Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Response to Remarks by the President on the Eve of the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday

Remarks delivered to the Nora School community on Jan. 12, 2018

"I mostly keep my politics to myself. For the past year I’ve talked about the value of civility in our discourse, and that while we may disagree on tax policy and immigration policy and environmental policy, we can, and should, have that conversation in a civil manner.

"But racism has to be called out for what it is. It’s not the same as debating whether to allow oil drilling off the coast of Ocean City, which you might also find outrageous.

"When I was your age, Richard Nixon was the president. He once famously said at a news conference “I am not a crook.” But he was. Behind closed doors he was also a racist and anti-Semite, but he kept this to himself, without giving permission to the greater society to be racist and anti-Semitic.

"The president of your youth will, in the next couple of days, say “I am not a racist.” But he is. And worse than Nixon, he’s been overt about his racism, and his misogyny, and worse, he has unleashed permission in the culture for others to be open and overt in their racism.

"When the president of the United States says that only white people should be allowed to immigrate, and that poor people of color should be kept out, and disparages their homes and culture, that’s racist.

"This is unacceptable. This is not normal. This is why you need to know history. This is why you need to read the newspaper, and magazines, and listen to NPR, and to watch the evening news. If you’re not outraged you’re not paying attention.

"You need to know history so that you know, unlike our president, the reason that many parts of the world have economic challenges is due to white European, and later American, colonialism. That their natural resources, including their people, were taken without permission to Europe and the Americas. You ask in your history and English classes “when are we ever going to have to use this knowledge?” The answer is “today.”

"This weekend we celebrate the birth of a man who raised America’s moral aspirations, tried to bring people together, especially poor people, both black and white, to overcome the systemic oppression and racism that then, overtly, existed. In the 50 years since Martin Luther King died that racism became increasingly unacceptable, not that it disappeared, but it was culturally sublimated. Now you’re growing up in a time when it’s increasingly acceptable to express overt racism... you have to push back.

"There’s a quote that I like by Alex Steffen, “Optimism is a political act. Those who benefit from the status quo are perfectly happy for us to think nothing is going to get better. In fact, these days, cynicism is obedience.” So don’t be cynical. Remember this weekend that 50 years ago the president and congress were fighting a war against poverty, instead of a war against poor people. We can return to those days if you get engaged, remain engaged, and fight back.

"You can write to your congressperson, you can donate $10 to a political candidate, you can attend a rally or protest, you can join organizations whose values align with your values, you can register to vote, and you can show up and vote. If you’re unhappy with what’s happening to your country and your culuture don’t become cynical, resist."

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