Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

I’m Black and I Want More “Stuff” and “Things”: An Open Letter to Bill O’Reilly

Jesse Hagopian

Jesse Hagopian, public high school teacher in Seattle

Originally posted at Common Dreams, by Jesse Hagopian:

On election night, as it became increasingly clear that Mitt Romney was going to lose the election to Barack Obama, I watched Fox News host Megyn Kelly ask you, “How do you think we got to this point?”

You responded by saying:

Because it’s a changing country. The demographics are changing. It’s not a traditional America anymore and there are 50 percent of the voting public who want stuff, they want things. And who is going to give them things? President Obama. The white establishment is now the minority. And the voters — many of them — feel that this economic system is stacked against them and they want stuff. You’re going to see a tremendous Hispanic vote for President Obama, overwhelming Black vote for President Obama and women will probably break President Obama’s way. People feel that they are entitled to things. And which candidate between the two is going to give them things?

It is my hope that a great artist takes brush to canvas to capture the contours of your furrowed brow when you uttered the words, “It’s not a traditional America anymore.” It was a look of depraved beauty that made my heart sing. Watching you, Mr. O’Reilly, before a national audience, realize that all of your racist lies and hatred could not change the fact that people of color exist and will not be bowed by your insane denunciations, was an inspiration to me and millions of others.

Yet, on one account, O’Reilly, you are utterly correct: Black people definitely do want “stuff” and “things” as you so eloquently put it. And I am one of them. To very loosely paraphrase the rap crooner of the West Coast, Warren G: I want it all, money, fast public transportation, fully funded public schools, Medicare for all, Social Security, an end to all wars, and every damn thang.

While you are right that Black people do want “stuff” and “things,” your paranoid fears (refracted through the racially outdated retina you use to view the president) that we will receive a cornucopia of benefits from President Obama is merely another thing about the election you incorrectly predicted.

Obama has refused to champion the causes of raising the minimum wage, refused to establish a jobs program to address the millions of unemployed, ignored legislation to protect public sector labor unions, and ignored the mass- incarceration crisis that has left one in thirty-one Americans is in the custody of the prison system, with more Black men today behind bars today than were slaves on plantations in 1850. As the African American radio broadcaster and author Tavis Smiley said recently, “Reagan wouldn’t say ‘AIDS.’ Bush wouldn’t say ‘climate change.’ Will Obama say ‘prison-industrial complex’?”

President Obama recently said of his plans for deficit reduction, “I’m not wedded to every detail of my plan. I’m open to compromise. I’m open to new ideas” expressing his willingness to begin his second term by striking a “grand bargain” — an effort to reduce the federal deficit by $4 trillion over 10 years, mainly through spending cuts, including in the government’s most popular programs, Social Security and Medicare.

Mr. O’Reilly, while your associates in investment banks got golden parachutes after sabotaging the global economy; while your compatriots in corporate suites, from General Electric to Exxon, threw lavish parties to celebrate not paying a dime in taxes; while your fellowship of trust-fund friends inherited millions from their families without putting in a day of honest work; while your friends in the Pentagon sit in air conditioned war rooms and send other peoples’ kids off to die in wars in the Middle East; while all of this is happening, Black and Latino communities were, and remain, in economic free-fall. Official Black unemployment stands at 14.3 percent (and the real numbers are even higher). Fewer than half of young Black men have jobs. Some 25 percent of Blacks and Latinos languish below the official poverty line, and more than a third of Black and Latino children live in poverty. The only way Black folks and people of color will obtain any measure of decent living is the only way we ever have: with a lot of hard work.

It was the desertion of hundreds of thousands of slaves during the Civil War, in what could be called the largest general strike in U.S. history, and their enlistment in the Union Army that won the war for the North and put an end to slavery. It was the filling of jails in South by rebellious Black high school students who were willing to be arrested at demonstrations that finally broke the back of Jim Crow segregation. And once again, as the great abolitionist Fredrick Douglass pointed out so long ago, without struggle there will be no progress.

So, Mr. O’Reilly, I’ll make you a deal. If President Obama bestows upon me the “stuff” and “things” that Black people and all working people so desperately need in this country – a national jobs program, Medicare for all, a strengthened Social Security system, an end to the mass incarceration – I will send you a personal letter of apology and directly deposit all of monetary value from the benefits I receive into your bank account.


Jesse Hagopian

P.S. If President Obama, in the name of “grand compromise” with the Republicans, continues to pursue an agenda of austerity and policies that favor the wealthy, perhaps you could then deposit the monetary advantage you receive into my bank account? Do we have a deal?

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