This Land…

11 05 2010

[As a precursor to my forthcoming thesis on Whiteness, this is a blog post I never published from last summer. I was preparing the material for my thesis and working on Stanford Summer Theater when these conversations came up. Enjoy!]

God blessed me with an adversary recently, a friend really, who I work with and whose company I’ve enjoyed very much over the last six months. He’s a nice enough guy, self-identified liberal, frat boy, from a privileged white background in Seattle, though he went to an urban public high school in the area, which he says was predominantly people of color. Certainly there are other identifiers of interest, but I choose these because I think they are significant in forming his view of the world.

A series of disdainful sighs and shaking of head at culturally insensitive jokes or references, and I was labeled hypersensitive of all things P.C. This is not an uncommon occurrence with my white friends. I think my argument for why white people are ill-disposed to make snide cultural references or joke about stereotypes should be self evident by now. Regardless, I acknowledge that many from my background find it perfectly acceptable to make “edgy” statements or push the envelope of the politically correct in order to demonstrate how educated and progressive they think they are. That being said, as unpopular as my voice may be in such cases, it has become an almost knee jerk reaction for me to question the effects of the privileged class making such culturally stereotyped comments, humorous or otherwise, however progressively informed or ironic they may seem. I say this very conscious of my own position in the matter.

So, my foil and I have spent the better part of a week hotly debating such issues as cultural and racial sovereignty, nation-state legitimacy, and white privilege, particularly as they manifest themselves at Stanford. Suffice to say, I find his views in all three areas problematically apologetic, the challenges of which are paralleled only by his adamance that my views are unrealistically radical (my wording, not his. He said “illogical,” but i take the liberty of interpretation). For example, in a discussion pertaining to the legitimacy or efficacy of Stanford’s Ethnic Theme Dorms (itself a problematic premise for a discussion), he argued that the self-secluded nature of Stanford’s communities of color precluded sufficient racial integration of the campus, such that it allowed those communities to persist in a fashion that did not reflect the realities outside of Stanford, namely an integrated society (…right). Furthermore, rebuttals including the right for sovereignty over non-normative (read: non-white) histories collected in a community outside the colonial elements of mainstream culture were attacked as segregationist (!). “Like, they should have a separate, but equal, culture?” he said, arms crossed, eyes wide with a satisfying feigned surprise. “I just think it’s ridiculous. I had so many black friends in high school, and when we got to Stanford, I almost invariably lost touch with them because they were suddenly sucked into this black-centrist community that I couldn’t be a part of. Plus, if you’re a white kid put in Uj, it’s totally unlikely you’ll be accepted unless you go way out of your way,” he continued. When I questioned the possible experience of a person of color being forced into an otherwise white dominated culture or community, I was told, “but that’s different. Mainstream isn’t necessarily white. It’s just American.” Indeed the argument continues that constant comment (like mine) on issues of so-called political correctness fuels and reinforces racial tensions rather than disassembles them. I, as you may guess, respectfully disagree and you see where it goes from there.

It’s clearly not for me to represent the views of any community, on campus or otherwise, and I don’t intend to. I can only speak to my own experience, having been recently exposed to many of the histories that the American experiment has attempted to bury over the last 500 years. These histories are not held by text books or the academy, but by the decedents who have survived and opposed the (spoken and) unspoken policies of American enculturation and its associated mechanisms.  Indeed, the communities of color at Stanford play a vital role in preserving and continuing non-normative/non-white histories that might otherwise fade into the amnesic abyss of American cultural memory. As playwright and poet Cherríe Moraga wrote in her 2005 essay, Indígena as Scribe, “I believe the United States intends to disappear its colored inhabitants and our non-western ways of knowing,” a process that is most efficaciously carried out by destroying histories and identities. Bonfil Batalla’s seminal work, México Profundo, strikingly recounts the national project of literally fabricating a Mexican identity in place of the numerous indigenous identities present in that part of Mesoamerica for centuries and the relative minority of Spanish blooded decedents, while the latter maintained almost complete cultural dominance.

I am dubious to even say the words slavery, Jim Crow, la frontera, conquest, internment camps, boarding schools, deportation, or any of the other inadequate devices we use to describe the ways in which we have threatened and betrayed this nation’s people of color with death or ejection. Most insidious perhaps in this (ongoing) process of attempted extermination is its conspicuous absence from the consciousness of White America. Most of us will concede some portion of the social inequality dialectic citing race as a persistent factor of America’s power and resource strata, but few of us can fathom that our country really has it out for its people of color – “But I don’t want America’s people of color to disappear,” the cry of defense usually goes, “I have black friends!”

I was challenged by my friend/adversary to give an example of a nation that has offered just rule better than the United States (this was in response to my comment about the illegitimacy of the modern nation state). He pressed me, as any good liberal would, to acknowledge, at least, the freedoms and democracy afforded us by espousing an umbrella allegiance to an American Identity. At least, he might say, this isn’t genocidal Rwanda or Nazi Germany or fascist North Korea. My only response is that an absence of perfectly functional or just governance from any nation cannot be an excuse for its status quo, nor is it a defacto justification for its existance. America is a nation built on stolen land by slave labor but, as my friend suggested, the statute of limitations for returning the land has expired. Send the white people back to Europe? The black people back to Africa? The sheer ridiculousness of the proposal sends most of us into a frenzy wherein the only possible solution we can see is to saddle down and look to the future. “It wasn’t me, after all, who stole the land, right?” that apologist story goes.

This collapse in the consciousness of White America, the sudden inability to hold difficult and, at times, conflicting realities is perhaps the single largest exacerbator in the ongoing narrative of American racism. Political Correctness (which, according to my friend, is my actual course of study) is now relegated to the land of pastiche, so absurd in its minutiae that we are safer in its transgression than in its dialogue. Those who consider thoughtfulness in their speech, mindfulness in the context of their conversations are, at best, the squares of the day; at worst, communists out to dismantle our God-given freedom of speech. Besides, political correctness, obviously comes down to opinion, so why defend it?

Advertisements




Why is Bill Maher making incisive observations?

15 07 2009

Not sure who the commentator is; he’s kind of weak, but Bill Maher talks truth talk.





Gender-Neutral Housing and Dominant Discourse

6 05 2009

Sometimes I get that sick, mushy fire feeling in my stomach when I read about gender politics, especially from the older christian-right. Probably serves me right for reading, but the masochistic side of me likes to know the opposition’s thinking. I felt the gurgle churn when Brian forwarded me monday’s National Review article with the fear-mongering title “Caveat Perens,” a loosley veiled hate-narrative of one mother’s objection to her daughter’s co-ed living situation at Stanford. The article was quickly picked up Jacques Steinberg at the New York Times, in “A Co-ed Dorm? That Wasn’t Mentioned on the College Tour.” In a matter of hours, the article was viral across the blogosphere, in countless forums and comment threads (not to mention my inbox) with contributions from students, educators, and similarly gender-frightened parents.

While my vitriol is bubbling as I read the comments on these forums, finding myself in some horrific Twilight Zone-esque medieval conception of gender constructions, I remind myself that this conversation is not new. My friends and I in the co-op community are pissed, because for the first time in a while, the fight is on our doorstep (literally), no longer the impersonal academic topic we discuss at the dinner table. We have a fierce, albeit problematic, entitlement to the freedom of gender-neutral rooming in coops, as we do with all things in “co-op culture.” As I look through my inbox, the responses range from humourous quotations of forum comments to panic over the future of co-op autonomy. The daughter of the article’s author even sent out an email filling in the contextual gaps in her mother’s diatribe.

Then, as I’m reading some of the forum comments and blog syndications, I notice this dominant binary present between “high moral standard” Christians and degenerate liberal heathens (identified in one post as university administrators, lol), and it feels like such an old story. I feel myself being surreptitiously placed into the latter category, my agency in free-thinking stripped from me as I begin to mouth the progressive post-gender discourse. My oppositional mind is activated and the deluge of criticism begins my deconstruction of the author’s in context. In the paragraphs edited out of this post, I talked about Stanford’s co-op scene in detail, defended it’s role in campus gender politics and queer “safe spaces” while noting the problematics of a white-washed hetero-dominant progressive community. I briefly mentioned my disappointment in a fellow Bostonians narrow-minded, thinly veiled hate speech. My burgeoning radical politic piped in and commented on the economy of gender normativity, the vested interest our country has in maintaining this liberal-conservative binary as the dominant discourse in gender and sexuality and the role this discourse plays in the continued oppression and marginalization of queer and trans people. I railed against the comodification of gender identity in popular culture and made subversive comments about anthropology’s neo-colonialial academizing of trans-identities and scientific studies of queerness.  I wrote about the white-christian-privilege class, extensively, over and over (it’s what i do), my eyes blurring as I seethed at the audacity of ignorance, frustrated by our seeming inability to gain perspective outside the center. I even googled the author’s name, intent on enumerating her short comings as a human and lambasting her pro-life/catholic/domineering-parent/Harvard/Yale elitism. I had a pretty decent analysis of the situation too. I even forecast  how it would pan out in Stanford’s administration and in the communities involved, insinuating by association its relevance in the broader American discourse. I included an acknowledgment of my own sites of privilege as a white, upper-middle class male and the self-indulgent nature of such a post given those sites, just for good measure.

In the end, all of this felt unnecessary, even damaging, like kerosene on an already out of control burning car, headed down a street going no where. Everyone’s watching it, throwing their own piece of garbage as it rolls past them, adding to the flames and feeding the tension. No one talks about the people in the car, the people who have been burning for centuries for their crime of being born themselves. We like the spectacle of it, even feel courageous, proud for throwing our this-will-finally-put-the-fire-out/settle-the-issue piece of trash at the blaze.

It occurs to me that submitting to this discourse in essence validates its existence, approves the terms of engagement, and we do it simply because it’s the flavor of conversation most people in America are having related to gender and queer identity; “to (allow) trans or not to (allow) trans? To (allow) queer or not to (allow) queer?” the masses seem to ask. And then the “whys,” “hows,” and “to what limits,”. Everyone feels entitled to weigh in on the politics, especially those hunkered down in the center of normativity, fortifying their bastions of safety as best they can.

Like I said: old conversation. One not in service to anyone’s freedom or liberation, center or marginal.

Just as a plug, I want to direct everyone to Dean Spade, Asst. Prof. of Law at Seattle University and founder of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project who has wonderful analysis that I recommend. Check out his blog and his (sadly unattented to) zine, which is a bit difficult to navigate, but well worth it.

Also, to bring things full circle, the National Student Genderblind Campaign has some interesting resources for students looking to include gender-neutral housing as an option on their campuses, and for parent’s freaked out by their childrens’ wanton liberal ways. This page in particular makes a fair attempt at re-framing the rhetoric of the so-called “New Era of Gender Relations.”





How to Solve Illigeal Immigration

10 04 2009

Enjoy.





Living in a Post-Racial world is great…

5 02 2009

Driving home last night from the city, I relapsed and flicked on NPR, ending a joyful  and much needed hiatus post inauguration. I almost vomited in my mouth though, as I listened to bloggers on News and Notes talk about Rev. Joseph Lowry’s apology for his inaugural benediction, in the wake of white peoples’ upset over the line “When white will embrace what is right” saying things like it had “tainted the moment,” “left a sour taste,” and “inappropriately undermined the victory of the day.” Ugh.

What’s more, these were black writers commentating, not even the silly racist right pundits you’d expect. I find it troubling that the rhetoric of living “post-race” espoused by so many white liberals is beginning to infect black bloggership, but that it goes so far as to condemn and undermine the entirety of Lowry’s benediction is heart-breaking, infuriating, and terrifying if you consider the implications. God forbid we talk real talk amidst the warm and fuzzies of electing a black man president. God forbid white folks don’t get a pat on the back every time they say or do something “progressive;” someone might forget to keep score.

Let’s be honest: the demand that we start living in a post-racial world and any accompanying posture to that effect is proof that we’re not even close.  Example: the repeated lauding of Obama as exemplary of our post-racial progress is proof no such progress has been made. Example: the continued white dominance in main-stream journalism, which incessantly and grossly frames Obama as the messiah, finally come to wipe our memories clean of our traumatic past is proof our delusions of social progress are strong, entrenched, and maintained by a heavily biased system of rhetoric. These movements of media are little more than tokenism en maquillage.

Jill Nelson‘s article in Monday’s Huffington Post is a wonderful and incisive analysis of the emerging racial gag-order present in today’s journalism and public discourse. It underscores just these points:

For two years I’d managed, along with most black people, to go along with one of the unspoken shibboleths to the election of Barack Obama and kept my mouth closed about racial issues, fearing that such a discussion would be harmful to Obama. This in spite of Bill Clinton showing his ass in South Carolina; Hillary’s absurd suggestion that Obama wouldn’t know what to do when the phone rang at 3 AM; and John McCain’s barely veiled white supremacist campaign. Yet the failure of much of the media to recognize the words of the Negro National Anthem as the first words of Reverend Joseph Lowery’s benediction at the inauguration was truly pitiful. That, followed by the general incomprehension of the rhyme at the end of Lowery’s remarks — “When black will not be asked to get in back/When brown can stick around…” — and then its erroneous attribution by a CNN employee to a civil rights song, rather than rooted in African American folk and oral tradition and the dozens — a game of verbal insult and one-upmanship — made it impossible to maintain silence.

I recommend reading the whole article, aptly named “The Audacity of Whiteness.”Audacious is exactly the word to describe the propaganda of post-racialism, but ‘offensive,’ ‘unsettling,’ ‘patronizing,’ and ‘downright ridiculous’ also come to mind.

But that’s about par for the course in the experience of marginalized people who live in a white-constructed social order that’s just frothing at the mouth in anticipation of the time when white people can enjoy their privilege comfortably again. The Utopian vision of a post-racial world is one where we talk about race, but we don’t talk about white people, because we helped elect a black president, which clearly means we’re over it.

The sooner white people accept that it’s not going down like that, the better. A post-racial America, in the way they mean it where we stop talking about bigotry, we stop talking about privilege, we stop talking about (not so) historical transgressions literally is not on the schedule. That’s still racism, not post-racism! As long as that desire and/or expectation is at all part of the conversation, consider us at a standstill.

Nelson wraps up her piece this way, which I love:

As candidate and President Obama has made clear, change we need requires sacrifice from all of us. It’s not just about black kids pulling up their pants, or working harder in school, or more parental involvement. Nor is it just the overt racists and skinheads who need to get it together. The less obvious and likely more difficult change must come from the chattering class, many of them entrenched liberals and progressives to whom it has never occurred that they are the beneficiaries of white skin privilege.

I’m considering myself called out. You should too.

But just to go back to Rev. Lowry’s benediction for a sec, I’m upset he apologized, because for me it was the most moving and, more importantly, honest part the ceremony. It provided a context for an otherwise vapidly decorous event; yes, celebratory; no, not complete. Here it is again, in case you missed it:

That’s called real talk, people. It doesn’t get better. He succinctly situates Obama’s election and the current social/economic/religious mire in the continnuum of justice for which we are all always responsible. And he uses more beautiful prose than you can shake a stick at. The man is a pro  and for anyone to get their pantys in a bunch just because he insinuated that we have more work to do is ridiculous, but not unxepected.





A Greater Love

19 12 2008

I have, at times, felt critical of cheerful people, especially during holiday seasons. That demographic of the population who pleasantly float through life unencumbered by the harsher realities of the world is a little too zealous in their sugary smiles for me to really tolerate. I don’t mean to minimize their (problematic) holiday charity, (almost) good family relations or even challenge their (sort of) good intentions. Most people have good intentions, and most people also get defensive when you qualify their good intentions by their affluence or their necessity to assuage guilt. Good intentions, as I have learned, really aren’t everything anyway.

I sat at a café (Au Bon Pain, to be precise) this morning, discussing my utter dislike of Christmas songs with my mother, particularly pop and/or jazz renditions of already hackneyed Christmas classics. We were en route to Florida for a family vacation, (the first in years I will be taking with both my mother and brother) and the blaring holiday anthems, covered perhaps for the millionth time by such and such a pop singer, were jarring at 7am, and I felt justifiably vexed while eating my bagel. The scene of an empty airport terminal covered in Christmas (not holiday) regalia with Hannah Montana or who ever singing “You Better Watch Out” to a *devastatingly* saccharine backing track was enough to unsettle my already compromised appetite. My distaste for Christmas is not adamant; I do not intend to rob children of holiday spirit or destabilize the system by exposing the hypocrisy of commercialized religious festivities. I honestly just don’t like Christmas music, but other than that I’m comfortable allowing the charade of Christmas to continue, as it will (until such time as I see fit…). Mum asked me in between sips of tea, “What about the Reggae Christmas album you gave me a few years ago?”
Oh, the history we (try to) block from our innocent childhood memories!

Our conversation turned, oddly enough, to pharmaceutical companies and the health care system in the United States (feel free to skip this section of rant). I noted how my friend’s acupuncture education had precipitated an utter rejection of the allopathic paradigm; the reliance on surgery and medication, the absurd conflict of interest in HMO healthcare and pharmaceutical lobbying, as if either had anything at all to do with healthcare (they don’t). I was familiar with such a resistance to (modern/western) conventional medical practices, having grown up in a household with two “alternative” physicians as parents: a Naturopath and a Behavioral Therapist who uses hypnosis for pain management. Both of my parents are brilliant doctors, and while neither spent much time laboring over the absurdity of the system I knew from a young age that what much of the West considered modern scientific miracles could just as often serve as profound hindrances to real healing. It is the expansion of the have-a-headache-take-an-advil way of thinking. But I digress. My point is not to indulge my “fight the power” predilections, much as we should (and will/do) fight the power, particularly the medical industrial complex of oppression.

Anyway…

At the gate, Mum asked me about a friend who is in the midst of healing from breast cancer. I say healing instead of “battling” or “fighting” because I don’t want to give energy to the ethos of war. Cancer, like all disease, is an energy with wisdom of its own, which my friend knows and utilizes in her healing. To antagonize cancer as an evil is to diminish the human body’s capacity to thrive amidst adversity. My friend is a brilliant woman and from the beginning of this journey, she addressed her cancer with a broad mind, seeking the consultation of earth-based healers, acupuncturists, massage therapists, nutritionists, and oncologists who could treat the totality of her experience with an integrated approach, rather than simply barraging her cancer with radiation and chemotherapy (though this has been a part). The process of cancer treatment is by no means simple or straightforward, but neither is it passive and rote. It is the denial of creativity, intuition, so called “integration” that I take issue with in the allopathic paradigm, which my friend is challenging with her breast cancer treatment (inspirationally, I might add).

I was feeling riled up from our talk and I think my mum, as a physician who prescribed medications regularly, was somewhat incredulous at my ideas of mass propaganda and corruption in the health care system. For me, these notions don’t even seem that radical, much less in need of justification. She described how helpful Purdue (oxycodone not chicken) reps were, how much they loved their jobs, and how efficient they were in providing support and educational materials for her and her patients. She acknowledged conflicts of interest, but insisted that these drugs had saved countless peoples’ lives, providing reprieve from debilitating pain and suffering. She also noted that prescription opiates cause more deaths and suicides than street opiates like heroin, which is an interesting observation. While I can’t argue with the many positive affects of some modern medications, the tyranny and corruption of pharma-businesses is difficult for me to ignore.

As we get on the plane, she asks me about my writing at school, about patriarchy, privilege and identity (my thesis topic). She says, “Isn’t it great how much progress we’ve made though? I mean, when I was in medical school, 15% of my class were women; now its more than fifty!” I consider my options, not wanting to get on any high horse and lecture my (extraordinarily brilliant) mother about social conditioning. And yet, I feel challenged to expose the problems inherent in identifying (any) metrics of progress. She asks me about breakthroughs of Barack Oabama and my (dark skinned Semitic) uncle who married my aunt, a black woman from Alabama, almost thirty years ago. Aren’t instances of inter-racial marriage indicative of progress, she asks? And what about making incremental dents in the system and gaining small concessions over time? She gives me examples, which I try to validate, while explaining how they are exceptions, rather than the rule. I say equality is not something that needs to be achieved; equality is innate in all people. Achievement presupposes that marginalized people somehow improved or became equal and made it to the white level, which is a rhetoric that white people have been using for too long to make themselves feel better about their own overwhelming privilege. This is the consciousness of racism. It is the system that denies equal treatment that is symptomatic of a collective consciousness that does not believe in equal as fundamental. You cannot simply pass some laws, elect a leader, or increase compensation and say, “great, now you’re equal!” These statements are themselves indicative of how little consciousness in America has actually shifted. Let’s be honest: the system was not built for equality; it was built for progress towards equal and I say the rhetoric of progress is an anesthetic that lulls us into accepting a status quo that maintains disproportionate access to opportunity and power for white people. It is inherent to the system and while things (rights, leaders, jobs, marriage etc.) may look different, I don’t think the consciousness has really changed that much. And neither has the power structure. For people marginalized because of their class, skin color, or gender, this is an old conversation. For white people, it’s one we’ve been ignoring for a long time.

To be honest, I feel a little bad saying this to anyone much less my mother. She’s easily one of the sweetest, most generous individuals I will ever meet. And yet, I feel like I am supposed to feel gleeful that Barack Obama is our president, because it is “historic” for a (half white) Black man to be president (which it is) and because it is a victory for “all Americans” (…I hear the pundits and bloggers all shout with admiration). Trust me, I would LOVE to be jumping for joy (and I might have, for a quick minute there), but I can’t betray the deep skepticism that tells me change is elusive and rhetoric is easy to fall for and the (sad) truth is Obama is politically moderate at best, and the system that oppresses and denies true freedom for all is going strong, not much harmed by history’s recent turnings. This isn’t me being a cynic; this is me loving myself and loving my family and loving people enough to be honest. Love is not always comfortable, and it is not always pretty. This country has been sustaining a manufactured affection for itself for generations.

Look around. If you open your eyes, it is not difficult to see; we’re just running in place.





Imagined America

21 11 2008

Though it has always been a fractured hodgepodge nation of immigrant decedents, political and religious exiles, and racial captives, America was always imagined to be the place where the height of freedom and liberty could not just be sought after, but achieved on an unprecedented scale. Now, 250 years after independence from England, many of those liberties have been demanded, fought for, died for, and indeed achieved for an incredible number of Americans, and it has served as a model for how the world might better stand for freedom and not tyranny. However, it should be acknowledged that in the fervor of American Patriotism (that wonderful abstract celebration of citizenship) we not forget how much work their remains in order to truly achieve an American greatness and an American liberty commensurate with its imagining.

Often during this election cycle pundits and candidates have discussed the “unprecedented” in terms of cracked or broken ceilings, analogizing a hitherto status quo that had precluded a black man from ascending the presidency or a woman from making a competitive bid. What seemed missing from these dialogues was a parallel and purposeful imagining of what further ceilings there are to break in American society. That is to say, 50 years ago the possibility of a black president or a female president was a dream maintained in the hearts of marginalized peoples, but not at all one that was widely held as an inevitability during the course of American history. But in a very real sense, America is built on dreams that are held to be so noble, so important, so very vital to the essence of our humanity that they are fostered and grown into realities over time, fabricated from the force of sheer will and solidarity. What at once seems impossible is in fact possible and perhaps even inevitable, though the circumstances under which the transformation is made are elusive and difficult to replicate. Probably it has something to do with hard work and as Martin Luther King Jr. put it, a just and moral arc to the Universe.

As the shards of Barack Obama’s broken ceiling sparkle and glisten on the ground below us, we should not be so awed by his (and our) achievement that we forget to look up and acknowledge the thickness of ceiling which remains for us to break; the ceiling of a just and equitable economic structure; the ceiling of equal rights for same-sex couples; the ceiling of religious tolerance for all creeds and doctrines that promote peace; the ceiling of legal and economic justice for immigrant families; the ceiling of true and equal opportunity in the work place; the ceiling of a just and sustainable ecosystem that does not place corporate pollution into the air and water of marginalized communities (or anywhere for that matter), and so on. These ceilings are real, unbroken, and just as incredibly imagined and dreamed as any America has held throughout the course of history. Their possibility for achievement lies perhaps in the very ridiculousness and unlikelihood with which they are viewed at this moment. Environmental integrity in the face of global warming, rising sea levels, and mass extinction? Economic justice in a time when the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression is shocking the entirety of the Globe’s economic structures? A Black president in the Oval Office? Justice has and always will be a simple matter of time.

One of the most troubling aspects of this election was the unadulterated and un-apologetic bigotry that was seen throughout America; an on-going rumor and conspiracy perpetuated about Barack Obama’s Muslim heritage, probably militaristic, probably terrorist affiliated, probably Arab; an egregious, borderline slander-ridden assessment of Hillary Clinton’s femininity or lack there of and an equally egregious misogyny of Sarah Palin, her over-sexualized, under-educated, evangelistic representation in the media, as well as countless other negative threads both reported in the media and viral on the web.

Most troubling for me is the flagrant unabashed racism expressed by many citizens of the country who have not irregularly expressed their dismay at having a black president. Indeed, in the weeks since Obama’s election, racially related hate crimes and assaults have increased significantly across the country, according to Hannah Strange and the UK’s TimesOnline article “Obama win prompts wave of Hate Crimes”. Even before Obama’s election, there were horrible threats and an increase in bigotry; the plot to assassinate Obama and execute 88 people of color in the process as a symbolic act of jingoistic white supremacy, for example. It is clear that while some ceilings have been broken, others remain diligently intact.

This persistence is in the face of a truly unprecedented global celebration of Obama’s election, something no other election has seen, save perhaps for that of President Nelson Mandela. Unprecedented celebrations in the streets across America and the world; video footage of celebrations in Japan, Kenya, France, England, Australia, and all the other countries who see what an Obama presidency represents. Of course, there is an important distinction between the symbolic nature of his election and its actuality. In the coming months, we will see if his term in office will truly bring about radical change, but the vital internal change that has happened in the hearts of this involved in his campaign, in those who campaigned and in those who prayed and wept is a change not yet quantifiable by scientific or academic standards. It is a felt change and it is as meaningful, if not more so, than anything he will achieve in office.

As a point of interest, it is worth noting that three of the four most critical players in this election were from under-represented backgrounds (I do not include Joe Biden in this count because he had relatively little sway in the course of the campaign as compared with the influence of Sarah Palin and I do include Hillary Clinton because her presence in the campaign persisted even after Obama’s nomination to the democratic ticket). As Shanto Iyengar discussed in the October 20th lecture, these backgrounds were use strategically, though not always appropriately, by the McCain-Palin campaign. He noted the examples of Obama’s ever darkening skin complexion in McCain’s attack ads. This racialization of Obama (of which Obama himself very rarely spoke) was echoed in the slanderous Palin speeches implicating Obama with terrorism. John McCain himself spoke little of Obama’s relationship with Bill Ayers, but Palin unrelentingly made note of their affiliation in speech after fear-mongering speech. The assumption, of course, was entirely gendered, presupposing Palin’s “right,” as a woman to criticize a man of color, though she was still a privileged white woman speaking to almost exclusively white crowds. This is in clear contravention to Valerie Smith’s opening comment at the same lecture, “Conventional wisdom would have it that in integrated context, members of subordinated groups stick together; like follows like.” While her comment was intended to draw a correlation between specific groups (black voters supporting black candidates), there is an obvious link in cross-demographic support, which Palin, as a women, transgressed, and, as a white person of privilege, simply ignored.

As a political progressive, I would hope that Sarah Palin never be involved in American politics again. Her ideology viscerally terrifies me and the support she seemed to cull from the most radical conservative base in America makes me extremely uneasy. Of course, “conservative,” as Johnathan Rauch points out in his Atlantic OpEd article “Mr. Conservative,” is not what it once meant. The Republican Party, and indeed the Palinite “conservatives” have betrayed the original Burkean philosophy of balanced individual liberties and social order. In many ways, I respect John McCain and his political stances, but Sarah Palin isn’t a politician; she is a gimmick. Throughout the campaign, her role was merely to re-language John McCain’s own policies in a way that more radically conservative (and often more evangelical) voters could understand as in-line with their rigid ideologies. In the process, however, she gained incredible support and admiration, which, though it was most often in deference and service to John McCain, did raise the bar for her participation in the political discourse as a woman.

In no way do I condone her fear mongering during her campaign nor do I think her own political stances have even the slightest bit of rationale. However, I must acknowledge the role her candidacy has played in bringing women’s issues into the fore of American consciousness. Her relative lack of celebrity prior to her vice presidential nomination and her very accelerated rise to fame over the course of their campaign is overshadowed in importance only by the fact that the race was so close. Had things gone slightly differently during the electoral process, John McCain would have been elected president, which would have meant Sarah Palin would have had an incredible likelihood of becoming president, given John McCain’s age and poor health (several bouts of cancer throughout the 90s into recent years). If one pauses for just a moment to consider how close this country was to a Sarah Palin presidency, especially on the heels of such a competitive race on the part of Hillary Clinton, there can be no denying that this race has had an impact on the progress of women’s participation in politics.

That being said, one wonders if this progress is for the right reason. Is there such a thing as bad progress or ill-begotten progress? It is clear to me that this race has opened and will continue to open many doors for the participation of women presidential politics, but why and at what cost? The criticism handed to Hillary Clinton during her campaign far out weighed the acknowledgment she received for her tenacity and brilliance as a politician. Conversely, Sarah Palin received an inordinate amount of praise for her poise, gentility, and good looks. Simply as a matter of political record and qualification, the two cannot be considered in the same political league, and yet it was Sarah Palin that came the closest to achieving presidential victory. So, what does this say about the American electoral process, that the greatest progress for women so far within the political sphere was not achieved by political merit, but rhetorically fashioned minstrelsy? That may sound hyperbolic, but the dangers of a $150,000 wardrobe’s influence over political discourse cannot be overlooked. Is it really progress then if achievement is based not on political savvy but a talented stylist and some fear-based rhetoric?

These questions will be answered by the next generation of female politicians. My hope is that an great number of radically brilliant women will be inspired to challenge the precedent that Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton set, and in doing so, continue to challenge the negative stereotypes that plagued both women during this election cycle. My hope is that the celebration and the discontent with the outcome of this election will create and foster new dreams that imagine greater depths of justice for our society to live up to. Some things are inevitable. Some things are only achievable if audaciously imagined. Hope for justice is not ignorance, but courage to dream into the future for a time when justice can no longer be held in the hearts of dreamers. Something is awakening in the world.
nm_young_barack_070426_ms