What Michelle Obama Calls Racism…Today, Anyway

Target Michelle

The current People Magazine has a feature titled “The Obamas: How We Deal with Our Own Racist Experiences,” in which both Obama’s reflect on their personal experiences with a racist America. It begins like this…

“The protective bubble that comes with the presidency – the armored limo, the Secret Service detail, the White House – shields Barack and Michelle Obama from a lot of unpleasantness. But their encounters with racial prejudice aren’t as far in the past as one might expect. And they obviously still sting.”

Here is a relatively recent experience, the first one cited by Mrs. Obama in the article, that “stung”:

“I tell this story – I mean, even as the First Lady – during that wonderfully publicized trip I took to Target [in 2012], not highly disguised, the only person who came up to me in the store was a woman who asked me to help her take something off a shelf. Because she didn’t see me as the First Lady, she saw me as someone who could help her. Those kinds of things happen in life. So it isn’t anything new.” 

That’s right, Michelle feels—or says she feels—that this incident was proof of incipient racism, one of the “micro-aggressions” that white society inflicts on African Americans daily, sapping their self-esteem, confidence, and trust in society.

She’s right that it “happens in life” and isn’t new. In fact, it happened to me, in the local Target, coincidentally, just last month. A very short elderly Asian woman asked if I would take down a large container of laundry detergent from a high shelf. Obviously, she thought I worked at Target and was denigrating me, applying racial stereotypes to a large bald Greek-American man.

I can say with no hesitation whatsoever that what happened to Michelle at Target was not an incident of racial stereotyping. The photo above shows how Michelle was dressed on the fateful day, and anyone who would mistake her flowered blouse, Nike hat, shades and shopping cart as the uniform of a Target employee had recently escaped from a Home for the Bewildered. What wasn’t new about the encounter is that in a healthy, ethical community strangers should ask each other for kindly help and assistance, and normal, non-paranoid, non race-obsessed citizens—and especially their leaders, who are supposed to model responsible  behavior— ought not to be so warped by ideologically-dictated confirmation bias that their immediate reaction is, “Hmmmm…what did she mean by that?” Continue reading

Why Hasn’t President Obama Made A Formal Appeal To Avoid Violence In Ferguson?

riots

He has an obligation to do so. He is the leader of the nation; he is the most admired figure among African-Americans; he is sworn to uphold the Constitution, which the Ferguson protestors either want to ignore (by rejecting due process of law) or believe is being ignored and abused. He has the bully pulpit; he is a persuasive and eloquent orator when he cares about what he is saying. Most of all, he has an obligation because the rhetoric of his appointees, party leaders, surrogates and the President himself have exploited race as a wedge issue and lowered racial comity in the nation to its most dismal state in decades.

Now the stage is set for blood, with Rodney King-style riots in Missouri and perhaps elsewhere, should the grand jury refuse to indict Officer Darren Wilson. Already the process has been thoroughly corrupted by premature conclusions about what happened the day Michael Brown died, and the civil rights establishment, goaded by Brown’s parents, their opportunistic lawyer, and permanent agitators like Al Sharpton, have made it clear that nothing less than a murder indictment will constitute “justice.” Professional protesters have been recruited; looters and rioters are gleefully anticipating a rumble; local businesses are tripling security; and the National Guard is on alert. The fuse is lit, and the impending explosion will be devastating in monetary, human, spiritual and historical terms. President Obama is the one individual who might be able to put it out.

If he does not, if he does not even try, it will be the greatest failure of a sadly failed Presidency, and nothing will  surpass it no matter what horrors lay ahead.

I do not know why the President has not spoken out already. My best theories:

1. He never acts in a timely fashion, almost literally never. He “leads from behind,” which means that he avoids leading until it is unavoidable, despite the needless harm that results from each delay.

2. He does not want to make the effort and fail, so he would prefer to react to a riot and condemn it, rather than take responsible actions to prevent it.

3. He is so focused on the looming fight of his own making regarding illegal immigrants that he isn’t paying attention.

4. His advisors have told him that there is no political advantage to be gained in making such a speech, and that taking the side of the justice system will be seen as support for a white police officer over “an unarmed teen.”

5. He wants racial unrest because it will dominate the news and take attention from all the other issues—Gruber, the imperiled ACA, Ukraine, Isis, pointless expenditures to stave off climate change, and more—that reflect poorly on him and his administration.

I cannot, however, think of a theory that reflects positively on him as a President, a leader, an American or a human being.

Let me know if you can come up with one, would you? It would sure make me feel better.

Ferguson Ethics Train Wreck Catch-Up: The Shots, the Hashtag, the Huckster and the Snub

steam train wreck

The Ferguson Ethics Train Wreck is slowing down now, though passengers keep getting on board and it will surely pick up steam again.

Here are some recent ethics outrages, as Ethics Alarms tries to keep up:

1. The Shots:

CNN buys another seat on the train wreck

What’s wrong with this sentence? Don Lemon, CNN host, played a recording that was alleged to be of Officer Wilson shooting Michael Brown and preceded it by saying the tape had not been authenticated.

A burst of six shots can be heard, followed by a pause, and then several more shots, at least four. “He was in his apartment, he was talking to a friend on a video chat, he heard loud noises and at the moment — at the time he didn’t realize the import of what he was hearing until afterwards,” the lawyer for the unidentified man who made the recording told Lemon. “It just happened to capture 12 seconds of what transpired outside of his building.”

Almost immediately, speculation was rife that this called into question Wilson’s account, though we don’t know yet what that account is. IF the tape is accurate, this doesn’t look good for Wilson, opined one web reporter. Wait a minute! Why is CNN releasing anything that is not verified as authentic? Why not an unverified photo that purports to show a shadowy second shooter? Why not an unverified tape of Brown and a friend plotting to attack a police officer for fun? This isn’t evidence, and it isn’t news. It’s just chum in the water for a news media feeding frenzy, or more simply, crummy, irresponsible unethical journalism. Continue reading

Eric Holder Scores A Jumbo

Charging Elephant

Elephant? What Elephant?

I was going to let this pass—I pass up a Holder or Obama ethics topic approximately twice a day, just for, you know, diversity—but it is such a blatant Jumbo, and such an insulting one, that it has to be noted. When it occurred last week, I called up my two Hill contacts who have worked with Holder, and asked how they could square this with their “Trust me, he’s a good guy and a decent lawyer who is just over his head” assessments. Now that assessment is “He’s a good guy who is just over his head, the nasty politics is getting to him, and he’s not thinking straight any more.”

Speaking to Al Sharpton’s National Action Network,  on April 10, Attorney General Holder went off script to say this, in the context of his remarks about civil rights progress during the Obama administration:

“The last five years have been defined by significant strides and by lasting reforms even in the face, even in the face of unprecedented, unwarranted, ugly and divisive adversity. If you don’t believe that, you look at the way — forget about me, forget about me. You look at the way the attorney general of the United States was treated yesterday by a House committee — has nothing to do with me, forget that. What attorney general has ever had to deal with that kind of treatment? What president has ever had to deal with that kind of treatment?”

The comments were widely and correctly interpreted as an accusation of racial bias, which is exactly what they were: Continue reading

Unethical Quote Of The Week: MSNBC Host Melissa Harris-Perry

 “I want to talk today about a controversial word. It’s a word that has been with us for years. And like it or not, it’s indelibly printed in the pages of American history. A word that was originally intended as a derogatory term, meant to shame and divide and demean. The word was conceived of by a group of wealthy white men who needed a way to put themselves above and apart from a black man, to render him inferior and unequal and diminish his accomplishments. President Obama has been labelled with this word by his opponents, and at first he rose above it, hoping that if he could just make a cause for what he’d achieved, his opponents would fail in making their label stick. But no matter how many successes that he had as president, he realized there were still many people for whom he’d never be anything more than that one disparaging word — a belief he knew was held not just by his political opponents, but also by a significant portion of the American electorate. And so he decided if you can’t beat them, you’ve got to join them. So he embraced the word and made it his own, sending his opposition a message they weren’t expecting: ‘If that’s what you want me to be, I’ll be that.’Y’all know the word that I’m talking about. Obamacare!”

—MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry, on her Sunday morning show, 12/8/13

AKA "MSNBC"

AKA “MSNBC”

That Melissa! Setting us up for the dreaded n-word, and then deftly substituting the O-word, since it’s all racism, and really, what’s the difference?

I don’t know what made me pause my remote on MSNBC this morning. I was trying to find any Sunday talking heads show that wasn’t engaged in an orgy of Mandela beatification, and failing miserably, and though I avoid Harris-Perry like the plague, I guess I stopped to see if she was as full of racist paranoia and hate as ever.

Yup. Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Keisha Thomas

Keisha Thomas

It is never too late to recognize an Ethics Hero, and thanks to a recent retrospective by the BBC, Ethics Alarms can salute Keisha Thomas, who 17 years ago exhibited both courage and other outstanding ethical values like kindness, sacrifice, responsibility, empathy and valor, by coming to the rescue of a man who would never have done the same for her.

In 1996, Keshia Thomas was just 18. The Ku Klux Klan held a rally in her home town, Ann Arbor, Michigan, then as now a college town and a bastion of liberalism. Predictably and as planned by the KKK, plenty of local protesters gathered to jeer the white robed marchers and to show their contempt.Thomas stood with a group of anti-KKK demonstrators on the other side of a security fence, as police in riot gear positioned themselves between the angry demonstrators and the Klan members. One of the anti-Klan counter-demonstrators spotted a white, middle-aged man with an SS tattoo on his arm and wearing a Confederate flag T-shirt  standing among the spectators.  “There’s a Klansman in the crowd!”  she shouted into her megaphone, and a group of protesters began to chase him, shouting threats and “Kill the Nazi!” He was knocked to the ground, and the group, now a mob, began kicking him and hitting him with wooden bases of their placards.

Thomas, an African-American girl still in high school, came to his rescue. She forced herself between the mob and their victim, fell to her knees, draped herself over him and became his shield, saving the stranger from serious injury. Continue reading

Incompetent Elected Official of the Week: Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex)

“I do not understand what I think is the maligning and maliciousness [toward] this president,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. “Why is he different? And in my community, that is the question that we raise. In the minority community that is question that is being raised. Why is this president being treated so disrespectfully? Why has the debt limit been raised 60 times? Why did the leader of the Senate continually talk about his job is to bring the president down to make sure he is unelected?”

Unbelievable.

As is often the case, and is especially often the case with Lee, we are faced with the puzzle of deciding whether an irresponsible and unfair statement by an elected official arises out of a conscious exercise in cynical and dirty politics, or because the elected official involved is just dumb as a box of pet rocks. In this case, my guess would be “both.” Continue reading