Fearing the change that has already happened

A piece I wrote in 2011 – wondering if it still holds up to the scrutiny of hindsight given the last decade’s events.

Recently I saw Romney on TV warning that Obama is on a mission to change America into a country that we hardly recognize, and that this election represents our last chance to stop him before we lose “the America we know.” Echoing this message of cultural paranoia, last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, DC provided a platform for the most extreme versions of this thought, including panelists associated with white nationalist and anti-immigrant groups. The GOP’s core campaign message so far appears to be “Obama is dangerous because he isn’t really one of us.” 

In the first couple years of Obama’s presidency, the right promoted this message in the form of “birtherism” and the “he’s a Muslim” claim. Now they’re pushing it in the form of the “he’s a European socialist” canard. In the space of three years, right wing paranoia has moved the geographic location of Obama’s Otherness from Kenya, where he wasn’t born, to Mecca, towards which he doesn’t pray, to Western Europe, whose fully socialized medicine he didn’t promote. Republicans are going to need a GPS navigation system to keep the American people up to date on the geography of their fictional portrayals of Obama. 

The truth, however, is not that Obama is trying to change America into a country we won’t recognize, but rather that the GOP’s leaders don’t recognize the country that America has already become. America has already changed into, and will continue to become, an ever-more-diverse nation of many cultures, religions, and ideas. Before anybody knew who Barack Obama was, this change had already taken root. Obama is an American with mixed racial heritage and family ties to Kansas, Hawaii, Kenya, and Indonesia. He also has Muslim, Christian, and even Jewish relatives. He is a walking American melting pot who could only have become president long after the death of Jim Crow America. What the fearful right doesn’t see is that Obama is an awful lot like most people in this country – mixed heritage, ties to different strands of the weave of this nation, and a values system that has tolerance and respect for all these different cultural elements. 

Continue reading “Fearing the change that has already happened”

What I learned reading an essay by Andre Henry

Andre Henry is program manager for the Racial Justice Institute at Christians for Social Action.

Stumbled upon this column by Andre Henry on Religion News Service, and I learned a lot: From the Capitol to critical race theory, white Christians grieve declining hegemony. I just am using this space to jot down a couple things I want to remember going forward.

First, I learned an important use of the term “common sense” and about the term “pillars of support” as it is used in non-violence studies. Here’s the paragraph that lit these terms up for me:

“…it’s helpful to understand an essential concept of nonviolent struggle known as “the pillars of support.”

Basically, the idea is that the structure of any social injustice can be imagined as something like an ancient Greek temple, with large columns supporting its roof. The roof represents the injustice — in this case, white supremacy — and the columns represent the social institutions that uphold it. Organized religion, media and the educational system are useful institutions to legitimate a regime by shaping the public’s common sense. White Christianity, more specifically, has always been an essential pillar of support to American white supremacy.”

Henry also writes about racial caste in American society in this essay, and offers a 1967 quote from MLK that absolutely speaks to this moment 53 years later:

“The enterprise of racial caste has in this sense always been at war with democracy. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. knew this when he wrote in 1967 that some white Americans seem to have ‘declared that democracy is not worth having if it involves equality. The segregationist goal is the total reversal of all reforms, with the reestablishment of naked oppression and if need be a native form of fascism.'”

In the aftermath of the Jan 6 2021 attempted insurrection, I am appreciating Henry’s clarity, and appreciating the chance to learn concepts and language that I wish I had learned years ago.

In summer 2012 I wrote an essay proclaiming that America-the-diverse had prevailed over America-the-white-supremacist. I don’t know any more if that was right. Here’s the essay…

Fearing the Change That Has Already Happened

By Maurice Harris

June 2012

Recently I saw Romney on TV warning that Obama is on a mission to change America into a country that we hardly recognize, and that this election represents our last chance to stop him before we lose “the America we know. Echoing this message of cultural paranoia, last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, DC provided a platform for the most extreme versions of this thought, including panelists associated with white nationalist and anti-immigrant groups. The GOP’s core campaign message so far appears to be “Obama is dangerous because he isn’t really one of us.

In the first couple years of Obama’s presidency, the right promoted this message in the form of “birtherism” and the “he’s a Muslim” claim. Now they’re pushing it in the form of the he’s a European socialist” canard. In the space of three years, right wing paranoia has moved the geographic location of Obama’s Otherness from Kenya, where he wasn’t born, to Mecca, towards which he doesn’t pray, to Western Europe, whose fully socialized medicine he didn’t promote. Republicans are going to need a GPS navigation system to keep the American people up to date on the geography of their fictional portrayals of Obama.

The truth, however, is not that Obama is trying to change America into a country we won’t recognize, but rather that the GOP’s leaders don’t recognize the country that America has already become. America has already changed into, and will continue to become, an ever-more-diverse nation of many cultures, religions, and ideas. Before anybody knew who Barack Obama was, this change had already taken root. Obama is an American with mixed racial heritage and family ties to Kansas, Hawaii, Kenya, and Indonesia. He also has Muslim, Christian, and even Jewish relatives. He is a walking American melting pot who could only have become president long after the death of Jim Crow America. What the fearful right doesn’t see is that Obama is an awful lot like most people in this country – mixed heritage, ties to different strands of the weave of this nation, and a values system that has tolerance and respect for all these different cultural elements. Continue reading “In summer 2012 I wrote an essay proclaiming that America-the-diverse had prevailed over America-the-white-supremacist. I don’t know any more if that was right. Here’s the essay…”