Friday, November 28, 2008

Why Black Americans Are Indebted to White Americans

One of the real ironies of Barack Obama's election to the presidency is that it was white Americans who recognized and believed in this possibility long before blacks. I remember getting e-mails in January from two white friends in California who were raving about Obama and wanted to know if I'd read his books. They were already working for his campaign and kept telling me that I had to read his books.

But like most blacks, I didn't think a black man had a chance of being elected president, especially a black man with a foreign name. To be honest, I think the initial black response to Obama's chances came not only from our perception of a racist white America. That initial black response came also from residual feelings of black inferiority. President-elect Obama was quite right when he said that white America was not ready for someone like him, and neither was black America.

But when Obama won the Iowa caucuses, I and other blacks started to pay attention. We knew that the number of blacks in Iowa numbered between zero and one, excepting Des Moines and the towns where the University of Iowa and Iowa State were located. Iowa got our attention but we were not yet believers. However, we became believers after Obama's wins in the Super Tuesday primaries, and especially after Bill Clinton started attacking Obama personally.

So, this is a thanks to all those white Americans who believed that Obama could become president and worked to make it happen when most blacks thought they and Obama were a little crazy. My personal history of growing up under racial segregation and my involvement in the civil rights movement to overthrow racial segregation limited my ability to perceive the new movement of change being born before my eyes.

But when my eyes began to see truly, my heart was made glad and it becomes gladder and gladder with each day's sunrise.

Oh, by the way, at 1:54 a.m. (EST) it is 53 days, 10 hours and 5 minutes before Barack Obama becomes president.

© 2008 by Julius Lester

Thursday, November 27, 2008

I Give Thanks for my iPod Touch

For my wedding anniversary at the end of August, I bought two iPods, one for my wife and one for myself. I already had a previous generation iPod, but when I learned that I could download a French dictionary to the iPod Touch, I was sold.

I had thought I would fill this iPod with music as I had done with my previous one, but the iPod Touch is an entirely different experience. It has changed my life. First, there is the convenience of internet access. When I'm sitting in my chair and need a particular piece of information, I simply Google what I'm looking for on my iPod Touch, and within seconds, I have it. In addition to internet access, I have an address book, calculator, notepad, calendar, and then, there are the applications created for the iPhone and iPod Touch, and for those who don't know, the iPod Touch is an iPhone without the phone.

On my iPod I have the American Heritage Dictionary, Roget's Thesaurus, the Oxford Concise Dictionary and Thesaurus, two French dictionaries, two e-Book reading programs, a database into which I've put all the books from my upstairs library so when I'm in a bookstore, I can check to see if I have the book already. Other programs on my iPod Touch are The Weather Channel, which tells me not only the temperature but how cold it actually feels, two programs which give me still shots and videos from Fashion Week in New York, London, Milan, and Paris, WebMD, a couple of astrology programs, and a Channukah Menorah whose candles will not drip wax. Oh, yes, and also a solitaire app which contains I don't know how many games of solitaire. The program keeps track of the number of hours you've played a game. I will not tell you how many
hours I've racked up so far on just two games.

Some iPod apps are free, and prices for others range from $.99 to $35.00 for the Concise Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus.

And the most wonderful thing of all about the iPod Touch is that you do whatever you want to do by the merest of touches on the screen. I find myself touching other things now and being surprised that nothing happens.

But, what led to all of this praise for the iPod Touch is this: As I type, my iPod Touch is informing me that there are 54 days, 9 hours, and 22 minutes until the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States. Behind the digital counter are photos of Obama that change as well as quotations from his books and speeches which also change. This is a free application in the Entertainment Directory of the App Store at iTunes.

So, on this Thanksgiving I sit here and watch the Obama Inaugural Countdown on my iPod Touch and just smile, smile, smile as the seconds counter speeds along.

I give thanks for my iPod Touch which brings me joy every day.

And, I give thanks for you who read my words and tell me that they mean something to you.

© 2008 by Julius Lester

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Slow Blogs

In this past Sunday's New York Times, there was an article about what seems to be a new "movement" in the blogsphere, which is "slow blogs." I'm glad someone has come up with a respectable name and made a "movement" out of something which came to me naturally, which is, only writing this blog when I feel like it.

The problem with blogs is becoming snared by the desires of others who want you to post something everyday, or at least more frequently than once a month. While I am flattered that people want to read about what I'm thinking, my motto since I retired at the end of 2003 is something I saw on a T-shirt: "I don't want to. I don't have to, and you can't make me. I'm retired." The beauty of being retired, for me, at least, is not having the pressure of being obligated to do something. Each day my time is there to be shaped according to my desires and no one else's.

Now that I have a name for my approach to blogging, I am hereby informing you that just because I don't post anything for a month or two, it's all right. This is a slow blog.


It appears that political "progressives" are upset with Barack Obama even before he is sworn in because he is not adhering to their agenda. They fail to understand that Obama is not an ideologue; he is a problem solver, and if ideas from political conservatives help him solve problems, he will apply those ideas. What is important is solving problems. We do not need a continuation of the last eight years when adherence to ideology created problems more complex and devastating than any in my almost seventy years. To substitute adherence to "progressive" ideology for that of conservatives would not constitute substantive change.

I am pleased that Obama wants Hillary Clinton to be Secretary of State. He is showing us that you can have sharp differences with someone and still work closely with them. It has been a long time since we've had someone in the White House who welcomes ideas that don't mirror his own. It has been a long time since we've had someone in the White House who was not an absolutist, and "progressives" can be as absolutist as conservatives. Both create an atmosphere of a righteous Us against a nefarious Them.

I do not want a president who seems himself as leading a crusade. I am grateful that we will have a president who wants to clean the air and rivers, make bridges and highways safe, and help us feel secure and at peace in our homes. I am grateful that we will have a president who will leave us alone to believe whatever we want to believe.

And this Thanksgiving I will also express my deep and sincere gratitude that George Herbert Walker Bush will very soon no longer be president of this country.

© 2008 by Julius Lester

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Observations Post-Election - 3

Barack and Michelle Obama were on "Sixty Minutes" Sunday evening for the entire hour. I cannot remember ever liking a president. I like this man. I believe that the man I see and experience is the man as he is. He is someone I could imagine having a conversation with. He is someone I could imagine inviting to my house, and those who know me know that I hardly ever invite anyone to my house.

I have been thinking about the massive outpouring of emotion at his election, not only here in the United States but around the world. I cannot think of any head of state whose election to office has been responded to by universal hope. Our despair was deeper than we knew that his election brought forth our tears, brought forth a deep exhalation and a relaxing of muscles that have been tensed for the past eight years.

Can one man withstand the weight of the world's hopes? I am convinced that this man can. I am so convinced because he is rooted in his family. I believe it was the French writer, Stendahl, who said, "Be as bourgeois in your life as possible so as to be as revolutionary in your work as possible."

What a wonderful feeling it is to trust the president of the United States. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president when I was born, but the first one I remember is Harry Truman. This is the first time I have given my trust to the man sitting in the Oval House. And he will not abuse that trust. Of this, I am sure.

Julius Lester
© 2008

Friday, November 14, 2008

In A Lighter Vein - 2

One sunny day in late January, 2009 an old man approached the White House from across Pennsylvania Avenue, where he'd been sitting on a park bench. He spoke to the U.S. Marine standing guard and said, "I would like to go in and meet with President Bush."

The Marine looked at the man and said, "Sir, Mr. Bush is no longer president and no longer resides here."

The old man said, "Okay" and walked away.

The following day, the same man approached the White House and said to the same Marine, "I would like to go in and meet with President Bush."

The Marine again told the man, "Sir, as I said yesterday, Mr. Bush is no longer president and no longer resides here." The man thanked him and, again, just walked away.

The third day, the same man approached the White House and spoke to the very same U.S. Marine, saying "I would like to go in and meet with President Bush."

The Marine, understandably agitated at this point, looked at the man and said, "Sir, this is the third day in a row you have been here asking to speak to Mr. Bush. I've told you already that Mr. Bush is no longer the president and no longer resides here. Don't you understand?"

The old man looked at the Marine and said, "Oh, I understand. I just love hearing it."

The Marine snapped to attention, saluted, and said, "See you tomorrow, Sir."

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

In A Lighter Vein

These were posted on a list I'm on, and I wanted to pass them on. You do the same.

TEACHER: Maria, go to the map and find North America .
MARIA: Here it is.
TEACHER: Correct. Now class, who discovered America ?
CLASS: Maria.

TEACHER: John, why are you doing your math multiplication on the
JOHN: You told me to do it without using tables.

TEACHER: Glenn, how do you spell 'crocodile?'
TEACHER: No, that's wrong
GLENN: Maybe it is wrong, but you asked me how I spell it.

TEACHER: Donald, what is the chemical formula for water?
TEACHER: What are you talking about?
DONALD: Yesterday you said it's H to O.

TEACHER: Winnie, name one important thing we have today that we
didn't have ten years ago.

TEACHER: Glen, why do you always get so dirty?
GLEN: Well, I'm a lot closer to the ground than you are.

TEACHER: Millie, give me a sentence starting with 'I.'
MILLIE: I is..
TEACHER: No, Millie..... Always say, 'I am.'
MILLIE: All right... 'I am the ninth letter of the

TEACHER: George Washington not only chopped down his father's
cherry tree, but also admitted it. Now, Louie, do you know why his
father didn't punish him?
LOUIS: Because George still had the axe in his hand.

TEACHER: Now, Simon, tell me frankly, do you say prayers before
SIMON: No sir, I don't have to, my Mom is a good cook.

TEACHER: Clyde , your composition on 'My Dog' is exactly the same
as your brother's. Did you copy his?
CLYDE : No, sir. It's the same dog.

TEACHER: Harold, what do you call a person who keeps on talking
when people are no longer interested?
HAROLD: A teacher

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Shape of Things to Come

In Monday's New York Times there is an article, "Obama Weighs Quick Undoing of Bush Policy" which outlines some of the actions President-Elect Obama is planning to enact by executive order when he takes office. Indeed, in August, before he had been formally nominated at the Democratic convention, a transition team was already at work going over executive orders signed by President Bush that Obama could countermand by executive order. Among these are limits on stem cell research and the expansion of oil and gas drilling into national parks, the latter announced last week by Bush.

As I read the article I remembered one charge made by Hilary Clinton and John McCain was that they would be ready on Day One, that they would not need "on the job training". Guess what? Obama is going to be ready before Day One.

The Times article stated that on Bush's first full day in office, he reinstated an executive order prohibiting taxpayer money from "being given to international family planning groups that perform abortions and provide abortion counseling." This EO will probably be overturned by Obama.

The change that a great majority of us were aching for was a change from an ideologically based presidency in which allegiance was given to abstract principles that showed no compassion for the impact of its ideology on the lives of people. Bush is a true believer, and is no different than the Taliban mullahs, Iranian ayatollahs, and all the other religious and political tyrants who have made millions suffer in the name of their religions.

January 21, 2009 cannot come fast enough!

Julius Lester

Friday, November 7, 2008

Observations Post-Election - 2

During the Democratic party primaries, one of the things Hillary Clinton criticized Obama for was his ability to use words, and John McCain repeated this from time to time. I, for one, am looking forward to listening to a president who uses language well, who speaks in a way that inspires people.

What Clinton and McCain failed to recognize was that words are not merely words. Words are action when they touch our hearts and make us want to do better, to be better. To stand in the Lincoln Memorial and read the words of Abraham Lincoln, to stand in the Jefferson Memorial and read the words of Thomas Jefferson is almost a religious experience because their words lift our souls out of the day-to-day and into the realm of the ideals that have shaped our nation, ideals that have been lost, especially over the last eight years.

It will be good to have a president who understands that an important part of his task is to reintroduce us to these ideals. The words with which we think about another, the words we use to talk about another determine how we treat another.

President-elect Obama's words will be chief among his most important actions.

Julius Lester
© 2008

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Observations Post-Election

Watching the coverage Tuesday night after Obama was declared to be our next president, I was most moved by the number of people in the streets of America's cities. I cannot recall any election of a president that elicited such an outpouring of emotion. Seeing those faces and especially the expressions on the faces of the young took me back to the 1960s and what it was to feel like you were a part of history, that you had been a part of bringing about significant and meaningful change.

As I watched I also couldn't help remembering that the last time I was in Grant Park in Chicago was in 1968 during the Democratic convention when police rained violence on people who had gathered in peaceful protest against the war in Vietnam. I was covering the convention for radio station WBAI-FM in New York and sensing that violence was in the air, I got my black behind out of the park before the police attacked. I much preferred the images on my television screen last night.

It is wonderful to feel hopeful again, to feel that there will be a man in the White House whose allegiance is to people and not ideology, who will listen to those who disagree with him, who acknowledges that good ideas can come from those who disagree with him as well as those who agree.

Whether those who disagree with Obama will respond to his appeals for civility remain to be seen. I was speaking with another daughter today who lives in Denver. Outside a mall she visited on Wednesday stood people dressed in black who were saying that Tuesday was a sad day for America, and they were already preparing bumper stickers reading, "Don't Blame Me. I voted for McCain."

Obviously the damage done to our nation by eight years of George Bush will not be healed in the next four or eight years. Perhaps it will not be healed until a generation of people who fear change die off. No matter. The election of Obama is a revolutionary change in our society, not primarily because he is black but because of his values.

As I said to my wife a while back, if Obama wins, he'll be our first woman president. Who would've ever dreamed she would take the form of a black man.

Julius Lester
© 2008

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

I'm Back

I wasn't sure why I stopped writing here. I thought it might have something to do with my anxiety about the outcome of the presidential election. A few hours ago when it was announced that Obama had won, and I cried, I felt that I was ready to write here again.

My joy at Obama's election has little to do with the fact that I am black and he is black. Yes, I never thought I'd live to see a black man as president. But if a black
man had been elected tonight who shared John McCain's political philosophy, I would have cried for entirely different reasons.

My joy at Obama's election has much more to do with the fact that he is thoughtful and compassionate. As my daughter said on the phone a few minutes ago, "He's not a politician; he's a leader." And it has been a long, long time since we've had a leader in this country.

Now, there's a new anxiety which I'm sure I share with many. Will Obama be allowed to live until this night in 2012? There are forces in this country that hate him far more than I hate the present occupant of the White House. Will we once more have our hopes and dreams shattered by a bullet from a rifle? Or, will even those who are in as much despair tonight as I was on this night eight years ago and four years ago, will they come to see that Barack Obama is a decent man, a man who, in the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, "increase tenderness in the world."

I certainly hope so -- for my sake and theirs.

Julius Lester