Saturday, January 31, 2009

Acting White: Michael Steele to Chair the RNC

I have no disparaging retorts for Republican and former Lt. Governor of Maryland, Michael Steele, as he takes over the lead of the Republican National Committee. There are those who would call Steele Uncle Tom-like and question his blackness, but not me. Opinions aside, his desire to lead is not, in itself, an indicator of selling out. The Committee’s antics, in this election, hurt John McCain more than helped. Steele may be just what they need, an excuse to behave like mature stewards of the GOP.

In part, I attribute Steele’s victory to the Obama Effect, the contagious belief, by voting majorities, that a black person can do more than simply bid his racial interest. I was tired of white leaders and voters pretending that they are the only people who can look after everybody’s well-being. Hogwash!

However, I will not be turning in my independent voter card to Republicans, just as I stayed sober with the Democrats, before and after Obama won. My vote goes to the person, not the party, that I believe has America’s best interest at heart. Obama’s win, and similar wins like Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, and even Steele’s RNC win, remind me that black interests and that of all Americans is not, nor can it be, separate or exclusive of each other. It is political race-cardsmanship to believe only Democrats or Republicans can represent a particular group.

Conservative blacks need a welcoming political home, a place that they can belong. Our 2+ political party system is stronger on all sides of the aisle because black conservatives will have a greater voice in their party. I have high hope that this participation will put a reversal to the divisive Republican antics that have ruled the party for too long. Many Republicans have looked the other way when people like Saltsman dis-invited badly needed non-white support, purely on the basis of skin color, rather than political ideology. Perhaps Obama’s win will provide the Republican faithful with the needed backbone to separate conservative and race politics.

James C. Collier


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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Acting White: Old War Horses and Big Hats

I have a few more observations from President Obama’s inauguration. The first has to do with the oath of office comedy of errors. The second concerns the alleged Milli-Vanilli moment of Yitzhak Perlman-Yo-Yo Ma. The third addresses Aretha Franklin’s hat. The fourth is about the poem. Lastly, I consider Rev. Lowry’s (illustrated) invocating parting-shot.

It was only fitting that the Chief Justice and president-elect Obama would stumble on the hell-hath-frozen-over-my-dead-body handoff of the country’s fortunes to a black man. Just chalk it up to all the seismic activity of white folks rolling over in their graves at that moment, accompanied by the hand-clapping and whooping of the spirits of dead slaves et al.

As an occasional musician and childhood clarinet player, I wondered, through that entire quartet number, just how in heck those instruments were functioning in the cold. Unlike Milli or Vanilli, I knew each of the players to be consummate musicians, directed by John Williams, the maestro himself, so complainers need to get real.

The same goes for Ms. Aretha’s voice. Fortunately, her cords were somewhat protected from the cold. Regardless, that bow-dacious hat was absolutely needed to keep her warm, and it also had to compliment a face and voice that know no equal – a tall order. I say fine job to the Queen of Soul and her hat maker.

The poem. I had high hopes for my comprehension, but after a few words my bladder overruled my synaptic struggle. I hope others enjoyed it, but I mostly like that we had a knew face in the poetry mix, inspired, I’m sure, by Ms. Maya.

I cringed during the invocation when Lowery opened a big can of old civil-rights wounds. Obama’s pained smile said it all, but he also had to be thinking of his dear white grandmother complaining about scary black men, déjà vu again. Whenever I’m around really old folks, (and my kids think I’m old) I assume that their past will creep into the conversation. So I treat them like a favorite book that’s out of print, but all the more cherished for its hold on the past, and for helping us better live the present. One day the old folks will not be there to embarrass us, and we will be sad for our loss.

James C. Collier


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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Acting White: Proud Americans

I was more of a spectator to the presidential inaugural than most. Sure, everyone was watching in a technical sense, but you could see and feel their emotional participation as well. Celebrating the election in November was enough emotion for me. My candidate won, I shook his figurative hand, now I want him to get in there and pay some bills.

This is not the way it is for most Americans. In their minds life sucks, and has for as long as they can remember. They feel overworked and underpaid. In a starving world, they are ill-housed, overfed and overweight, yet they see and feel their deteriorating economic and physical wellness each day. They are desperate for something good to rub-off on them, mostly by osmosis – his name is Obama. Obama, who made good on a meager start in life. Obama, who played by the man’s rules, and won. Voting for him, for many, felt like buying a lottery ticket on a huge jackpot and actually winning. Where's that check?

People hear what they want to hear, and what I fear Americans are not hearing in Obama’s words are that they have been living as consumers, not producers, for roughly the same amount of time that they have been miserable. They have been working hard and staying up late to consume a flat-screened sugary-caloried better life, rather than building skills and economies that lead their communities and world. Obama says it isn’t their fault, while he also says it is indeed their fault - he’s a skilled politician, and knows they will choose what they want to hear.

Long before Obama, I heard that America’s problems start and end with what I control, me. My parents trained my ears this way. In response, I am over-educated, under-housed, under auto'd, and right-sized. My life is no panacea and I am, like many, out of a steady paycheck in this economy. Nevertheless, I am not looking for a savior, just a president who cares about the whole of this country, more than the other candidates (in my estimation) and who will work with us to be proud to be Americans in the mirror, even as we struggle in difficult times.

We start with a clean slate, Mr. President. Godspeed and wear your helmet.

James C. Collier


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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Acting White: Calling for a New Affirmative Action

I may ruffle a few feathers with this post, but the heroics of US Air pilot Sullenberger reminds me of why the old affirmative action did not/does not work, and why we need something new.

Whenever, I get on an airplane I always hope to God that the pilot is there for a reason that has 100% to do with getting my backside to my destination, or somewhere in between, alive and well. If he or she, regardless of appearances, is there for any other reason, let me know, so I can take another flight.

Sully was the right person at the right time for this failed flight. He knew what to do and how to do it, not because he was white, or a man, or tall, or short, or slim or fat. He seems to be someone obsessed with airline safety and living – two things I want in a pilot. His passengers got lucky having him, as well as they all got lucky in this particular ditching into the Hudson River.

This reminds me when I first turned against traditional affirmative action, which unfortunately is notoriously flawed for putting good people in situations where they are destined to fail. I had a boyhood friend who always wanted to be a doctor. He was a smart kid, but I wondered if he was smart enough to have lives entrusted to him. I feared he was not, as I watched him struggle in undergrad.

My black friend benefited from every form of affirmative action available to get him into and through medical school, consuming huge resources in the process - probably double the normal level. In the end he failed the boards three times and was denied a license. Thank God AA ran out of bonus points for him, as he probably would have killed somebody as a practioner.

Affirmative action can only be a front-end program to encourage and support entry into the process whereby the disadvantaged Sully’s of the world get to save lives. It cannot be a last ditch effort to prove that the world is a good place, by handing out free reservations to come up short in the clutch. This is why the current affirmative action has to go, and why I spend my time pushing early childhood development programs, like Head-Start, that are more based on today’s disadvantages, not as punishment for the past.

James C. Collier


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Thursday, January 08, 2009

Acting White: Angry White Dude Loses Two Lives

This is a story of how one bullet instantly and simultaneously ends one life and jacks-up another on a BART platform in Oakland California, on New Year’s Day. The riot that occurred in the aftermath is a footnote. Yeah, people are pissed, and for once they took their anger out of their neighborhood and to City Hall - well, almost. The police stopped the protesters a few blocks short, as they moved toward the city center, so that is where the shit hit the fan – cars burned, tear gas unleashed, people arrested, people injured.

As I write this I can hear the helicopters that I ignored last night. Right now, the Oakland Police are ‘dispersing’ the area around City Hall. So what the hell happened to spark this?

The short version captured on a cell phone shows a white BART police officer, Johannes Mehserle, rendering aid to fellow officers holding a young black male antagonist (Oscar Grant). Grant was laying on his stomach in-the-grasp, at the Fruitvale Station. Suddenly the white officer un-holsters his gun and points it down at the back of Grant, and shoots, killing him. WTF!

The other officers look shocked, as does the firing officer. Grant had no weapon, although he appears to be uncooperative while being handcuffed. He does not appear to be a deadly threat to anyone. So, white BART policeman has some serious explaining to do toward his upcoming manslaughter vs. 2nd degree murder debate.

This issue cuts particularly close to me as, just last weekend, I found myself in a heated discussion with two OPD officers because one of them got close to clipping me with her cruiser while I was on a bike ride. Their guns did not faze me a bit, but perhaps they should have. After New Years, maybe I was closer to catching some lead than I thought with those cops. What I know is that anger makes you stupid, and if you happen to be packing, well, get ready to go to jail for a long time. Officer Mehserle is going to have the rest of his life to consider if dying, along with his helpless victim, would have been a more desirable result of his actions.

James C. Collier

Link: Huffington Post/Neal Rodriquez


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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Acting White: Senator Feinstein’s Big Stick

Obama is getting his first of many lessons in how to be president. It’s not about race, but rather about power and respect. He ignored Feinstein, Chairwoman of the Senate Rules Committee, in his announcement of Panetta for Director of the CIA, and now she wants him to know that such slights will not go unpunished.

By reversing her earlier position with her fellow Democrats and the President-elect, against seating Roland Burris as newly appointed senator from Illinois, she is sending a message to Obama, his staff, and the other Dems, that wonder-boy puts his pants on just like everyone else, one leg at a time. She has no reason to side with Burris, who belongs nowhere near the Senate behind the antics of Gov. Blagojevich, but she has a point to make.

Politically, it is good for Obama to get his first whupping early and with a soft glove. Burris is nothing. Hopefully, this is all it will take for team Obama to forget all the press clippings of his greatness, and get down to brass tacks. This country needs fixing in a hurry, and we can ill-afford the wasted time and energy of power-politics among people who profess to be on the same team.

There are many who are itching for Obama to fail: I am not one of them. But indeed he will fail if he, or the others around him, thinks that race will, in anyway, carry or shield him through the tasks ahead. For a moment the voters looked pass race, or perhaps they saw something that scares them more. Who knows. Regardless, we need to forget race. All that could have been proven about race and politics is now gone - invisible does not mean impossible. It is a contest for leaders. Whoever makes the fewest dumb mistakes, while catching whatever breaks come along, wins.

James C. Collier


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