Bono’s NAACP Chairman’s Award Acceptance Speech

March 6, 2007

Partial trancript

…When people talk about the greatness of America, I just think of the NAACP…
See, I grew up in Ireland, and when I grew up, Ireland was divided along religious lines, sectarian lines. Young people like me were parched for the vision that poured out of pulpits of Black America. And the vision of a Black Reverend from Atlanta–a man who refused to hate because he knew love would do a better job. (Applause). These ideas travel, you know? And they reached me, clear as any tune, lodged in my brain like a song. I couldn’t shake that. And this is Ireland in the 70s growing up. People like me looked across the ocean to the NAACP, and I’m here tonight, and that feels good. It feels very, very good! (Applause.)

Well today, the world looks again to the NAACP. We need the community that taught the world about civil rights to teach it something about human rights. I’m talking about the right to live like a human. The right to live, period. Those are the stakes in Africa right now. Five and a half thousand Africans dying every day of AIDS, a preventable, treatable disease. Nearly a million Africans, most of them children, dying every year from malaria. Death by mosquito bite.

And, this is not about charity, as you know here in this room. This is about justice. It’s about justice and equality. (Applause.) Now I know that America hasn’t solved all of its problems, and I know that AIDS is killing people right here in America. And I know the hardest hit are African Americans, many of them young women. Today the church in Oakland, I saw such extraordinary people. This lioness here, Barbara Lee (applause) took me around with her pastor, J. Alfred Smith, and may I say that it was the poetry and the righteous anger of the Black church that was such an inspiration to me, a very white, almost pink, Irish man growing up in Dublin.

This is true religion, true religion will not let us fall asleep in the comfort of our freedom. “Love thy neighbor” is not a piece of advice, it’s a command. (Applause and cheers.) And that means a lot. That means that in the global village, we’re going to have to start loving a whole lot more people. That’s what that means. That’s right–its truth is marching on. Two million Americans have signed on to the One Campaign to make poverty history, tonight the NAACP is signing up to work with us. And so can you. Its truth is marching on! Because where you live should not decide whether you live or whether you die.

And to those in the church who still sit in judgement on the AIDS emergency, let me climb into the pulpit for just one moment. Because whatever thoughts we have about God who he is, or even if God exists, most will agree that God has a special place for the poor.

The poor are where God lives. God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is where the opportunity is lost and lives are shattered. (Standing ovation.) God is with the mother who has infected a child with a virus that will take both their lives. God is under the rubble in the cries we hear during wartime. God, my friends, is with the poor, and God is with us if we are with them.

This is not a burden–this is an adventure! And don’t let anyone tell you it cannot be done. We can be the generation that ends extreme poverty! Thank you.

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The meaning of “a Black Value System”

March 4, 2007

This is related to my post about A Black Theology of Liberation from yesterday. In addition to the overview link I posted, I had also looked at a PDF that went into detail about what is meant by a Black Value System. This part stood out to me, and I think I heard it echoed when listening to Barack Obama speaking at an event in Selma commemorating the voting rights march that took place there 42 years ago.

Disavowal of the Pursuit of “Middleclassness”

Classic methodology on control of captives teaches that captors must keep the captive ignorant educationally, but trained sufficiently well to serve the system. Also, the captors must be able to identify the “talented tenth” of those subjugated, especially those who show promise of providing the kind of leadership that might threaten the captor’s control.

Those so identified as separated from the rest of the people by:

Killing them off directly, and/or fostering a social system that encourages them to kill off one another.

Placing them in concentration camps, and/or structuring an economic environment that induces captive youth to fill the jails and prisons.

Seducing them into a socioeconomic class system which while training them to earn more dollars, hypnotizes them into believing they are better than others and teaches them to think in terms of “we” and “they” instead of “us”.

So, while it is permissible to chase “middle-incomeness” with all our might, we must avoid the third separation method-the psychological entrapment of Black “middleclassness”: If we avoid the snare, we will also diminish our “voluntary” contributions to methods A and B. And more importantly, Black people no longer will be deprived of their birthright, the leadership, resourcefulness, and example of their own talented persons.

Anyway, I thought that excerpt was worthy of some reflection. In yesterday’s post, I linked to the lively exchange between Sean Hannity and Barack Obama’s pastor, the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, about whether Trinity United Church of Christ espoused a “radical separatist” agenda. What I failed to mention at the time is that I do “get” why many White people are uncomfortable with the wording Hannity referred to from the church’s web site–commitment to the Black family, the Black community, etc. Hannity asked, wouldn’t it sound racist if you substituted the word White–if there was a church that openly stated it was all about supporting and strengthening the White community.

And I can’t judge him for asking that. I’ve wondered the same thing in the past. Wright responded that churches have been that way for ages–White by default. White is “generic” to many of us, so we don’t even use the word as a descriptor when we are describing a new person we met, for example. But that’s not an easy concept to “get”. It’s going to take some serious thoughtful discussion among people of good will. Which means, and this is just a guess, it will likely be taking place somewhere other than Sean Hannity’s television program.


Learning not to bite

March 4, 2007

Earlier this afternoon I read an essay by field negro at My Left Wing. He was reflecting after attending the viewing of a dear friend’s father, and at the end of the post, he writes:

It was so weird being in that packed room with all those people and family members coming to pay their respects. Respects to a man who had stayed with his wife, raised his family, and kept his roots in his community and contributed to the well being of his city. This is one reason I suspect that he disliked my people, because he thought that we were the very antithesis of what he represented. But if the poor guy had taken the time to try, he would have seen that there are many black grandfathers all over the city who are just like him. Who, if he had reached out like his son had, probably would have been able to change his thinking and his heart.

So I spent some time turning this over in my head. I was already thinking about race after having watched the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright talk about the theology of Black liberation. And that led to thinking about empathy, perspective, and why we humans are so intent on being crappy to each other.

I was also thinking about the eye for an eye verse from the Bible, and how it means only one eye for one eye.

Throughout the world today, and throughout the long history of humanity, the dominant tradition has never been one of trying to fit the punishment to the crime, much less has it involved the notion of rehabilitating the offender. The dominant approach has always been one of allowing the officials to exercise their unlimited desire for vengeance and retribution.

Justice was conducted on the basis of blood feuds. Retribution knew no limits. Typical of this ancient mentality was the speech of Lamech who boasted to his many wives: “I have slain a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain was avenged 7-fold, then I am avenged 77-fold!” [Gen. 4:23f.]

We do have a tendency to go overboard, don’t we? But why do we hate, and why do choose to do things that are hurtful, either physically or emotionally?

I’m sure there are a number of answers, but at least in part, hate usually comes from fear and ignorance. And we hurt people (whether with fists, words, or weapons) when we are hurting–or when we are anticipating being hurt. But another part of it is that we lack empathy. Or, conversely, we often find it easier to behave humanely toward one another, and insist on justice for others, when we are capable of feeling each other’s pain.

Which brings me to the title of this post, “Learning not to bite”. While I was thinking of all the things I mentioned above, I thought to myself, “What would it be like if we could arrange it so that every time someone said something hurtful to someone else, they would automatically feel the pain they caused?”

And that reminded me of something I read in parenting books and advice columns when our kids were little. Someone would ask, “I’ve been told that, when my toddler bites me, I should bite him/her back to show what it feels like–is that a good idea?” The answer, of course, is no, but one specific suggestion I recall is this…as the little one prepares to chomp, do a little sleight of hand that results in the child biting his or her own arm. This would cause the child in a very literal way to “feel someone else’s pain”. Of course, at that pre-verbal stage, I’m sure they aren’t thinking that way. It’s probably more like, “It hurts when I do this–so I won’t do it any more.”

As we get older, though, we become more capable of reflecting on what someone else might be feeling. That doesn’t mean we always do. But we’re can, if we’re intentional about it. And field negro’s post reminded me of one of my own “Aha!” moments, when he mentioned being the only Black person at the viewing. I thought back to one of the first times I rode the bus with Demetrius to the south side of Chicago to visit his Mom. At some point, I realized that I was the only White person on the bus, and that was an odd, uncomfortable feeling for me. I’d never been in a situation like that before, where I was the only one “of my kind”.  And I’ve only had a handful of similar experiences since then.

Much more often, Demetrius will be the only Black person when we go somewhere. The only time I remember us specifically noticing and remarking about it out loud was when we attended a Monkees reunion concert, and it was a rather amusing realization at the time. But at other moments, I’ve wondered what that would be like spending much of my life in situations where I am the exception rather than the norm. And I realize that those of us who are in the majority tend to take it for granted that “that’s the way it’s supposed to be”.


Kanye West got it wrong!

March 3, 2007

George Bush does too care about Black people.

Via Yahoo News Photos

Come on–what more proof do people need?

But, wait a second…who is he talking to on that phone? I think we need some captions.


A Black Theology of Liberation

March 3, 2007

Via Crooks and Liars:

Obama’s Pastor, Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, goes on Hannity & Colmes to slap down Hannity’s implied slur of Trinity United Church of Christ’s doctrine. When was the last time you saw Hannity not be able to get a word in edgewise?

Hannity kept trying to nail Dr. Wright about how talk of a Black Value System sounds separatist. Wright informed him that the church grew out of the Liberation Theology movement. Every time Hannity tried to press him about how it doesn’t sound nice to say Black instead of all of us together, Wright asked Hannity what he knows about Liberation Theology, and how many of Cone’s books he has read. Hannity kept saying that he went to seminary, but Wright pressed him, saying “That’s not what I asked you.” So Hannity accused him of being “angry” and getting upset.

By the way, you know what “angry” means in this context, right? It means you’re insisting on stating your case rather than “assuming the position”.

Anyway, I haven’t read any of them either, but, unlike Hannity, I’m actually curious about such things. So here’s one of the many books Sean Hannity has *not* read…

A Black Theology of Liberation by James H. Cone

There’s also a summary of the ideas espoused by Trinity United Church of Christ here.