I feel I should say a little more, add a second chapter, to my last post where I seemed to give (Senator) Harry Reid a pass but posed questions about (President) Obama’s excusing him. So I will, being the master of this universe.
There’s something we do with most our acquaintances, called “taking the measure of a man”. Its all about character, about assessing the moral being that’s inside someone, the pilot of their soul. It really has nothing to do with their job, wealth, education, family or social status. Those are things that may speak of or reflect on their character, but not so much.
While in Mississippi in 1965, I stayed in a small town, Sunflower. I was in the Black (called “Negro” in those days) part of town. I stayed with a tiny black woman, Sally Mae Carson, in her little two-room house (“house” is not the name you’d probably give it), where she and 10 or 12 of her kids (She had 22) lived. We slept on a more or less wall to wall spread of mattresses, and she cooked for us on a wood stove. Fed us all. Her husband was nowhere to be found, because if he could have been found he’d been beaten or killed by the segregationist resistance. I never did get to meet him, but his strength and loyalty was unquestioned. She still loved and depended on him as an anchor in her life.
Sally Mae had no fear and was as fierce a supporter of the struggle as anyone. Only that passel of kids held her back from bigger participation in the political action in Jackson. But she fearlessly adopted me, up front and in the open, for all to see (I’m white). I took the measure of Sally. She has always been the “tallest” person in my life.
Hardly any shorter in character stature was Fannie Lou Hamer. She lived just down the street, where we (Sally Mae and I) often spent the evening on her rather big front porch. Fannie Lou, herself, was much bigger than Sally Mae, had fewer kids and was more into the political action (she was once elected to Congress), so our evenings on the porch with her was where we often shared experiences and information.
Her husband was a big gentle bear of a man but rarely seen except for a few of our evenings on the porch, for the same reason – the “gallant” segregationist resistance would have treated him much worse than the women in the civil rights struggle. Even so, Fannie Lou had a serious back problem caused by one roughing-up where the “gallantry” proved less than sufficient. I took the measure of the Hamers. Both stood tall and I’d have trusted them with my life. In fact, I did!
Lucinda Wrancher was a young girl, finishing High School. She volunteered to be the “treasurer” for the Sunflower movement. I was given the responsibility of helping her learn how to open and manage a bank account. Even writing a check was a new experience for her, but she could write and do arithmetic pretty well, and was willing to face the dangers. She had hardly begun her own life, but taking the measure of Lucinda was easy. Already, she stood tall.
Color, or the hue of it, and “dialect or accent, meant nothing to any of these people. It did matter to another lady. I so regret that I cannot remember her name, but I stayed with her throughout most of my time in Mississippi. Because she was so light-skinned and spoke with such a “white dialect” (I guess) that while she lived in Sunflower, it was across the tracks in the white neighborhood. She was, what they call “passing”, living as if white, being thought of as white by the white community – and had done so for 60+ years. Yet while she chose to avail herself of the extra privileges, she also risked it all to give me shelter when the segregationists had figured out where I was and began threatening me and my hosts.
Now, I could talk about this lady’s skin tone and linguistic characteristics. They were essential to her, to the life and things she could do in 60s Mississippi. But I don’t seen how reciting them as constitutes flattery or praise her for or what she did. But they were the facts, and probably helped what she was able to do in her service to the cause.
I kinda see Harry Reid’s talk as similar. I really can’t interpret his worlds as flattery or praise. That’s where the “racism” would come in. Instead, I see them as dispassionate and coldly realistic in Harry’s mind in light of the place and time he grew up and set his basic cultural values and calculus. They were what he thought mattered, and probably did matter, to some of the Democrat Party – which is more racially conscious, if not racist, than many realize or want to know.
That’s where I got my questions about Obama. I know his politics – his real politics and agendas. I knew them and warned about them early in his campaign. It was all too clear from the way he dealt with the Reverend Wright thing, and his grandmother, and the Chicago political scene. But that’s all about his political career – a career that is deceptive and pragmatically for most politicians. It plays into “the measure” of him, but I’ve don’t feel I’ve got the measure of that man. His saying that Harry Reid’s words were merely an attempt to praise him raises questions in my mind, however, as I try to finish taking my measure of him.