by L. Arthalia Cravin
Michelle Obama recently drew mix of reactions to her comments in Wisconsin in which she said (in part) the following: “…what I’ve learned over this year is that hope is making a comeback. It is making a comeback and let me tell you something that for the first time in my adult lifetime I am proud of my country…not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change…I have been desperate to see our country moving in that direction and not just feeling so alone in my frustration and disappointment. I’ve seen people who are hungry to be unified around some common issues and it’s made me proud and I feel privileged to be a part of even witnessing it, traveling around to states all over the country…that the struggles of a farmer in Iowa are no different than what’s happening on the south side of Chicago, that people are feeling the same pain, and want the same thing for their families.” In response to Michelle’s comments, Cindy McCain, wife of John McCain said the following: “I am proud of my country, I don’t know about you. If you heard those words earlier, I am very proud of my country.”
After listening to both women, I personally think that both of them need a serious lesson in “the realities of history.” I am reminded of the words of Joseph Wood Krutch in his 1919 book, The Modern Temper. “As the race matures, the universe become more and more what experience has revealed and less and less what imagination has created.” Both women need to read Patty Limerick’s “The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West,” (1987) and Richard D. White’s “It’s Your Misfortune and None of Mine Own: A New History of the American West,” (1991). Both women could learn that America’s history is an unfolding of places (geographically) and relationships (actions and attitudes) between an amalgam of peoples within those places. If both women would read these insightful books, both would have little to be proud of and lots to be proud of about America, depending on where one falls within the places and relationships of the past.
For Michelle, surely no thinking person can expect her to make an accurate assessment of her ancestral history and proudly announce that she is proud of America’s 350 year “peculiar institution of slavery” that included slave auctions within blocks of the White House. Likewise, no one expects her to proclaim her pride in the repressive Black Codes that effectively undercut the deprivations of human rights that the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendment and the Civil Rights Act of 1866 were designed to rectify. Likewise, she surely cannot be expected to express her pride in America’s Manifest Destiny that exterminated and/or orchestrated the removal of Native Americans, both in the south and in the west or the Japanese internment camps. She likewise cannot be expected to proudly reaffirm Jim Crow, “Segregation now, segregation forever,” church bombings, lynchings, murders and assassinations, the woeful response to Katrina hurricane victims, the subprime loan mess that deliberately and systematically targeted peoples of color, affirmative action high jacked for the primary benefit of Anglo females, the prison industrial complex that uses and abuses the incarceration of black males as a means of social control, or the disparities in wealth in which the average white family has $534,000 of wealth to a meager $12,000 for the average black family. Surely no one in their right mind expects Michelle Obama to be proud of this American history. Frankly, I was surprised that she would dare to compare the plight of an Iowa farmer to “what’s happening on Chicago’s south side.” Except on a most superficial level, I fail to see any commonality there. Barack’s attempt to “clean up” Michelle’s remarks with the statement that she was referring to “politics” made matters even worse since America’s historical political machinery, of business and corporate elitism, is an integral part of America’s places and people’s relationships history.
As for Cindy McCain, maybe she should be proud to be the direct and indirect beneficiary of the present-day results of the sentiments expressed by Frank M. Pixley during California’s mid-nineteenth century efforts to exclude the Chinese. “The Divine Wisdom has said that He would divide this country and the world as a heritage of five great families; that to the Blacks He would give Africa; to the Red Man He would give America; and Asia He would give to the Yellow race. He inspired us with the determination, not only to have prepared our own inheritance, but to have stolen from the Red Man, America; and it is now settled that the Saxon, American or European group of families, the White Race, is to have the inheritance of Europe and America and that the Yellow races are to be confined to what the Almighty originally gave them; and as they are not a favored people, they are not to be permitted to steal from us what we have robbed the American savage of…” Somewhere in this highly racialized attitude, that continues unchecked to this day, many people find grounds for and comfort in expressing their “American pride.” But sober thinking should allow sufficient room for the rest of us to proclaim that we are proud of our separate and distinct cultural heritages and, that we are likewise Americans. But sober thinking should also allow for the intellectual wherewithal and honesty to acknowledge that the words “proud” and “American” can have both truth and relevance outside the declaratory sentence, “I am proud to be an American.”
© Copyright 2008 – L. Arthalia Cravin. All rights Reserved. No part of this commentary may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.