Books-A-Million and One Point of View

Books-A-Million and One Point of View

Excerpt from “Circling the Wagons OR Tightening the Noose?: The BLACK Politics of Conformity in the Age of Obama,” August 15, 2012 Edition of  SOUL AFIRE with Dr. Matthew V. Johnson



Books-A-Million and One Point of View

By Dr. Matthew V. Johnson, Sr.

“Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.” –Buddha

Earlier this week, I went into a bookstore, as I do fairly often, with the hope that I’ll find something that will command my interest and keep me intellectually stimulated; and sometimes I make a find, and you know, sometimes you don’t. This was one of those ‘don’t days.’ So I noticed a table on the way into the bookstore. I didn’t stop to look at it. It was a table ostensibly on current events. On the way out of the bookstore, I decided I’d stop and take a look at it, and see, make a last ditch effort to find something of some interest – and lo and behold, the table was full of books that related to President Obama – at least…10 books on this one table that related directly to President Obama. So I decided I’d take a minute, since I was unlucky in my book search for something stimulating for me to read, I figured I’d take a minute and take a look at those texts.

Then I made a distinct observation. I noticed that all the books in this bookstore – the name of the bookstore was “Books-A-Million” – that all the books in this bookstore were distinct on this table, right by the door, the first thing you see when you walk in, and the last thing you see when you walk out – that they were all distinctly negative. A lot of right wing, ideological gibberish, and there were only two books on the table that could be considered positive of neutral. One of the books was of course, The Audacity to Hope, which is the president’s…own book, and so that was of course considered positive; and then there was another book. So out of the 10 that I saw immediately, eight of them were negative, ideological attacks on the president. So I didn’t want to say anything. I go into this bookstore fairly often, so my first impulse was, “Well, you know, that’s interesting, and move on.”

I started out the door and I couldn’t go. I said, “‘I have to say something, I can’t, I can’t let this go.” So I went over to the cashier and I say, “Look.” I tell her what I just experienced, and she says, “Oh, I did not realize that.” She said, “We only put out what corporate tells us to put out.” I said, “I see, so corporate, the corporate offices of Books-A-Million are ideological functionaries of the right wing in America?” And she said, “No, I don’t think so.” I said, “Well certainly that would be the impression I got from when I walked in the bookstore and when I left.” I said, “So they have you implicitly supporting a political agenda by working here.” I said, “Well just tell them that some of us who spend money here, find that kind of crude, ideological devotion in a bookstore, objectionable,” and with that, I left.

Now here was my dilemma: I did not want to appear as a sort of knee-jerk, thoughtless, Obama ideologue, any more than I thought the bookstore should be a thoughtless purveyor of ideology. My point was as a thoughtful American, black person, and Christian, that I found that offensive. But I was put in a position where I had to appear, or to circle the wagons around Obama, because my immediate impulse was, “This is racist. I know what this is, I know what I’m looking at. It’s quackin’, it’s waddlin’, and it’s white, and this is a duck. I know what I’m lookin’ at.” And I’m pretty sure that I was correct, because even the books themselves were, I think, definitely indications of a very profound racism of the Republican party, and of the right wing, and of the conservative movement in America. Their whole history is racist, so I don’t know why we act like this is such a big secret. It’s the elephant in the room – no pun intended – it’s racist.

So I’m lookin’ right at this…and so I realized how all of us rally to support President Obama, because we recognize when he is attacked, that to some extent, all African Americans and people of goodwill, and goodwill, comes under attack…Every time there’s criticism, we circle the wagons. We even don’t allow other black people to assume a thoughtfully critical posture toward some of President Obama’s policies, without us thoughtlessly rallying to fend them off. We even have…started the name calling for this; but name calling and that kind of short-circuited thinking is what happens when you allow harlequins, clowns and morning jokers and jokesters to become your leaders and your intellectual trendsetters. When you let clowns lead you, that’s how you start behavin’, but unfortunately, that’s where we seem to be at this point in our evolution or devolution, however it’s conceived.

So we rush to circle the wagon, because we want to support Obama, because we’re supporting our leader; but the fact of the matter is, in many instances, Obama’s rhetoric, his orientation, and his decision-making, in very visible, although not necessarily profound, but in very visible ways, have reinforced many of the ideologically racist presuppositions that we’ve been fighting against for 100 years – that in order to make certain political alliances, Obama has collapsed the moral universe that black people have had to operate in, and sacrificed it in many ways, rhetorically, to his own political agenda, because it’s not our political agenda, because we’re not getting anything out of it; and whenever we point out that little has been done, or not enough has been done of our leadership, or some of our leadership points that out, to help blacks speak the meaningful reality of the oppressed in America, immediately we are told to ‘shush – he’s got to be president of all the people.’ But he’s not told that when he’s dealing with women, he’s not told that when he’s dealing with Latino issues, he’s not told that when he’s dealing with gay issues. He’s only told that when he’s dealing with black issues, and we’re expected to accept that and to entertain that. And when we circle the wagons uncritically around him to defend him against any kind of criticism, that’s what we’re doin’.

Servant of Christ,

Pastor Johnson


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