obama came to Wright as an adult. And as an adult, he sat through 20 years of Wright’s anti-white, anti-Jewish, and anti-American vitriol and said nothing. Indeed, until just a few months ago, he was honoring him as his spiritual mentor. What does that say about him?
As a child, I thought that my track coach was discriminating against me because I was white and so I got up and left. When he — as an adult — heard his pastor spewing poison, he never said anything and he didn’t quit.
It can be argued that there is a difference between how I reacted to black bigotry and how he reacted to black bigotry because I was an outsider and he was an insider. I wasn’t trying to become a member of the black community. I was simply demanding to be treated with respect as a non-black by blacks who happened to be the vast majority of my classmates and teachers.
But then, here’s another example.
In January, I spoke at an anti-jihad conference in Dallas, TX. It was organized by a group called the America Truth Forum. Basically, it was a conclave of an anti-jihad public with anti-jihad speakers. That is, we were all members of the same ideological community – or so I thought when I agreed to attend.
One of the speakers on my panel was an older man named Paul Williams. I had never heard his name before. He approached me before the panel and flattered me, saying that I was the best writer around. So it goes without saying that I was not ill-disposed to him.
But then he began to speak; and pure poison came out. He began his remarks by telling the audience of mainly religious Christians that some woman had told him that he is a prophet. That already had me questioning his character. But then he went on, giving incorrect statements about Muslims. Rather than provide information about jihadist doctrine or infiltration of American mosques, he simply began demonizing Muslims as a group. They became this amorphous “other” incapable of individual choices or actions. It was bigotry pure and simple.
And so, I walked off the stage and out of the hall. I didn’t return until he finished speaking and when I returned, I refused to shake his hand or have anything to do with him.
I saw that the audience had given him a standing ovation and so I began to wonder if I shouldn’t simply return the check I had received from the organizers and leave. But I decided to stay and to challenge him.
And that is what I did. I quietly and forcefully explained why what Williams said was wrong, un-American, and in defiance of both Christian and Jewish values and approaches to human beings. And, as luck would have it, I received an even larger standing ovation than Williams did.
The point here is that I didn’t nod my head to fit in, or treat him politely simply because we sat on a stage together. And I didn’t surrender the floor to him. We were supposedly on “the same side,” but his statements were so contrary to what I believe that it occurred to me that I’d rather be shopping with Nancy Pelosi than sitting through his hateful nastiness.
And I write all of this not to puff myself up. I don’t think I did anything extraordinary by standing up to Williams or to my classmates and teachers in high school. I think that it is how people should behave particularly if they are smart enough to understand that ideas are important. And Obama is certainly smart enough to understand that ideas are important.
Obama’s denunciation of Wright’s bigotry amounts to too little too late. The time to stand up to him wasn’t now, when his association with Wright is sinking his hopes for the White House. The time to have stood up to Wright was when Obama was just another member of his church. If he truly believes in what he says he believes, he should have walked out of Wright’s church or grabbed Wright’s microphone and told his fellow churchgoers that Wright was wrong and that they mustn’t hate. In twenty years of attending Wright’s church, why didn’t Obama once stand before his fellow church members and tell them that they mustn’t hate their country and their fellow Americans?
The fact that he didn’t, and the fact that he upheld this man until just a few months ago as his spiritual mentor and still refuses to condemn him and his deeply flawed character tells me everything I need to know about Barack Obama. I think that he is an opportunistic, weak man. I hope and pray that he doesn’t become President.