Friday, March 21, 2008

Why This Man Is Not Smiling

Goshen, New York is a small town sixty miles north of Manhattan. It is known by sports fans as the Cradle of the Trotter. The Harness Racing Museum is located here. It is the home town of two legendary men, the artist Horace Pippin and jazz pianist Willie "The Lion" Smith - both of whom, by the way, were African American. With a few minor exceptions, it is a generally agreeable place to live. It is also the town in which I was born and raised. After years of living all over the United States and a brief stint in Toronto, I moved back here a number of years ago.

Green Street is a half mile stretch of road that runs from South Street (where I grew up) on its south east side to Greenwich Avenue on the north west. When I was growing up, the Erie Rail Road line which snaked its way through the village, cut Green Street in two - smack dab in its center. One side of the tracks was exclusively white, the other side exclusively black. When I moved back to Goshen in the early nineties, I was pleasantly surprised to find some white families living "on the other side of the tracks" as it were. Surely, I thought, this was a positive sign. This must mean that Goshen's neighborhoods were starting to diversify. As it turns out, I would later learn that the South Street side of the tracks was still all white - as are most of the neighborhoods in town. There are no black faces to be found in Briarwood, the apartment complex at the edge of the village where I live. You see, in recent years living in the Land of Goshen has gotten to be a fairly expensive proposition. All of the African American families I knew as a little boy - the Greens, the Hasbroukes, the Colemans, the Cooks, the Charles', the Prices - have all moved away. Only the DeWitts and one or two other families remain. Bill Baker's Bar and Grille, which was owned and operated by the father of my long dead, beloved pal Jay Baker, was torn down years ago. It was the only place in town that had a prohibition on profanity. If some misguided soul dared to let loose with an expletive, he had to make a twenty-five cent contribution to the "Cuss Jug" (Fifty cents if the "F" word was used). The proceeds went to charity. A fire house stands in its place today.

For reasons I can't quite figure out, Barack Obama's address the other day in which he eloquently defended his relationship with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, had me thinking about Green Street and the backward sociological slide African American families have experienced since the dawn of the Reagan era almost three decades ago.

It is unspeakably sad, even outrageous, that so many people in the media ("Pundits" they're called) seem hell-bent on defining a career that spans half a century based solely on a fifty to sixty second bite of sound. What so many White commentators just don't get, and what Senator Obama bluntly pointed out, is the inescapable fact that Reverend Wright's rage is not the result of mental illness, nor can it be fairly described as some kind of anti American rant. What we need to come face to face with is the nasty reality that Jeremiah Wright's anger is borne of years of hard and bitter experience. The tangible progress that his people made throughout the fifties, sixties and seventies came to a dead stop on January 20, 1981. Throughout the Reagan administration and the subsequent Gingrich Revolution, black people in this country suffered terribly. The good Reverend was merely venting his outrage - an outrage that is rightfully shared by millions of men and women of his generation. You'd be angry too!

While white people, for obvious reasons, are unable to empathize with their black brothers and sisters, they - we - should make every effort to sympathize with their anger. Think about it for a moment or two: the Reverend Wright will be sixty-seven this September. He has a clear, conscious memory of legalized segregation! In his youth, he was probably called a nigger to his face too many times to count. Think of the emotional and psychological scars something like that must leave behind! When I was in the second grade, little Rhonda Bende called me Rabbit Face and I'm still dealin' with it! The man grew to maturity with White America telling him (in not too subtle ways) that he was worthless; that he didn't belong; that he should "know is place" in lily-white society; THAT HE WASN'T EVEN HUMAN, FOR PETE'S SAKE! Again, you'd be pissed off too, Bubbah!

Much has been made of Reverend Wright's comments on September 16, 2001, less than a week after the hideous attacks that killed over three-thousand American citizens. Borrowing a phrase Malcolm X had used following the assassination of President Kennedy, he proclaimed that "the chickens have come home to roost." In their righteous indignation, the critics of Wright and Senator Obama have chosen to ignore the undeniable fact that he was speaking the unvarnished truth. Although to some minds he seemed to be implying that the poor people who perished that day got exactly what they deserved, when examined in context, it is perfectly clear he was speaking to decades of atrocious foreign policy and American interference in the affairs of sovereign governments. When George W. Bush tells us that we were attacked that day because "the terrorists hate our freedoms", he is lying. We were attacked because for too many years, our government has been enabling the Saudi Royal Family, one of the most corrupt and despotic regimes in the world. That explains why all but four of the nineteen hijackers were Saudi born. (Oh, and by the way, not one of them were natives of Iraq. Oops!) This is certainly not meant to justify the despicable act of mass murder committed on that horrible day. It is merely to point out the undeniable: The chickens did indeed come home to roost on September 11, 2001.

The hardest irony of all to come to terms with is the almost certain fact that Senator Obama's "glorious quest" for the presidency has been irreparably damaged by what I can only describe as a non incident. Guilt by association, you know what I mean? Once again, the ugly subject of race has managed to polarize the citizens of this sick and troubled country. The people who made public the videotape of Jeremiah White's explosive oration did not do so in order to educate and enlighten the clueless American people. Their only intent was to frighten and divide them. Sadly, they appear to have succeeded.

An Obama administration might very well have meant the dawn of America's healing. The tragic spectre of slavery has hung around our national neck like the proverbial albatross for over two centuries now. The election of President Barack Obama could have sent America in a new direction. Maybe it can still happen. Perhaps a miracle will occur. I am still idealistic enough (call it "naive" if you must) to believe that we can take America back.

On second thought, I've got a better idea: Don't call it "naivete". Call it the audacity of hope!

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

Parting the Waters
by Taylor Branch

Max Isaacs and Adam Goebler are two college students who have just started a new political blog called Source Junk that comments intelligently on affairs of state - such a rare thing these days! Here's a link to their site:


At 6:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok Tom,
I'll be the first to post a comment.
Sure, I agree that the way black people have been treated is indeed an outrage! So is it also with regards to Native Americans, Japanese-Americans, Mexican-Americans...golly! I could go on and on.
As a "white" male, I am saddened by the treatment that has befallen so many that have been shown the illogical need of the arrogant few to make those considered to be the lessers, whether within this country, or on a planetary view, an Iraqi, or Vietnamese, or any one of the many oppressed due to the folly of false "superiority".
Past attitudes that once justified the usurping of resources, the plundering of cultures, must be abandoned. They MUST! It is the only way wherein this planet will find a way to peace. We can not go back. We must go forward.
Barack Obama showed, with his words, that we must look not to those things that call attention to our differences, but rather to those things that allow us to recognize our commonalities.
It is the only way we can unify to seek mutually positive outcomes.
Peace be with you.

At 1:02 AM, Anonymous John Harragin said...

Some years ago, my brother Chris was going through a rough patch in life. Anyway, he was freezing downtown on a really cold winter night. It was Bill Baker that took him in, thawed him out and had him stay in a room behind the Bar and Grille.

Sometime after that time, there was an article in the local paper contemplating how a homeless man came to be living in Goshen. Maybe it never occurred to the woman who wrote the piece to ask him. She might have found out that this town was his home. She also didn't know that Chris was on the way up, having already constructed a shelter from stuff you find along the railroad tracks. Perhaps one day he'll write a book and turn his adventures into a fortune. Anyway, the fact that a homeless person in that town can be news is in itself telling (I might point out that Tom would have crossed the tracks twice to get to my house).

I'm sure people in this country can imagine how devastating it must be to loose everything they possess and how it can open up new hazards - like freezing to death in the street. Yet so many of us remain willfully ignorant of the some 4 million people driven from their homes in Iraq by our nations policy. This in itself is an epic crime - I hope the chickens don't come home to roost on this one - but it appears this may be coming to pass as well.

Oh and the genocide thing...

At 11:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

First off, generally a well written article. You are right in many respects about the consequences of disrespecting the standpoints of others through a conditioned attitude of entitlement and the immature racist discussions taking place over Obama.
if you think Obama is going to effect a positive "change" for the common man, or, indeed, the african-american citizens for which he is supposedly creating hope for a better future,
think again!
His corporate supporters are virtually the SAME ones that power Clinton's campaign to the tune of roughly over $130 Million.
Compare the candidate's financial backing at and you will realize that the whole election/campaign is just a fraud.

Top Contributors

Goldman Sachs $474,428
Ubs Ag $298,180
JP Morgan Chase & Co $282,387
Lehman Brothers $274,147
National Amusements Inc $265,750
Sidley Austin LLP $251,657
Citigroup Inc $247,436
University of California $239,944
Skadden, Arps et al $228,520
Exelon Corp $226,661
Harvard University $225,891
Jones Day $213,825
Google Inc $192,808
Time Warner $190,091
Morgan Stanley $190,026
Citadel Investment Group $173,950
Kirkland & Ellis $163,126
Latham & Watkins $160,842
WilmerHale LLP $155,788
Jenner & Block $151,447

Do you really and truly think this man can objectively serve the electorate if that should conflict with his corporate supporters?

At 3:05 AM, Blogger Bryan said...

I found the link to your blog in a comment on this site, and you misspelled the link as "", which is ironic considering the article, but even more irony ensues when you follow the link.

At 12:51 PM, Anonymous John Sutton said...

That so much has been made of Jeremiah Wrights comments about chickens returning to roost, completely ignores and avoids discussion about the lack of evidence 9/11 had ANYTHING to do with 19 Arab terrorists, or retribution for generations of global exploitation by 'America' as in American corporations. It didn't.

9/11 was a false flag operation if there ever was one, orchestrated most probably in Langley VA. Until Americans get their heads out of their asses we will go spinning off down the road arguing about everything but the root cause of our dysfunction, including the perennial issue of race. Wake the fuck up. I just put a 10 spot in the cuss jug.

At 5:46 PM, Anonymous John Harragin said...


I don't think that is important to focus on government conspiracy. However the trade center attack occurred, it is the decades of exploitation of so many nations (usually they possess some natural resource) by our government on behalf of corporate interests that is ultimately responsible for provoking this type of event. It makes little difference whether the government's policy caused the attack or that they merely carried it out themselves. After all, we are discussing government actions by people who have been willing to kill a million people in Iraq, what's a few thousand more?

Remember, most of us have lived our entire lives under a government that has ruled by terror (along with its partner governments in the Soviet union, China, NATO...). This method has provided an unceasing river of money into the pockets of the military-industrialists and apparently they're not going to stop it now. So the islamo-fascists, commies, liberals, eastasians or whatever other threat we hear about is just the same shit wrapped in a different package - and its always the same store that is selling it.

At 8:00 PM, Anonymous John Sutton said...

Hi John,

Thanks for responding.

The problem I see with your argument is that those millions of deaths in Iraq occured BECAUSE OF those few thousand deaths on 9/11. And those few thousand deaths were as untimely as any others in the Iraq and Afghan wars of the last 5 years. All these deaths have been human sacrifices to a corporate profit-driven ideology. And it is my opinion that both 9/11 and the recent colonial wars were orchestrated here in these United States.

It is also my opinion that it is vital to understand the conspiracy within the government to manipulate events if only to prevent its happening again. On that score though, I'm not optimistic either of understanding, or prevention.

Unfortunately, the kind of national self-reflection that would expose just how things work, is unlikely. I have a neighbor, a postmaster, with whom I argued with about this on a a regular basis, until one day he looked at me and said in all sincerity 'I just can't face the possibility that my government would orchestrate such a horrible event." We remain good friends, but we haven't talked about it since and I think his frank admission speaks for the majority. Unfortunately.

I do not know what happened on 9/11 or how it was pulled off. What I do know is that there is no EVIDENCE to back the assertion that 19 arabs armed with boxcutters hijacked those planes. All we have is government sponsored explanations of a conspiracy that is riddled with contradictions and unanswered questions. So much so that not demanding answers is a willful act of denial and cowardice.

9/11 is the third rail of American politics. It is the elephant in the room, and not one of the candidates will touch it unless they want to commit political suicide and be shunned forever by the powers behind the curtain. That's what happens when collective myths are challenged whether in a family, or a nation.

No matter which of the candidates who have been trotted out in this dog and pony show we call an 'election' is appointed in November, state policy will remain essentially unchanged. Oh how I wish it were otherwise.

At 12:03 AM, Anonymous John Harragin said...

I wouldn't say "those millions of deaths in Iraq occured BECAUSE OF those few thousand deaths on 9/11" that was just utilized as one of the justifications. Its more all of the deaths are just collateral damage along the way to achieve their ultimate goal which is to suck up as much money and power as they can. I doubt these guys are any happier then the average Joe. They are just addicted to a different drug. While they may believe it is sublime for a moment when the pull a trigger (for isn't this an expression of power), the reality is that they are just like the shithead who beats up old ladies to have a needle in his arm - only more-so.

At 3:10 PM, Blogger charles moore said...

Hi Tom,
Thanks for another great posting. I agree with you completely and am becoming very disgusted with this entire issue of making a mountain from a molehill of a few comments TAKEN OUT OF CONTEXT and think it is time to drop the whole thing and move on. But the fact that Obama even HAD to address it is a vile form of racism. Why has McCain not been called on to explain or denounce John Hagee? Why have the Pat Buchanans, the Pat Robinsons, the Jerry Falwells, the Rush Limbaughs and all of the other hate mongers of their ilk not been called on the carpet to explain and apologize for their remarks? Simple answer - they are white and Rev. Wright is black. You can bet the farm that if he was white, his comments would have been ignored.

At 10:14 PM, Blogger Jan said...

Sorry for the delay in responding. Spot on, Tom.

Maybe this time we can finally start to get at the underlying causes of our prejudices.

Back in the sixties, we knocked out discrimination laws and, more importantly, drew out into the open the irrational hatred and terror of prejudice so people could see it in the raw. Our televisons shook with one outrage after another.

Reagan, as you rightly point out, pushed it underground where it has festered until now.

What I saw of the Rev's comments, I agree with.

This nation has a history of screwing people: the Native Americans, Chinese, Irish, Italians, Japanese and Hispanics, just to touch on the top layer.

Obama is positioned to confront this bigotry because he himself is, in a sense, as ambiguous as our "patriots." He's both black and white, Christain and non-Christian and above all, smart and learned as well as young and idealistic.

Makes for one hell of a dilemma for the rock throwers.


At 6:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

you are a gay little faget tom i see you still didnt kill your self, what a shame

At 6:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

get a lifee

At 6:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

screw you

At 6:23 PM, Blogger Tom Degan's Daily Rant said...

"you are a gay little faget tom i see you still didnt kill your self, what a shame"

"get a lifee"

"screw you"

Your prose is brilliant. Truly stunning, my friend! And the original style you possess for spelling! I bow to your literary prowess. I am indeed humbled, sir.

Your humble servant,

Tom Degan


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home