Wednesday, May 13, 2015

OK, it's been over five and a half years since i wrote my Huffington Post piece, "Barack Obama. The Token President?"

I think I've given the FBP (First Black President) enough time to answer my question. Don't you? So right here for the final roughly 18 months of his presidency I'm going to try to engage you in a dialog about the FBP's potential legacy - especially in the one area he's been so silent about...R-A-C-E.

My drawing above states my position pretty well - I think. But what do you think? Or do you think - like many folks I've shown it to - it's unclear, unfair, unnecessarily provocative, disrespectful, downright dangerous or what?

I await your replies with great anticipation...and a little trepidation.

Btw: I originally sent this "cartoon" to the New York Times (where at least 1,500 of my comments have been posted online) and the New Yorker (which used to post my stuff unedited before they stopped posting comments altogether). I'm still waiting for their reply.


  1. Okay, Lowell, catchy phrase...and nice pic. I see you still have your artistic perspicacity from our high school days. Now, given that, how might the FBP tear down this "white wall"? Unlike the wall President Reagan referenced, this "white wall" is not a physical structure. This "white wall" was "constructed" as a result of manifold years of United States history.

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  3. Mr. Jones,

    It's good to see a "brotha" that's still tickin' and thinking.

    Like all US former Phillipsters, you have a way of getting to the point.

    And your pithy query gets to the proverbial heart of the matter:

    But first, does he actually recognize the need to do it? Does he see what you and I see? And if he does, does he have the to do it?


  4. funny thing..I have never seen Obama as black or white...I do see a kick ass man

  5. Bniveet,

    As I've said somewhere before, "Why pray for a colorblind world when rainbows are so beautiful."

    Accordimg to the historical and current laws of the USA, Mr. O is Black. And he doesn't seem to be capable of kicking much posterior when it comes to the race question. Right?

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  6. This is a very powerful cartoon. For me personally, it gives me great hope that a person could use the intellectual/artistic/conceptual chops honed in the stylized hocking of consumer products to ultimately address grave social ills. I look forward to its being circulated widely.

    As I think about it, like many works of art seemingly addressed to people with great power (Ralph Nader’s latest book, Return to Sender: Unanswered Letters to the President, 2003-2014, comes to mind), the cartoon’s effectiveness is not to be found in President Obama’s potential response to it. I know with 99.99% certainty what Barack Obama’s response to the declaration, “Tear down this (racial) wall,” would be. It would be: “No. That is not my job.”

    To whit: the tearing down of The Wall would require the application of a wrecking ball upon the massive edifice of racist ideology upon which – as you have pointed out to me in alternately stark and humorous ways – this country was founded and molded and developed. To realize this edifice destruction would require, for starters: a truth and reconciliation process addressed to the scope of US history; reparations correspondent to the findings of the previous point; the, perhaps ritualized, obliteration into dust of the many memorials to Confederate villains strewn across the American South; a national
    re-conceptualization of the American school curriculum to purge it of all of its racist elements… Feel free to add to this list.

    Barack Obama is not interested in pursuing this as president. And I believe that after his presidency, he will show himself to be even less interested in questions of social justice, including racial justice. I base my beliefs on his tepid pursuit of social justice during his tenure and his devil-may-care attitude toward drone warfare, toward the apocalyptic reality of climate change, on his Gollum-like quest for the environment-and-working-people-destroying TTP, his recruitment into his cabinet and bearhug embrace of Wall Street criminals, et cetera-ad nauseum.

    Returning to my previous point, however – Barack Obama’s response to the cartoon is unimportant. What is important is what a typical reader may think about upon viewing the cartoon. Perhaps, “Oh. I thought the Berlin Wall was the problem. You mean we have such a wall here, too?” And, “This image makes me feel uncomfortable because it rings true for me. That is: it looks accurate.”

  7. It's 5:51am at my Starbucks Wilson & Magnolia "office". I just read your comment on my "Mr. O" cartoon. And I'm very happy you had the time, heart, intelligence, knowledge and energy to write it.

    It shows me that at least one "white" guy gets it. I know few "black" folks do.
    Sometimes I get the sinking feeling I may be out here on a long, long limb...alone. But, then again, maybe that's why I have a perspective that most people just can't see.

    Thanks, for proving to me, at least, it's not a mirage.


  8. My first thought was, "Why a 'white' wall? Why not a 'black' wall or a 'race' wall?" But when I think about it, the defining characteristic of racism in the US is the creation of whiteness and the control over who gets to be white. So I think that the wall between whites and non-whites actually makes sense. Though I might have made it a red velvet rope instead of a wall.

    My second thought was, "If Obama said, "Ok." What could he do?" I can think of a couple of things that would help, but what could he really do tear down that wall?

  9. Seth,

    Interesting. (I always say that when I'm trying to find a nice way to say "What?"

    But before i go there, I want to make something clear for you and all others who may read what I write in response to any commenters here: i understand that lots of people make comments - not because they personally think or feel a certain way, but because they know others do and they want me to answer the question for people who may have less knowledge, insight, etc. than themselves.

    One of the things I learned when writing my first book, "WHITEFOLKS" is that racism isn't personal. So, when I respond here, I'll try not to attack the person who asked"stoopid" question, but the question itself. I'll "attack" your theoretical question in my next post. I'm scared I'm running out of space in this one.

  10. OK, here goes:

    Seth, you said your first thought was "Why a white wall?".

    Anyone who knows the heinous history of America would not ask that question. I call it a "white wall" because it was the people who called themsleves "white" who built it, starting in the mid 1600s and who have added fortification to it and still guard it to this day. Right?
    (I'm having trouble with the technology here, so I'll just leave it at that for now).

  11. Oh, another thing.

    I assume the "red velvet rope" thing was an attempt at humor. Right?

  12. I'm back, but this time it's to post a comment sent by an old intellectual "frenemy" of mine, Ike. He actually sent two pieces, one slightly modified to clarify some imagined fine point. But they both actually just repeat what he's been saying since I met him about 12 years ago. Here it is:

    ISAAC'S FIRST "MR. O" COMMENT, 5-20-15

    Cynic that I am, I call the cartoon wasted ink -though I respect the sentiment. Obama can't tear down the wall between whites and blacks. No one can. It's rooted in our dna despite what "race" deniers - like the climate change deniers - would have us to believe.

    Humans naturally separate themselves by "kind". You see it wherever you go on the planet. Blacks gravitate to blacks, browns to browns, yellow to get where I'm going.

    After that separation, then comes the contest to see who gets on top, but that's another topic for another time.

    In the American experience, Whites and Blacks are in a power struggle. Whites would be fools to grant full equality to AfAm because that state of equilibrium would not last. Sooner or later we would seek the advantage. Blacks can oppress just as easily as Whites.

    The "conversations" on race (like the cartoon)- at least as I see it - are an exercise in futility. The foci of the discussion should be on how do we best coexist? Whites are for most part afraid of blacks. We can use their discomfort to our advantage to accrue opportunities.(Think Jesse Jackson's visit to Silicon Valley or Al Sharpton's success getting more black faces in the media and on TV).

    Perhaps when we stop wrapping our identity around saggy pants, bouncing or throwing balls, rapping, dancing, fancy dressing, and Cadillac drivin' preachers we may be taken more seriously.

    Wanna end racism? Start here.

  13. Talk about deja vu..all over again. I think we had, in essence, this same conversation the day we met. But where I've continued to study, read books and articles by experts in many fields and evolve a coherent world-view based on my personal and professional experiences, you, my dear buddy,'m trying not to be cruel) remained stuck in a "black or white" view of the world.

    And, as I've mentioned in "Race Man Answers" (which I thought you read), your view is the same one that's been promoted and sanctioned by the perps who created and benefitted from American slavery and the ideology of white supremacy. So your "thinking" came from the very folks who enslaved, dehumanized and raped our ancestors in particular...and America and the world at large.

    The idea that humans naturally segregate themselves based on such superficial traits as skin color and hair texture is sophistry (look it up). It seems true, so it must be....right?

    So, Wrong. Based on your "thinking" 99.9% of us would still believe the world is flat. Right?

    My observations say, without elites pointing out (and benefitting from) those superficial differences, we're more likely to segregate based on differences in language or cultural traditions.

    There. That should hold you for a least until another brotha with baggy pants crosses your path. :)

  14. Another "uncolored" friend writes:


    I'm not sure what to make of your cartoon. Since Obama is just a stooge of the power brokers as were his predecessors, I'm not sure what you would expect him to do. Also, I'm not sold on the idea that the dichotomy between white and black is as stark is your cartoon conveys. I do think that once our generation dies out the chances for real integration will improve greatly. But then again, what do I know?


  15. "But what do I know?"


    At the risk of pissing you off by actually answering your rhetorical question, my answer is...not much.

    And there in lies the problem. "White" folks of your (our) generation have studiously avoided the racial facts of American life. So that now, they are about to pass the racial buck to their children and grandchildren.

    I'm not naive. But I'm also not a hypocritical cynic who has benefitted from all the pluses of America but will do nothing to make things better for tje next generation.

    I'm not accusing you personally of that - because i know you. But I think your cynical, do-nothing side is gettimg the best of you. Obama, like Lincoln and all the other US presidents will only do what we force him to do. Right?

  16. My friend Ike had trouble posting directly again, but he's nothing, if not persistent (and consistent). So here's his spirited response to my last reply to him:


    Yes my brother we have had this conversation before. And yes my worldview hasn’t deviated too much although in some respects it has evolved. Maybe not enough for you, but contrary to what you may think, I am amenable to change where change is warranted whether in thought or deed.

    But what I’m not is one to swallow the whole glass of politically correct BS that gets passed around on matters of race. I reserve the right to say ‘no thanks’.

    Yes, I have read your book, I just don’t go along with all of your arguments.
    Yes whites have benefitted from our labor, yes we were exploited, raped, beaten, branded, hung and brainwashed into believing we are inferior. I get that.

    And I get your point that Whites are bad people who should make amends for the wrongs of their fathers by writing reparation checks.

    Here’s where we differ.

    You want to single out white on black cruelty and exploitation. I get that whites did some pretty awful things to black folks. They enslaved us and exploited our labor. But hey, they also enslaved the indigenous natives of South and Central America, and the Caribbean. And lets not forget the history of cruelty, savagery and exploitation whites have meted out to their own kind as well.

    And lets not leave out black on black inhumanity. Boko Haram ring a bell? Cruelty, savagery and exploitation seem to be an intrinsic part of the human condition. It’s not just a ‘White’ thing.

    Bear in mind Lowell I am not excusing what was done to Blacks. I’m simply reminding you what happen to us is not unique in history.

    What I argue , and where we differ, is we don’t have to be hobbled by our history of slavery. Yes we were slaves at one time. But that did not stop past generations of AfAm from reaching their potential. We became doctors, lawyers, educators and business owners despite our history of slavery. It didn’t stop our grandparents or our parents. It doesn’t have to stop us now.

    I differ with you too on the legacy of slavery. While you hold up the banner of slavery, white supremacy and white oppression as the root cause of all that ails us, I offer it has little to do why our youth stand in line for hours for a pair of gym shoes, prefer a basketball to a book-and can’t pull up their pants.

    That’s on us.

    Btw, I didn’t have to look up sophistry. But you knew that. :)


  17. Ike,
    We're way beyond the point of diminishing returns in our ability to change each other's mind. So, from this point on, I'm talking to those who may be lurking, looking for answers to America's oldest, self-inflicted wound.

    My book is th exact opposite of "politically correct". Instead of buying into the idea that's been politically correct for at least th past 400 years in America that the world can be neatly divided into black or white, I challenge it. Then I show how and why and by whom it was promoted...amd who made their unconscionable wealth from it.

    In fact, instead of buying into the "branding" of the human species by the folks I coined "Amerocrats", I then show the real "races" the USA is made of: The "Master Race" of the one-one hundredth of one percent....and the rest of US.

    But I guess you missed that part. Your reply is based on a strawman I never put up. It seems to be answering an argument with someone else, not moi.

    In short, you seem to have bought the brand the Amerocrats have been promoting for centuries.
    I'll bet you still eat Kellogg's Corn Flakes, use Ivory Soap (because it floats) and brush your teeth with Pepsodent.

  18. B,

    Come on. Not the old "let's argue over the definition" trick.

    Look it up then give me some thoughtful input. Better yet, just nod your head and admit you've never really thought about it that deeply. Then sit back and learn. Right?

    1. LOL LOL LOL. Just answer the question please?

  19. B,

    OK. I'll humor you. I just did what I recommended you (and anyone else who somebody to define racism for them) do. I went to Wikipedia. They have lots more on the subject there. This is just the definiton part:

    As its etymology indicates, the first use of the word racism is relatively recent—i.e., the 1900s, most literally the 1930s. Linguistically, as the word is a general abstraction that does not in and of itself connote a great deal of positive or negative meaning without additional context (i.e., "racism" = noun of action/condition regarding "race"), its definition and semantics are not entirely settled. Nonetheless, the term is commonly used, often negatively as a pejorative (e.g., "racist"), and is associated with race-based prejudice, violence, dislike, discrimination, or oppression.

    Dictionaries define the word as follows:

    The Oxford English Dictionary defines racism as the "belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races" and the expression of such prejudice,[23][24]
    Merriam-Webster's Dictionary defines it as a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority or inferiority of a particular racial group, and alternatively that it is also the prejudice based on such a belief.[25]
    The Macquarie Dictionary defines racism as: "the belief that human races have distinctive characteristics which determine their respective cultures, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to rule or dominate others."

    Now, how's that?


  20. As a man who from birth has had to live with the consequences of a mild but noticeable hereditary melanin deficiency – sometimes referred to as “melanin challenged” – I found your cartoon to be very thought provoking and heartwarming, both the words and the images.

    I typed “tear down this wall” in Google images. There were scores, maybe hundreds, of images. The majority were photographs of Ronald Reagan, superimposed over various scenes, with various captions, most of them being, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”. There were also photos of Obama and John F. Kennedy.

    The lower part of the cartoon – on this side of the wall – was heartwarming because it reminded me of my family and the communities where I grew up. Everybody I knew when I was in school in western Pennsylvania varied from palish pink in the winter to brownish tan in the summer. We all worked very hard to get as brown as possible.

    When I was a kid we played “Ring Around the Rosie” and “Eenie Meenie Minie Moe”. There were no tigers in our chants.

  21. Thanks for your thoughts DK.

    Judging from your hints, you are of what I cautiously call, the "uncolored" persuasion. And based on your chants, you are at least 65 years old. Most "whites" would never use the dreaded "N" word today. But that doesn't mean many don't still think it, and more importantly, still benefit from the over 300 years when its usuage was not just tolerated but encouraged.

    My sometimes seemingly Quixotic quest is to not only get folks like Obama to fess up to that heinous history, but to begin the process of undoing its damage - not just on "blacks" but on our nation.