Saturday, May 24, 2008

Overcoming the Pleasure of Classification

This week a friend emailed me with an article written by Pat Buchanan back in March when the Jeremiah Wright mess was in full swing. I zapped her a quick reply saying that I had read it when it first appeared and that I consider both Wright and Buchanan vociferous racists the only difference being that Buchanan had actually run for President and the Wright wasn't running for anything. (As I write this post, I realize that the characterization of both of these men as "vociferous racists" was way over the top. Wright and Buchanan are both men with a deep faith in God that is expressed in very different ways. That said, these men speak from opposite poles on the issue of race relations and use hard, stark terms emerge from deep seated anger.)

The next morning she replied with a short note saying: "True but I like how he (Buchanan) said this..." and then she pasted these paragraphs from the Buchanan article.
First, America has been the best country on earth for black folks. It was here that 600,000 black people, brought from Africa in slave ships, grew into a community of 40 million, were introduced to Christian salvation, and reached the greatest levels of freedom and prosperity blacks have ever known.

Wright ought to go down on his knees and thank God he is an American.

Second, no people anywhere has done more to lift up blacks than white Americans. Untold trillions have been spent since the '60s on welfare, food stamps, rent supplements, Section 8 housing, Pell grants, student loans, legal services, Medicaid, Earned Income Tax Credits and poverty programs designed to bring the African-American community into the mainstream.


We all know that the black people, brought from Africa came here neither to be introduced to Christian salvation nor to reach the greatest levels of freedom and prosperity they would ever know.

Second, we know that Buchanan's list of federal programs were not instituted by whites to bring the African-American community into the mainstream. They arose out of this country's multi-ethnic population's desire to see people of all races to have the opportunity to enter the economic mainstream. (I pointed out to her that I had gone to college with the help of Pell grants and federal student loans and early on in my first years out of grad work had qualified for tiny amounts from the EITC program when filing my tax returns. I was able to refrain from pointing out that her own daughter receives Medicaid and WIC benefits as a young, struggling mother.)

Newt Gingrich and others who sympathize with his point of view assume that poverty is a black and urban issue. Gingrich chooses to frame his ideas about poverty around Barrack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Cosby, and the city of Detroit. Otherwise, he refers to Native Americans living on reservations. Although such frames are an effective tool in diverting attention from troubling issues facing the U.S. economy, serious discussions about ending poverty can not be based on stereotypes or reinforce the idea that it is someone else’s problem. The reality is:

- Although poverty disproportionately affects people of color, all races are impacted, including whites who are the largest group (45 percent) amongst the poor.

- Rural communities experience levels of poverty that are similar to urban communities—14.5% and 17% respectively. And poverty also reaches the suburbs.

Earlier this morning I read the following from an article on theotherjournal:
When it comes to classifying, it seems that out of all the things to classify in God’s creation, nothing gives us more pleasure than classifying other people—as this, that, or the other. Once again, this can be both quite harmless, and quite good. Consider the pleasure that comes from recognizing and honoring cultural differences, and the benefit of being able to discern which "kinds" of people we want to entrust ourselves to in friendship. However, as we all know, there can be a dark side to classifying people as well. The pleasure of classification can become quite devilish when we are overcome by the desire to rigidly group people along hard lines, and lump them into categories that do not quite suit them.
Senator Obama addressed the need reach toward unity and understanding at a recent rally in Florida:

How many times have I heard sermons from various pastors expressing this exact same desire for their church? The specifics expressed are necessarily different but the principle is unambiguously the same.

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