Saturday, June 09, 2007

"Don't decry honesty about race"

Rochelle Riley (Detroit Free Press):

U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Detroit Tigers star Gary Sheffield had the nerve to tell the truth this week -- and all hell broke loose.

Critics attempted to raise ire over Obama's warning that the nation and its government are ignoring a quiet riot among black Americans, fueled by the ongoing plight of Hurricane Katrina's victims and the continuing despair in poor neighborhoods where some residents turn to crime to survive.
The critics also cried foul over Sheffield's accurate assessment that Latino baseball players, many of whom are recruited from the worst poverty to a life of luxury, are less likely than black players to make waves that will hurt their meal ticket.

Obama wasn't trying to prove he really is black. And Sheffield wasn't questioning Latino manhood.

The Illinois senator called attention to the "young men and women without hope, without miracles and without a sense of destiny other than life on the edge -- the edge of the law, the edge of the economy, the edge of family structures and communities." That same sense of hopelessness led to riots in Los Angeles 15 years ago and in Detroit nearly 40 years ago. Yet America has learned nothing from its oppressive dealings with the poor.

Obama, according to news reports, told black ministers gathered at Hampton University that the Bush administration's poor handling of the hurricane and continued mistreatment of New Orleans' displaced residents two years later resembles Los Angeles and the 1992 riots that didn't happen because police officers beat Rodney King. They erupted from a frustration that was building well before.

"There had been a 'quiet riot' building up in Los Angeles and across the country," leading to "inexcusable and self-defeating" violence," Obama said.

Of course he's right. Detroit police and community activists see it in the faces of people they try to help and the glares of thugs they couldn't help. We see it in a wave of rising anger that can lead to robberies, the recruitment of new drug dealers and a young thug beating up a 91-year-old man on the street.

It is similar to the frustration that Sheffield mentioned, albeit on a playing field less littered with violence, but just as unfair. He told GQ magazine that the number of Latin baseball players continues to grow because it's easier "to tell (them) what to do -- being able to control them.

"Where I'm from, you can't control us," he said of black players, whose numbers are shrinking. Sixteen years ago, the leagues were 18% African American and 14% Latin American. Last year, 8.4% were African American and 29.4% were Latin American.

Sheffield later told the Free Press that Latin players "have more to lose than we do. You can send them back." His teammate, shortstop Carlos Guillen, agreed and said he was glad that Sheffield spoke up.

He's not the only one. At a time when America is tied more to lies than truth, I'm glad for a good dose of honesty once in a while.



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