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With MLK day approaching, as well as the Inauguration, and having re-read Race Matters by Cornel West, I am again taken over with that moral itch that I will keep on scratchin’ about intersections of racial and economic justice issues.

The upcoming presidency of Obama could usher a new era of unity in our country, and perhaps even on the globe.  But this unity cannot be in name only; it must account for the vast discrepancy of wealth between those who control the planet’s resources and those who work and live in poverty.  This disproportion is evident globally, nationally, locally.

It is easy for me, as a white woman (who had a college education handed to her as casually and normatively as the next meal) to say, “We should come together to struggle against oppressive systems that keep the poor poor, that keep marginalized groups hopeless.”  Yet part of that process is my needing to account myself to these systems.  The danger in this accounting is, of course, the downward spiral of shame.  This wallowing has kept many whites more in the continued luxury of self-absorbed talking instead of transformation or action.

What does it mean to be an ally?  A white ally?  For me, it is about being bothered by that moral itch I brought up earlier.  Cornel West talks about morality in his book (the 2001 edition- still prescient).  He slices through the jargon around the social construct of race with the steel blade of morality.  He simply asks, What’s morally OK here?  Why is the issue of race confusing how we look at what is right and wrong and where is the future of black leadership in all of this?

Race is used in ways that befuddle well-meaning folks.  Race is manipulated by neo-cons and liberals alike in ways that reinforce patriarchal theocracy and the class divide.  Race as a social construct has been used historically to eclipse the fundamental issues of what is right (life-giving) and wrong (oppressive).  Take ten and watch Tim Wise on the “Creation of Whiteness” here.

Look at the Burris issue with Blagojevich.  Note the befuddled Democrats wondering what racialized landmines they are stepping on by keeping Burris from entering the Senate floor.  And Burris avoids the elephant in the room all together, saying his career has never been about race.  In the racialized kerfuffle, Blagojevich has succeeded in the sleight-of-hand that has turned our attention (i.e. the mass media’s) from his immoral act.  His appointment of Burris is a clear choice to use race as another tool on the belt of political corruption.  (And don’t even get me started on Saltsman and the perceived GOP’s new music tastes).

Do not become distracted.  What the IL governor has done is wrong.  What our culture deems as normative in terms of the discrepancy between rich and poor is wrong.  In a moral universe which I believe bends towards justice, we must wake up.  We have opportunities to act morally in this culture by waking up to what was/ is/ and shall be happening systemically to the poor, particularly poor people of color.  It is not, I repeat, NOT normal or OK for the poorest, most vulnerable folks in our society to disproportionately be people of color.   In fact, who said poverty was okay at all when we live in a nation of tremendous wealth?

At the end of the day, West’s book leaves me with the deeper, more insidious itch about the immorality of our market culture in which

our attention

our dreams

our fears

our health

our morality

All are up for sale

Yet, ironically, the current economic crisis has many folks turning hopefully back to the basics that cannot be purchased at Walmart or on e-bay.  And we have an opportunity to offer each other these basics at no cost: caring, hospitality, kindness, and gratitude.  And my hope is to learn more about and support the places in my local community that remind us that there is an infinite supply of love and all are worthy to receive it.

For more eloquent sites and blogs, visit

Racialicious, a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture

and

Color of Change.org, a site dedicated to “changing the color of democracy”

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