Thursday, February 22, 2007

Can the US elect a black president?

Can the media shut the *&$@ up about skin color?

Okay here we go.

Listen...men and women aren't the same. People of different races look different. Cultures have differences. This can't be a sanitized world in which we all try to pretend we are just! the! same!

We aren't.

I cannot retain a telephone number to save my life. It took me thirty years to finally grasp basic algebra. I'm white and can't go in the sun because I burn too easily. I'm tall and getting back to thin. I look like a total gringo but that's just my phenotype; my genotype is far more convoluted. I can read faster than anyone I know. I love public speaking, especially teaching/educating. I can hear accents in any language.

Are you just like me?

No?

Thank goodness.

There are days I can hardly stand myself. Don't know what I'd do with two of me.

The point is...who cares.

I'll tell you who cares how job candidates look and refer to them thusly: the media.

The media has fallen in love with their ability to apply clever monikers to people in the news. It's been mocked, on TV shows such as Saturday Night Live, within the media itself, and even in movies. I'm thinking of Spiderman (was it movie 3?) in which the news guys are bantering back and forth about what tag to apply to the newest villain. They finally settled on Oct Doc (or somesuch).

Soundbite. Tag line. Cleverness.

Journalists, newscasters, news writers, news editors, and media hotshots, here's a request:

As a member of the American public, who represents at least 5% of it, I'd like to request---on behalf of myself and others sort of like me---that you quit underestimating our ability to grasp complicated concepts such as A Proper Name versus a Cutesy or Offensive Moniker.

I'm quite bright enough, thank you very much, to understand who Barack Obama is.

You need not continue to refer to him as The Black Candidate.

Frankly, that offends me.

It will further offend me if (God willing) he is elected to the office of the president and you refer to him as The Black President.

However, all of that is a drop in the bucket compared to the question all of you media sorts can't seem to stop asking:

Can the US elect a black man as president?

Now...when Clinton ran, I don't remember us asking, "Can the US elect a redneck from Arkansas?"

Now...when Bush ran, I don't remember us asking, "Can the US elect a white dumb(*$% from Texas?"

I wasn't around when Kennedy ran (sorry) but I will concede I *heard* that the media asked, "Can the US elect a Catholic?"

As someone involved in a somewhat bizarre love triangle with Catholicism, I will concede that there is a slight relevance to that question. This might shape beliefs, political platforms, issues, stance, etc.

However.

I absolutely 100% FAIL to see how the color of someone's skin will do that. How does the color of his skin relate to his prospects as the leader of this nation?

Who we are shapes what we believe and back. My experiences as a white woman within the context that is my life is vastly different from even my husband's experiences. I concede that this affects anyone, even political candidates.

But.

I woudn't assume anything about a candidate based on skin color.

Let's skip over to a recent gubernatorial election in Texas. An independent with the crazy name of Kinky Friedman ran. A lot of liberals, independents, and so forth backed him. They thought he was different. I can see getting excited about such a person. Seems way outside the norm. But the silly hats, outspokeness, funky name, and so forth hid a conservative and racist person.

He wasn't any kind of social liberal that I could tell. His solution to the increase in crime since the Katrina evacuation was to hire and put on the streets an additional 10,000 policemen. That is his great solution? Increase police? How about fix the problem...you know, by preventing the crime in the first place? How about increase initiatives to move people back home, to a good home? How about open up additional housing so people are not stacked upon one another like flapjacks? How about ensure that kids are in school getting educations, and people are employed, and that both groups have transportaion to both? How about a community awareness program to help ease tensions?

You know what? There was a candidate like that. Except, he was a plain little white guy who wore suits and was on the ticket as a Democrat.

All I'm saying is: you can't judge a book by its cover.

So if you can't judge or call by looks, then what?

What is relevant when it comes to exploring who can lead the US (or any other branch of government)?

I thought for sure the "black" thing would die out and we could start talking about, you know, actual relevant issues such as experience, education, current and past stances on issues, goals, and so forth.

But, no. The media is like a dog with a bone.

We're still talking about Obama's skin tone. And Hillary's vahjayjay.

The black man. The woman. The black man versus the woman.

Maybe it's just where I live. But once again, today, the talk show radio host asked callers to call in and discuss, "Can America get past color and elect a black man?"

It seems like a good intellectual exercise. Racism has been ghastly here, and it's still (sadly) alive and kicking. Perhaps if we can talk it through, you know, we can get people over it. That sort of thing.

I disagree.

I think when it comes up, we should shame it, "How is that even remotely relevant? Eh? Maybe if you talked more about his skills and qualifications people would know enough about the actual candidate and could decide about something other than his skin color."

The truth is, I can find plenty out there about the candidate. If I look.

However, pop culture seems fixated on color. And that's what worries me. That's the insidious message. The thing that surrounds us at all times, invading our thoughts to some degree, whether we welcome or shun it. It affects us, it does.

Let. It. Go.

The color is not really relevant. It just isn't. Not even as a discussion, an intellectual exercise. This is because whatever he is, wherever he is from, whatever he believes, whatever experiences have shaped him are in him, out there. You can figure out what you need to know from his campaign, voting record, and past experience.

His color isn't going to do that for you.

It's offensive.

Here's the bottom line

You either like him as a candidate and believe he'd make a potentially good leader--- based his position on issues, his experience, and so forth---or you don't.

And while we are on the topic (in a weird way...you'd have to follow my train of thought and really, don't try...just trust me): Way to go, Wimbledon! Thanks for making the women's prize the same amount as the men's prize! It might be two less sets, but women in tennis are quite marketable. Wimbledon women get equal prize money

(P.S. Once again, I've broken through my "let a post ride a day or so" preference. So...there's a Chandra Wilson post below that hopefully you don't miss, and also a Momming post below that. I'm cranking out a post a day just now for some inexplicable reason. Oh, I'm all het up I guess.)

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

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15 comments:

Gwen said...

First of all: I heart Obama so much, and I'm worried that this campaign will destroy him because modern American politics are so brutal. And please, Democrats, please stop giving your support to Hilary. Please? She is unelectable, and not because she's a woman.

I personally don't care what race or color a candidate is, but that doesn't mean there aren't enormous swaths of people who do. I hear what you're saying about dismissing race as an issue, I do. And it is a tempting way to go. But part of me thinks the dialogue has to happen, that people need to be faced with their idiocy and called on it. It's ridiculously difficult to talk about race honestly, and I don't trust our talking heads to do it well for one minute, but I still think the fact that race is an issue--because it IS an issue--should be discussed.

Bones said...

Hmm. I’ve got to think a little bit before I respond to this one. I used to live where you live now, and I thought I was pretty progressive. I figured I was colorblind, and moving to the Chocolate City (Washington, DC) would be a piece of cake.

Wow, was I wrong. I had no idea that I would struggle with my own prejudiced thoughts and acts when I moved here, and I had no clue how academic and theoretical the New England perspective is on life. My wife and I both work in non-profit worlds where the lion’s share of our beneficiaries are “at-risk.” There’s another clever moniker for you. They’re black and poor, but we can’t really say it that way, for some reason, so we have to say things like “at-risk.”

And every time I walk through an “at-risk” neighborhood, I walk with my car keys in my hand and I separate some cash from my credit cards. And sometimes I feel guilty for doing it, even though the statistics tell me that a white person in Anacostia at night is more likely to be mugged than not. But why don’t I feel guilty doing it if I am in South Boston, where the “at-risk” people are white?

And then I wonder why Tony Williams, the former Black mayor of DC and architect of an almost Guiliani-like renaissance was a pariah among African-Americans in his own city, because he wasn’t, as the Washington City Paper said, black enough. Or, as another editorial said, was a white man who just happened to be black. Whatever that means.

Or I look at a term like “urban renewal” that is a clever way of saying development brings up property value and reduces crime, then white people buy the land because its cheaper than Georgetown and the “at-risk” people who used to live there can’t afford the property taxes, so they move further into the “inner city” (a laughable term, considering it is always the edge of the city, south of the polluted river and east of the rail yards.) But at the same time, without development, there are literally no jobs other than open-air drug dealing.

I haven’t yet seen the editorial that will undoubtedly be written in the Washington Post, asking if the cultural African Americans will accept Obama, or paint him as an Uncle Tom the same way cultural A/A’s in DC painted Tony Williams.

All of this sounds incredibly racist. I promise you, though, it’s not. I used to think that black and white was, well, black and white. Moving here 8 years ago showed me how deep the cuts really go, and that we are still generations away from the days when a question like “is America ready to elect a black president” is irrelevant.

And please don’t think I’m accusing you of any sort of ignorance. You are where, hopefully someday, we can all get. But nobody can get there and really understand it without walking a few miles in a pair of Anacostia’s shoes.

Keep up the good work, Julie.
--Bones

Mrs. Chicky said...

Well said. I really enjoyed this post.

But I'm afraid it goes both ways. The media is fixated on the black versus white thing, but you know that there will be people who will vote for Obama for no other reason other than because he is a black man. And, according to some in the African American community, Obama is not really "black". Perhaps one day we'll get beyond sex, race, creed and religion (hello, Mitt Romney) but I don't think it's going to happen anytime soon.

Christina said...

We already had this issue in Columbus several years ago. During the mayoral race, the candidates were a black man, and a white woman. We were either going to have the first black mayor or the first female mayor, and the media would not shut the hell up about it.

Thankfully, since then there has been little issue. Few care that we have a black mayor, and now simply focus on the fact that he's the best mayor we've had in a long, long time.

While I'm just as sick of this as you, we'll probably have to deal with the media calling out race and gender issues for the entire election, and then once we get past it and get someone elected, hopefully the national media will join the Columbus media and shut the hell up about it, too.

Mad Hatter said...

You done been tagged. Drop by my place to see what it's all about. Oh and follow the link to the original for instructions.

Her Bad Mother said...

I recently saw an article that was entirely devoted to the question of whether Obama is too young. Which is just another way of asking, is he too black? Is he too Not White and Old and Republican?

Rachel Briggs said...

fantastic post - couldn't agree more, I guess you are getting this rammed down your throats a lot at the moment - we're skimming the debate in the UK, but it will be very interesting to see how this pans out - loved your comments about past and current presidents!!

Will link to this post when I get to my blog next week, there have been a couple of great blogs I've read on related racism topics.

Congrats on this post, excellent as always...

Julie Pippert said...

Gwen, I spent years in sociology believing that dialogue was the key to ending racism. After all, that's what we keep hearing and saying. Eventually, I realized the preacher was talking to the choir.

I do think we need to keep talking about racism...however...

I think continually mentioning Obama's race as is being done isn't actually intelligently working to eliminate it as an issue.

Quite the reverse.

It is, I believe, in and of itself racist because it continues to make race an issue.

See what I am saying? Making sense at all?

Julie Pippert said...

Bones, my friend, I'm in the Red Republic now. I left the whitewashed blue state behind me, I'm afraid.

Living in Whitebreadville was color blind because there was only one color, really: white.

In a very frank conversation with a friend (Salem) once, she admitted to recalling vividly the first time in her entire life she saw a black person, and how freaked out she was. She was something like 6.

I grew up a minority gringo for many years. I was one of a handful of little white girls in a mostly black and Latino neighborhood. Yes, we were poor. It was a poor area. My mother shipped me away to school by 7th grade because things got too rough after that in our neck of the woods.

Proximity doesn't, per se, breed contempt. It actually, IME, often breeds normalcy.

KWIM?

ITA with this, "...how academic and theoretical the New England perspective is on life."

It is, largely, an intellectual exercise.

Your story, experience, is very interesting.

Liberal guilt.

I tighten up security measures in high-crime neighborhoods too. I don't feel guilty. This is because I know it's about statistics (which are sadly tied to race). I don't flinch at every brown and black face I see.

Urban renewal. Snort. I just ranted recently about gentrification. People pretend it's all for the good of the community, and it is, right up to the point where the cost of living edges out the very people the initiative was intended to support.

I'm sure at any given time I can be accused of ignorance. But I took your comments as a great exploration. I don't mind alternative POVs and challenges at all. I court them. So bring on more thoughts!

BTW, I agree with you and Mrs. Chicky. I'm waiting for that editorial too.

Julie Pippert said...

Mrs. Chicky, I know. Sigh. I know.

And it will go on, despite my pitiful, nearly silent please LOL.

I used to believe that female candidates had my best interests at heart, and that as a woman, I had to vote for them. Then I turned 19. Just kidding LOL. Eventually, after some sad examples, I learned that having a vagina in common doesn't mean we are on the same page, with the same goals. I also learned that not having a vagina in common didn't exclude someone from having the same goals.

I definitely focus on issues, experience and history now.

I don't expect to see it happen in my lifetime, TBH. But I hope.

Thanks for your comment!!

P.S. I have neglected deliberately to respond to your Romney comment. I have had a Romney-Healey gag order on myself since 2002.

Julie Pippert said...

Christina, now that is an intriguing experience to hear about.

I *do* hope you are right abot the dying down bit.

And I know you are right about it's not going to stop.

I will send an original signed piece of my art to anyone who tells a talking head asking about race, "Enough about his skin color. Let's talk about penis size. That's a lot more intersting to me."

(Hope I didn't just offend you! I do really appreciate your comment. Can't help my sassy mouth at times LOL.)

Julie Pippert said...

Mad, thanks! WIll do!

HBM, "Is he too Not White and Old and Republican?" Oh YES!

Rachel, very cool, what an awesome idea! Let me know and I will back link to that. Thanks for the compliment and comment. So out of curiosity, is race an issue in the UK with politicians? I'm curious how it happens elsewhere.

Flawed & Disorderly said...

We're from Texas and my nephew dressed up as Kinky for Halloween. Ha!

Julie Pippert said...

Ha ha Jenny LOL. Hey did people get it, understand his costume, know who he was? I bet that was a good time for people to get it.

kim said...

I have been screaming the same thing. Some day I'm going to post about my children's generation and their perspective on race and gender.

It seems to me that for the most part it is the over forty crowd (which most of the media belongs to) that is insistent on qualifiers and classifications for people. A friend and I were discussing the fact that acceptance of diversity seemed to be the norm and not the exception for our younger brothers age group (under 35). I think a cultural shift or change in mindset(beyond mere lip service) occurred at some point.

I know that for my children, acceptance of diversity is not a question it's a reality.