Imagine my immense pleasure, upon hearing the good news and going to the internet, at finding on the front page of the New York Times this lovely picture of my friends Stuart and John whose marriage four years ago in San Francisco was rendered null and void, and who were plaintiffs in the test case upon which this decision was made.
Here they are in a video, with horror writer Jewelle Gomez and her partner.
Stuart, a Chinese/white hapa like me, has been very much on the record about the irony of his own family history: anti-miscegenation laws were part of the national dialogue when his parents got married, and now the Cali Supreme has used its 1948 ruling overturning Cal's anti-miscegenation law to make Stuart's marriage possible.
Congratulations to the plaintiffs ... and to all of us!
Jay Smooth demonstrates good sportsmanship.
I think I should just give in and rename this blog "TheaccesstojaysmoothchannelLight."
I'm glad someone went to all this trouble because, even though I was seeing the trees and knew the forest was there, I wasn't quite seeing the full forest.
The main point for me here is that, although Hillary has talked a great deal about civil rights for people of color (admittedly, in an increasingly awkward way), Obama really doesn't talk about equal rights for women. And Obama doesn't get name-called the way Hillary does, even by Republicans, much less by other Democrats and Dem-voters.
This doesn't mean I'm not going to vote for Obama if he gets the nomination, but let's get real, people. Rightness does not live in Obama's campaign HQ anymore than it does in Hillary's.
As I go through this 21st Century, post-Ward Connerly world, I stumble now and then upon statistics--from all walks of life--that amplify for me not just the potential for disaster, but the actual manifestation of disaster that is the legacy of anti-affirmative-action.
The latest example is from an article on baseball's Barry Bonds, and the Oakland black journalist and editor Chauncey Bailey, who was shot last year for what he was writing (in BeyondChron.org, a Bay Area alternative news source). The article makes it clear that affirmative action provided two moribund Bay Area papers not just with a talented, diverse staff, but also with their first taste of journalistic excellence. Since then, far fewer journalists of color have been developed or supported:
Before Maynard took control of the Tribune, it was a second rate paper owned by the right-wing Knowland family that did not have any Blacks in the Tribune newsroom. Maynard increased the number of journalists of color at the Tribune to the point where Blacks, Latins and Asians made up the majority of the newsroom staff. During Maynard’s 13 year tenure as editor and publisher, the Tribune won every major award in Journalism, including the Pulitzer for the paper’s coverage of the Loma Prieta earthquake. Although Bailey was hired at the Tribune a year after Maynard sold the paper, Bailey was part of Maynard’s legacy and vision to recruit and train Black journalists. A similar effort by the Knight-Ridder chain to increase the number of non-white journalists at the chain’s flagship Mercury-News transformed the Merc from a sleepy small-town paper to one of the best newspapers in the United States.
Bailey, an Oakland native, was part of a corps of Black journalists hired by mainstream media outlets in the early 1970s from programs to recruit minority journalists at Columbia University and UC Berkeley. Efforts by anti-affirmative critics like Ward Connerly have resulted in the demise of most of the 1970s programs created to recruit Black journalists. Most of the Black journalists hired from these affirmative action programs are nearing retirement age or are being forced out of the newsroom because of media consolidation, while many other African Americans with great writing and broadcasting skills have opted to work in non-journalism related fields.
Latest surveys of the nation’s newspapers and broadcast newsrooms indicate that today fewer than five percent of the nation’s journalists are African American; many newspapers and broadcast outlets have no African Americans in their newsrooms. The Chronicle has gone from having nearly 30 African American reporters, columnists, editors and other editorial staff right after the Examiner-Chronicle staff merger in 1999 to less than five today.
With regard to Hillary's experience in the White House: We've simply never had a presidential candidate with her kind of experience before. There has never been a real presidential candidate before who was the spouse of a president. So we have no idea what kind of experience Hillary can claim, or how this experience will translate into her own presidency.
That's where this whole confusion about whether or not she gets credit and/or blame for Bill's presidency comes from. We know she was active in his presidency. We know she had a level and kind of access to him, personally as well as politically, that no other politician in US history has ever had to a president before. We know that, at times, her role in his presidency was one of a presidential appointee. We also know that, technically, if she opposed him on anything, she would not only be easily overridden, but would also be personally constrained to keep her mouth shut about it in public.
So we simply cannot evaluate her first ladyship--as a political experience--adequately. This is for obvious, personal reasons: even a president must have his private life respected. But it sets up a situation in which Hillary can claim credit for the good things and refuse blame for the bad, and no one can credibly gainsay her, because no one really knows.
Which is why so many
men Obama supporters are saying unacceptable things about how her experience ain't shit, or how she has to take the blame for NAFTA, or how Bill gets credit for anything good she does. Because, although we require women in our society to get their access to power through the men in their families, when women turn that access to power into real power, we don't understand how that works.
Unambiguous power is power accessed directly. This is why we talk about "privilege" when we talk about racially clueless white women. You never hear WOC, even during this last bout of absurd racial cluelessness, ranting on about white women's "power." Because we understand "power" as something that is accessed directly, and any feminist knows that even the most privileged white woman has a limited and compromised access to direct power. "Privilege," on the other hand, is something that can be conferred, or accessed indirectly, through familial or marital relationships, or simply through racial or socioeconomic group membership.
Ambiguously accessed power makes us profoundly uncomfortable, for various reasons. One of them is that ambiguously accessed power renders the line of accountability also ambiguous. That's very dangerous. And we're seeing this played out right now in Hillary's candidacy. She's IS trying to take credit for Bill's successes and avoid blame for his mistakes, and she'll--mostly--be able to get away with it because we just don't know.
On the other hand, what Hillary is actually trying to do here is parlay ambiguously accessed power (through her husband) into real, direct power. Once she is president--or even the party's nominee--she cannot fob off responsibility on Bill, no matter how direct a hand he takes in her campaign, or her administration.
Other countries have allowed women to do this: to take ambiguously accessed power and turn it into real power. But the United States has never allowed it. So far. I've made the argument before that this is the only way a liberal woman can achieve highest office, and I still believe that. And for that reason alone, I regret that this is also the election where race will be tested, because it makes it difficult for us to watch the election where gender roles will be tested and see a "clean" result for either one. And I, for one, am fascinated to see if the most powerful nation on Earth will allow a woman into real power.
I have such an insane crush on Jay Smooth, you have no idea. I don't know which I like more: the way his lips move, or what comes out of them. Can I have both?
Take it and pass it on, folks!
What I want:
Can someone out there who is funny, and knows how to do these things, put together a YouTube series of her/himself mystery-science-theatering all election debates from now on?
It's not just something I want to watch; it also might save democracy 'n' shit.
Of course it would be in the National Review, in Bush's early years, that some idiot would write an article calling on the US to opt out of the 1967 international treaty agreeing to no national sovereignity claims in space.
The post argues that article II of the treaty does American interests "harm," although it never specifies what that harm is. Apparently, because article II was intended to restrict funding to NASA (and succeeded), that means we should repudiate it now.
Now we find ourselves in an entirely different world. The Soviet Union is no more. Mars, it turns out, has far more water than we previously suspected: enough to support colonies, and even programs aimed at giving it a climate more hospitable to humans. The reward for going to Mars has increased dramatically.
Um, okay ... and what was that reward again? I mean, aside from learning how to keep people who leave Earth's atmosphere and magnetic field for extended periods from dying of radiation sickness? Or maybe giving science fiction writers more jazz? Or maybe sheer excitement?
People, people, we're not looking at a viable alternative living space here. To terraform Mars would require more Earth resources than it would produce or maintain ... probably ever. The potential mineral resources might be attractive ... assuming the iron and nickel are even there in a useful form ... if we needed iron and nickel that badly ... which we don't. But we don't know how to power spaceships without fossil fuels--something that we may well run out of in the next century--and transportation of any resources from Mars would far outcost the resources themselves.
How can conservatives NOT understand the liberal tendency to see them as crazy, greedy, and pathologically nationalistic, when a typical conservative response to a renewal of funding in space exploration is a call to claim sovereignity over unviable and as-yet unreachable territories in contravention of law, common sense, and even imagination?
I want to hit my head against a wall repeatedly, but this attitude is exactly what I need to understand for da nobble, which of course takes place on a Mars already claimed as a territory by the US.
oo. Missed this is in the first sweep. Here's an actual PIRG guy (albeit from Texas) advocating the creation of an International Agency for the Development of Mars to enable the selling of Martian territory to private individuals to spur the development and settling of human colonies on Mars.
Again, why? I dunno, but this guy gives more of an answer than the previous dudes:
The IADM should be structured so as to allow ordinary citizens to purchase land shares and prevent all of the shares from being gobbled up by governments and corporations. If this is successfully done, I think it’s possible that we will see a rebirth of a social drive which has been largely extinct for the last century: the push for the frontier. In an increasingly bland, stratified, and commercialized world, the desire to strike out on one’s own, to build a new home even in a harsh and unforgiving environment, will again come to the fore. By mid-century, I wouldn’t be surprised to see restless and adventurous people, the spiritual descendents of the American pioneers, buying Martian land with the full intention of settling it themselves.
Why now? Well, because our world is "increasingly bland, stratified, and commercialized," and the best solution to this is to create a new frontier and get our manifest destiny flowing again, not, you know, to use our imaginations or to fix our problems or anything.
I say "Mars!" You say "Dumbass!"
I just got this in an email from Moveon.org. I don't think it's too early to start campaigning against McCain so I'm passing it on. Feel free to link to this or steal it wholesale and post it on your blog. If you do the latter, please copy the source links below as well.
(By the way, I feel perfectly free to campaign against McCain on my blog but don't think that means you're free to campaign for or against any candidates in the comments. Argue with things if you want to, especially if you have real articles to back yourself up, but no campaigning or you will be deleted. My blog, my rules.)
10 things you should know about John McCain (but probably don't):
1. "The Complicated History of John McCain and MLK Day," ABC News, April 3, 2008
"McCain Facts," ColorOfChange.org, April 4, 2008
2. "McCain More Hawkish Than Bush on Russia, China, Iraq," Bloomberg News, March 12, 2008
"Buchanan: John McCain 'Will Make Cheney Look Like Gandhi,'" ThinkProgress, February 6, 2008
3. "McCain Sides With Bush On Torture Again, Supports Veto Of Anti-Waterboarding Bill," ThinkProgress, February 20, 2008
4. "McCain says Roe v. Wade should be overturned," MSNBC, February 18, 2007
5. "2007 Children's Defense Fund Action Council® Nonpartisan Congressional Scorecard," February 2008
"McCain: Bush right to veto kids health insurance expansion," CNN, October 3, 2007
6. "Beer Executive Could Be Next First Lady," Associated Press, April 3, 2008
"McCain Says Bank Bailout Should End `Systemic Risk,'" Bloomberg News, March 25, 2008
7. "Will McCain's Temper Be a Liability?," Associated Press, February 16, 2008
"Famed McCain temper is tamed," Boston Globe, January 27, 2008
8. "Black Claims McCain's Campaign Is Above Lobbyist Influence: 'I Don't Know What The Criticism Is,'" ThinkProgress, April 2, 2008
"McCain's Lobbyist Friends Rally 'Round Their Man," ABC News, January 29, 2008
9. "McCain's Spiritual Guide: Destroy Islam," Mother Jones Magazine, March 12, 2008
"Will McCain Specifically 'Repudiate' Hagee's Anti-Gay Comments?," ThinkProgress, March 12, 2008
"McCain 'Very Honored' By Support Of Pastor Preaching 'End-Time Confrontation With Iran,'" ThinkProgress, February 28, 2008
10. "John McCain Gets a Zero Rating for His Environmental Record," Sierra Club, February 28, 2008
I've just about given up on the left-side Clinton/Obama debate being anything approximating rational.
Obama has impressed me recently with his whorish ability to please opposing types of Democrats simultaneously, and I'm hopeful that this could translate into effective executive skills, although with Obama we just won't know until we know.
But I've almost stopped caring in any case because Obama-supporting online wannapunds have utterly failed to notice how brilliantly whorish--rather than brilliant--his race speech was, and continue to accuse the Clinton camp of the same kind of whorishness, broadly accusing them of racism while refusing to use the word.
Lately people have been saying that "Clinton has gone too far." Interestingly enough, everybody who expresses this sentiment uses the exact same words. Also interestingly, many of the "gone too far" purporters have identified wildly different incidents as the straw that broke the camel's back. (Some otherwise smart commentatoresses have actually taken issue with Hillary questioning Obama's experience and credentials, as if a presidential candidate's experience and credentials are somehow not fair game. Seriously?)
And many of them have simply not bothered to identify where and how, exactly, Hillary went too far. So where, actually, did Hillary go too far? Or was it Bill who went too far? Is there a difference in people's minds? (And, btw, do I still need to explain why it's a problem to take issue with Bill and blame it on Hillary?)
And most importantly, do you really think they arrived at this opinion independently?
I'm remembering a time I try hard to remind people of (but no one seems to remember it) about 20-12 months ago, when the word on every Dem-voter's lips was "I like Hillary but she's not electable." It was such a pervasive sentence, and was said over and over again by different people in exactly the same word order and tone, that it was impossible not to conclude that the whole thing was a stealth campaign.
Of course, it became so pervasive that the press had to pick up on it, and the moment it broke the surface, Clinton's campaign dispatched it, ruthlessly and effectively. I tend to think the Clinton campaign did a stealth campaign of their own to make the story break cover so they could squash it. No one says that Clinton is "not electable" now. They just say she's "gone too far." How curious.
What I'm also hearing, particularly from black online wannapunds, is that, while before they would have voted for Clinton if she got the nomination, now they won't. WTF? So you, lefty liberation atheologist, with a hard-on for social justice, will vote for fucking John McCain because clueless Clinton hath offended thee? Or, almost worse, avoid the polling place entirely?
That's the point, isn't it? If those of you undecideds out there don't choose Obama, the rest of us Dem-voters will take our ball and go home, and you can just sit there with your President McCain for eight years, kicking yourself for not choosing the Unity Candidate with the Sexy Voice. After all, if you don't choose Unity, then the lack of Unity is your fault.
It's blackmail, of course, but who am I to object to political blackmail? If it's effective, that is.
It's frustrating because I'd like rational debate, but this is an election, and elections are not about rational debate and probably shouldn't be. Because, as I've said before, we should be electing not the person with the best program, but rather the most effective political whore whose program approximates the one we want. So the person who best manipulates the election is clearly the best whore. That may well turn out to be Obama.
Two more points, no three:
Firstly, on the rational debate about the issues tip--which everyone says they want, but nobody really wants--Clinton constantly surprised everyone by how great she was on debates about the isshooz. Every time, in fact. Her only missteps were when she was confronted (read: blamed) for Bill Clinton's policies, when she was confronted with her pro-Iraq-War-whore vote, and when the debate veered away from the issues into the gender/race/electability thing. So here we are in the loooong post-important-primaries wasteland, where the isshooz have pretty much been exhausted and there is nothing new to say. So what are we focusing on? The candidates' identity issues ... where Clinton doesn't do well and Obama, because of his whorishness, does.
Second point: remember folks (why do you keep forgetting?) Obama is only 46. He's a top-end Gen Xer, or else in the crack between generations. Culturally, he belongs more to the later generation. As the brief debate over his supposed drug use suggested, rather than having to assert his non-inhaliness like a Baby Boomer candidate I could mention, he in fact may have exaggerated his drug use in a savvy ploy to speak to his natural constituency. He grew up after the heaviest part of the civil rights movement and during the heaviest part of the feminist movement. His understanding of race and gender politics, purely from a generational standpoint, would have to be different from Clinton's; given his family and personal history, his understanding of both is necessarily more sophisticated.
Is this a bad thing? Of course not. But it's not necessarily a good thing when you're trying to appeal to older voters who do not have the same sensibility as you.
By the same token, Clinton is firmly a Baby Boomer and second wave feminist. Her language and understanding of race and gender are Baby-Boom-Generation-determined. Does that mean she's behind the times? Well, she's no more behind the times than most of the rest of her generational cohort. (I won't break that down. I'm not satisfied with her language or concept of these issues, but then I'm a third wave feminist and a Gen Xer.) Does this means she's off-putting to Obama's GenX supporters? Yes. Does this mean that the awkward language and concepts she uses will lead her to support the wrong policies? Well ... not necessarily.
Does it mean that she may not prioritize social justice for racial minorities? Maybe. And does Obama's greater sophistication on these issues mean that he will prioritize social justice for racial minorities? Hmmm ... I somehow doubt it, especially in the light of his race speech which said, pretty clearly, "It's understandable that blacks are so angry, but their anger isn't right. And by the way, whites' anger about affirmative action is just as legitimate so we should all just get along."
And finally, keep in mind that we're all getting bored with this and want to move on to the main event. This is why we're starting to unravel and shoot ourselves in our collective feets by saying stupid things like "I'd rather vote for McCain than Clinton because she's gone too far!" It's like a playground where the nerd who doesn't know how to stand around and be cool gets hopelessly ragged on. Or maybe, the adult who doesn't know what "hella" means gets hopelessly ragged on. Earnest Hillary, who is no better than she should be anyway, can't hang out and be cool with the cool kids and Obama can. So, in our after school before dinner boredom, we're beating up on Hillary.
I still don't know who would be the better president, but I'm starting to suspect that all of this adds up to Obama being the better candidate.
First, here's the whole speech, in five parts, hi-def:
I'm starting to change my mind about Obama. No, it's not because his baritone turns me on, or his sincerity, intelligence, charisma, and social consciousness get my panties all ... *sigh* ... YOU know. It's because he's a first class pander. Check it out:
"In no other country on Earth is my story even possible."
Argh. We all know it's just speechifying, but does he have to be so crass? Or maybe he's so used to playing the exotic for white American oafs, he really doesn't know how mundane his story is compared to the tragedy, mendacity, and exotic parallelism of other stories.
But seriously, that's just a throwaway line all
whores politicians have to ... well, throw away. Where he really went onto the reservation was when he sold out his ... er ... "former" pastor, a guy he seems to have unloaded just before all this shit hit the fan. (I wonder why.)
Oh sure, sure, he made a lot of proud noises about how he could no more abandon his poor, old pastor--who was more like family than an advisor, mind you, although he was part of Obama's campaign as recently as late last year--than he could abandon his loving, white grandma, whom he also sold out in this speech. But really, saying that what your pastor (and, until recently, advisor) says in his speeches is just wrong wrong wrong wrong is ... well let's just say it rhymes with "shmelling shmout."
Doubt it? Dude, this is what he said about Wright's comments:
A profoundly distorted view of this country, a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America. A view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam. As such, Rev. Wright's comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity, racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems: two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis, and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but problems that confront us all.
Do you think he knows what "endemic" means? 'Cuz the PC consensus is that racism is endemic in America. To suggest it isn't is kinda turning back the clock. Oh yeah, and ignoring the deep-rootedness that makes it so persistent. And the whole "elevates what is wrong" bit? Barack, baby, you're denouncing him for seeing the glass as half empty? We get it, you're an optimist. Gah.
Now, the rest of us aren't privy to what Wright says in private about Israel, but his public statements? Duuude, you seem to be putting words in his mouth. Even the freakin' Anti-defamation League has no issue with him. See below. And then to add that
whorish politically savvy throwaway line about radical Islam? I'll just leave the wad of cash on the bedside table, mmm?
I think these are all the Wright quotes Obama and pundits are responding to:
Seriously? Except for the AIDS genocide accusation, what part of what he said here isn't true? I mean, weren't YOU expecting Bush et al to plant WMDs? I was. I didn't count on the fact that most of America either wouldn't care that he was lying or wouldn't be literate enough to read about how he lieded. And this is all aside from the fact that that might simply have been a bitter joke.
But the best sellout is the money shot. After eloquently (seriously, my panties again) explaining the bitterness of old time activists like Wright, he actually went forth and paralleled the frustration of African Americans with the current dissatisfaction of middle-class white Americans who went and voted themselves into "two wars ... a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis, and potentially devastating climate change":
In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience - as far as they're concerned, no one's handed them anything, they've built it from scratch. They've worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they're told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.
Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren't always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.
Then repeat the platform and end on a note of hope in the next generation. (Young white girl and old black man. She joined the Obama campaign because her mother needed health care and she needed food. The ol' black man, of course, joined the Obama campaign for her. Magical. Like "Song of the South." You can almost see them tap dancing together at the DNC.)
Wow, recent white political doopidity = 400+ years of oppression? I love America!
And Barack's gonna let all the white liberals get away with it. He just said so.
So, all sarcasm aside, I'm beginning to believe that Barack is whorish enough to make a go of this politician thing. He's savvy enough to please his entire natural constituency. That was a tightrope walk of a speech and he sold the fuck out of it. And yeah, he'd sell his own grandmother for office ... in public.
I'm starting to love this guy for president. Maybe he'll be my slimeball. Too bad we're not gonna have a chance to see if the other slimeballs will let him play their reindeer games first.
Hyphen, as usual, is where I picked up on the public controversy about a non-black multiracial actor playing Obama on Saturday Night Live. (Video above is the second sketch featuring "Fauxbama" Fred Armisen; Hyphen has the first one.)
I saw the previous clip on the SNL site (can't find it now but it's embedded in the Hyphen post above), led there by a discussion about media bias towards Obama, and noticed immediately that the actor playing Obama was wearing dark makeup for the role. My first reaction was, "Oh, boyyyyy ..."
But then, as the sketch played out, I stopped being concerned about it. Why? Why would I be concerned about it in the first place, and why would I stop being concerned after watching the sketch?
It has to do with the nature of "blackface" (or any dramatic portrayal of people of color by white actors). This requires one of my beloved, bullet-pointed breakdowns. Blackface is problematic for reasons historical, intentional, and representational:
The length and persistence of this form of racial denigration means that any performance by a non-black of a black character or figure automatically draws on this history, intentionally or unintentionally, and is to be considered carefully if not fully avoided.
The other big problem with blackface, after the outright racial denigration that is its purpose, is that it is the incongruity of the makeup on a white actor that creates the humor. Blackface assumes that the racial phenotype it lampoons (dark skin, big lips, kinky hair) is unattractive and ridiculous, and draws its humor from the overposition of exaggerated or imaginary "black" features on white features. It's clown makeup, with the strong implication that blacks are clowns.
So having a plum role for an African American character parceled out to a non-black actor is extremely problematic, when there are so many qualified black actors out there looking for work.
Additionally, the very idea that a white actor gets to occupy a plum black role raises the question of who gets to write, embody, and ultimately determine the form and representation of blacks in the public sphere. Casting a white actor is a pretty clear answer in favor of keeping the right of representation with whites.
So, how does the SNL sketch play with these considerations?
Firstly, the sketch does not have racial denigration as its purpose, and there is no unintentional or side-effect racial denigration (in my opinion) happening here. The purpose of the sketch is to lampoon the media's apparent infatuation with Barack Obama; the actor playing Obama needs to exaggerate Obama's personal tics for humorous effect (as SNL does with every politician it mocks) and to portray a stereotype of Obama's public image. There is complicated racial coding involved in Obama's public image, but this sketch is fairly straightforward, and does not grapple with them, nor (in my opinion) trip over them.
Secondly, the makeup Armisen uses to portray Obama is fairly subtle and clearly used to let the audience know what figure he's depicting, and not to portray Obama's racial characteristics as unattractive or ridiculous
So far so good. On the minus side, however, is the simple fact of the history of blackface and the way that blackface representation is going to play--no matter what its intentions. Putting a nonblack actor in blackface is so easy to avoid, that producers simply cannot avoid the question, "why didn't you just get a black actor to do it?" SNL doesn't have a slick answer for this.
The real answer, of course, is that currently, SNL has only one black male actor, and he looks nothing like Obama and, more importantly, has an acting style that doesn't match Obama's affect well. But that's not an excuse. SNL currently has six white male actors, two white female actors, and two multiracial actors, Fred Armisen and Maya Rudolph (the latter of whom is the only actor on the cast whose racial background matches Obama's and who apparently will not return to SNL after the strike.)
Why so many white men? Why so few black men and women? Among other things, it limits (obviously) SNL's ability to successfully represent public figures, and this tokenism is a perennial problem at SNL, which has six different faces to match to white male public figures, but must force black characters into the oeuvre of a single actor. This gets to the heart of the representation issue. Lorne Michaels has tried to play that old chestnut: we cast the best actor for the role, regardless of race. And Armisen does do a credible acting job. But that old record won't play. If you have only one black actor, he's certainly not going to be the best actor for every black role. Some other black actor would be.
But all of this is, again, avoiding the fact that Obama is multiracial. Just because America views Obama as black, doesn't mean he entirely is. And he's toned down his self-representation as biracial because he found it didn't play with either white or black. That doesn't mean he isn't still biracial. So who gets to depict a man who is half white? If they had cast Kenan Thompson as Obama, would he have had to do it in whiteface and would that have been alright?
Add to all of this that Fred Armisen, who actually played Obama, is an extremely multiracial man, part white, part Asian (Japanese) and part Latino (Venezuelan). And it seems I do need to remind people that Latinos are pretty multiracial--and African-mixed--as well, and that Venezuela especially, as a nation on the Caribbean coast, has a strong Afro-Caribbean history and population. That doesn't tell us anything about Armisen himself, but it does tell us a great deal about our own simple-minded, reductivist racial viewpoint.
So the representation piece of this little controversy? I'd say SNL needs to check itself, but so do the sketch's racially simplistic critics. And I'd say that SNL does still need to go ahead with its mockery of the current presidential candidates using the tools at hand, and learn from this controversy that maybe it would be a more interesting show with a less monochromatic cast.
Two interesting opinions up at Salon today.
Edward McClellan says in "The Dude Vote" that a lot of men aren't copping to the fact that they won't vote for Hillary because she's a woman:
A recent Associated Press-Ipsos poll found that, among men, McCain beats Clinton by 9 points. Against Obama, he only ties. There are also plenty of guys who voted for Barack Obama in the primaries but will switch to John McCain if the lady gets the nomination -- even though they'll have to leap over a huge political divide to get there.
... I never said to myself, "I want a man for president." I said to myself, "I want a leader who can unite the country." Like a lot of guys who are about to furtively nod their heads, I think of leadership as a masculine quality, so Obama and McCain seemed like the strongest candidates. I was also leery of Clinton's association with the culture wars -- I don't want to go through that again -- but she was a polarizing first lady because she was given power over healthcare before the nation was ready to see a woman in that role. (In 1994, I walked into a religious bookstore and saw an anti-Clinton biography titled "Big Sister Is Watching You.") Ultimately, it was impossible to separate my reservations about Clinton from the fact that she's a woman.
I also told myself I wasn't dismissing Clinton because I disliked her. I was dismissing her because other people disliked her. That's a popular objection, apparently. According to a CBS-New York Times poll, 81 percent of Americans say they would vote for a woman president; only 56 percent think other people would. But it's also a convenient dodge. If I voted against Clinton because "too many people hate her," wouldn't I just be validating the haters? They are, after all, largely responsible for making her "divisive."
Gary Kamiya takes a nearly opposite position in "It's OK to vote for Obama because he's black," saying that a lot of whites won't cop to the fact that they're voting for Obama because he's black.
This reaction is understandable. It feels more racially enlightened. To baldly proclaim that you support Obama because he's black seems to diminish his real qualities and achievements -- his stellar academic career, his work in the urban trenches, his liberal voting record, his ability to inspire. Foregrounding Obama's ethnic heritage implies that you're unhealthily obsessed with race, and make artificial decisions based on it. It can be seen as patronizing, as a merely sentimental, pie-in-the-sky gesture.
... Some critics who directly acknowledge the racial nature of Obama's appeal have argued that the wave of white support for Obama bespeaks not a genuine desire to bridge the racial divide but a bad-faith attempt to escape into some post-racial never-never land.
... Obama's charisma, which is his unique political strength, is real, but it cannot be separated from the fact that he's black. When Obama speaks of change and hope and healing divisions, his words carry an electric charge because of who he is: He embodies his own message, the very definition of charisma. As a black man offering reconciliation, he is making a deeply personal connection with whites, not merely a rhetorical one.
Hillary is an iPhone with wheels. Obama is a pimped out Yugo. The paradigm shift required to take each of these two candidates seriously is completely different.
And it wouldn't surprise me to find that there were voters, men and women, who believe in Obama for a plethora of reasons, but can't quite get their heads around a woman president.
So let's say this again, people: the majority of Latino and Asian Americans are immigrants. Most of these immigrants are coming from a position of being a racial or ethnic majority in their countries of origin, even if they are of lower class. Most of them have a majority identity in their past. Most of them are struggling toward a position of self-determination and some sort of tolerable integration into their new society, not towards the marginalization of being people of color. Yes, some might vote racism or sexism, but most will have more pressing needs. And which candidate they see meeting these needs will be at least somewhat unpredictable to a native-born American.
I was talking to Tisa tonight and brought up Orwell's essay "Shooting an Elephant." After we got off the phone I looked it up on the web to send to her and found this website about him created for his 100th birthday (in 2003).
I went through some of the essays. It's been a few years since I engaged with Orwell at all. And I re-read "Why I Write," which I last read about five years ago, looking for something to give my students. I remember thinking it didn't suit my purpose exactly back then. Truth be told, I always read pieces from writers about why they write, looking for similarities to lovely ol' moi.
I remember the part in this essay where Orwell writes about writing a running description of his life in his head as it is happening. I did that, although at a much younger age: from 7 to about 10 or so.
But the stuff about politics and aesthetics didn't land with me last time. This time they did. Observe:
Putting aside the need to earn a living, I think there are four great motives for writing, at any rate for writing prose. They exist in different degrees in every writer, and in any one writer the proportions will vary from time to time, according to the atmosphere in which he is living. They are:
- Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc. It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one. Writers share this characteristic with scientists, artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful businessmen -- in short, with the whole top crust of humanity. The great mass of human beings are not acutely selfish. After the age of about thirty they almost abandon the sense of being individuals at all -- and live chiefly for others, or are simply smothered under drudgery. But there is also the minority of gifted, willful people who are determined to live their own lives to the end, and writers belong in this class. Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money.
- Aesthetic enthusiasm. Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement. Pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story. Desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not to be missed. The aesthetic motive is very feeble in a lot of writers, but even a pamphleteer or writer of textbooks will have pet words and phrases which appeal to him for non-utilitarian reasons; or he may feel strongly about typography, width of margins, etc. Above the level of a railway guide, no book is quite free from aesthetic considerations.
- Historical impulse. Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.
- Political purpose -- using the word "political" in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples' idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.
... Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it. It seems to me nonsense, in a period like our own, to think that one can avoid writing of such subjects. Everyone writes of them in one guise or another. It is simply a question of which side one takes and what approach one follows. And the more one is conscious of one's political bias, the more chance one has of acting politically without sacrificing one's aesthetic and intellectual integrity.
What I have most wanted to do throughout the past ten years is to make political writing into an art. My starting point is always a feeling of partisanship, a sense of injustice. When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, "I am going to produce a work of art." I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing. But I could not do the work of writing a book, or even a long magazine article, if it were not also an aesthetic experience. Anyone who cares to examine my work will see that even when it is downright propaganda it contains much that a full-time politician would consider irrelevant. I am not able, and do not want, completely to abandon the world view that I acquired in childhood. So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style, to love the surface of the earth, and to take a pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information. It is no use trying to suppress that side of myself. The job is to reconcile my ingrained likes and dislikes with the essentially public, non-individual activities that this age forces on all of us.
... I will only say that of late years I have tried to write less picturesquely and more exactly. In any case I find that by the time you have perfected any style of writing, you have always outgrown it. ... Looking back through the last page or two, I see that I have made it appear as though my motives in writing were wholly public-spirited. I don't want to leave that as the final impression. All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one's own personality. Good prose is like a windowpane. I cannot say with certainty which of my motives are the strongest, but I know which of them deserve to be followed. And looking back through my work, I see that it is invariably where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally.
Sigh, it's hard to excerpt Orwell. Everything he writes has a purpose in the whole. But anyway ... what he said.
I don't know if ... well, actually I DO know. I know that this didn't land with me five years ago because I last read this BEFORE I started Da Nobble, which began as a desire to expose a lie: more specifically, I wanted to write a book with a shrewd Asian male protagonist who didn't know any martial arts and had stature for any other reason than being able to kick people's asses.
As I wrote, I discovered that there were more and more lies which could be addressed in the story: things about women and men, about sex, sexuality, and gender, about race and immigration and colonizing and expansion and exploitation, and on and on and on. And in the process I guess I really did become a political writer, although perhaps I wrote politically before then.
I used to say these things, hoping to believe them, but now they actually mean something.
I don't know that I have much more of a point than this. Stuff I'm thinking about. Orwell good.
I mentioned yesterday that I loathed the movie Juno and that was all I was gonna say about it. But now Lauren, who is normally smart as a whip, says she liked it, publicly defending it against the wannabe macho dismissal of a critic who thought No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood were the best moobies of the year. I share her argh about the latter, but argh back at her about the former so much that I must write this blog post.
David Edelstein of New York Magazine, goes to bizarre extremes to attack Juno by criticizing both director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody (whose name he snarks on) for having successfully “engineered every response” from the audience, as if that’s not what filmmaking is at its heart.
... I think it’s also important and darn fascinating to pay attention when a bona fide cultural phenomenon is prancing tweely across your radar. Juno is that dancer. Among the many wonderful things about this movie is the fact that it could not have been made at any other time in history. It is positively fresh on the subject of teen sexuality and reproductive choice and it manages to be hilariously funny and gut-wrenchingly poignant at the same time.
Yes, Juno's twee, and that's annoying, and no, twee is not the argument against that stupid flick that I want to push. All teen films are either twee or outright sentimental, so no big deal. Harold and Maude was twee, but I love it anyway.
But Lauren's argument that all films manipulate the audience doesn't hold water. It's true that all art is manipulation in the purest sense of the word. But the art that we treasure as great is that which manipulates the senses to mediate an experience in a particular way. That experience must overwhelm the audience sensually so that their senses (perhaps not all of them, but the ones engaged by that art form) are employed wholly in the service of the piece for its duration. The experience must also short-circuit the audience's sense of the normal and the ordinary, so as to present them with the spectacle of some element of mundane life in a manner that makes that element fresh.
So much for great, or even good, art. There are also films--art--that are successful without overwhelming the senses with new input, or making the familiar intelligible by rendering it strange. These films rather grab hold of our expectations, both sensory and narrative, ... and fulfill them. That simple.
Of course, that's not easy to do because experienced filmgoers have highly developed bullshit detectors and a hunger for novelty that almost--but never quite--overwhelms their demand for fulfilled expectations. So these not-so-good films succeed insofar as they are able to disguise with successful handwaving their ability to give you exactly what you've had before.
Juno is one of the latter sort of films. It belongs in a genre of film whose structure is derived from the gestation period of homo erectus. "Conception--pregnancy--birth" is the "incentive moment--rising action--climax" of this subgenre, point for point. The purpose of this subgenre is to "celebrate" the "renewal" of "human" life and "hope" in the form of the "next generation" and to "reaffirm" our current family structure or to affirm and confirm (some kind of "firm") a new one. It is a genre that, intentionally or no, cannot accept the presence of abortion ... quite simply because abortion is a narrative party pooper: you can't end a story before the climax.
Subgenre All-Stars include: Nine Months, Parenthood, Father of the Bride II, The Seventh Sign, Fools Rush In, She's Having a Baby, The Snapper, The Object of My Affection, and and and. The only title I can think of belonging to the category of "classic" is Rosemary's Baby, a precursor to the curse of eighties and nineties pregnancy flicks, and a pre-deconstruction of them all. The rest are, at best, B movies. I didn't seed the list. I seriously couldn't think of a single top-ranked or top-critiqued movie in this genre, nor find one on a google search.
And for a very good reason: the genre is crapulous, status-quo-reifying, herd-placating "family fare." It's not about questioning anything, but rather making everyone feel great about the way things are.
In the new millenium this genre has taken on new life. The three 2007 avatars are Waitress, Knocked Up, and Juno. But wait, didn't everybody loooooooove all three films last year? I mean, looooooove them?
Well, of course. After all, Gen X is both in charge of movieland AND making babies now. So we've updated the genre to satisfy our own ideas of what family must be and placate our feelings of having sold out ... whatever our generation was supposed to stand for ... in favor of parenthood, condo purchases, and stay-at-home-somethings.
The major difference in new-millenium-Gen-X pregnancy movies is that they are all about confirming "alternative" families, which is, of course, all the to good, if you consider giving alternative families their own crapulous sub-genre "good." Juno and Waitress are ultimately both affirmations of single motherhood, when necessary, as it clearly is when the father leaves you because he's a child or you leave him because he's abusive. Both are, not coincidentally, written by women.
Knocked Up is a more traditional pregnancy flick. It's written, produced, directed, and from the point of view of men, which is why it posits that ugly losers with no jobs, income, responsibility, charm, or personality can walk into a complete family life with a beautiful, successful woman, just by going into a nightclub one night that the real world wouldn't let them in the door of. It posits the only family that straight guys would want, then "reaffirms" it with a "funny" birth scene involving your buddies and a beautiful, happy ending.
Juno manages to disguise its genrehood slightly by being about both the family for whom the baby is destined, and the birth mother. But, although the dialogue is snappy, nothing is questioned or subverted. We don't want to reify teenage motherhood; teenage mothers are supposed to be confused, so this one is confused. We want to support adoptive families, which we have more and more of as the "me, too!" generation puts off childbearing even longer than the Baby Boomers, so we make Juno not bother considering abortion seriously. We want to affirm single motherhood, so we get rid of the adoptive husband while turning him into a plot-point/red-herring.
Most importantly, we treat motherhood as a reward for virtuous women. Juno is not virtuous: she had sex when too young and undereducated; she had sex without considering herself in love; she had sex without thinking responsibly about it. Clearly she doesn't deserve a baby. Her weeping after the birth is the seep of remorse.
The Jennifer Garner character--played by an actress who, already popular, swept the hearts of America by marrying Ben Affleck and naming their adorable baby something both slightly unusual and not at all rock-star-weird--clearly possesses sufficient adulthood, responsibility, and virtue, and is rewarded with motherhood at the end.
One more point: Juno, as many critics have remarked, is given Gen X hipster dialogue. No kiddie today, not even Frances Bean Cobain, could possibly have all the Gen X indie cultural referents that Juno pretends to. That's the tip-off, folks, that you're being manipulated: your teenie hipster protag, cooler than school and wrestling with things way beyond her maturity level, still has the time to flatter your taste.
It's a flat, empty, manipulative, masturbatory, neck-chaining, nose-to-grindstoning, mainstream-behavior-mold of a piece of shit of a movie. And no, it's not a coincidence that it topped off a year of other such movies in the same year that the US Supreme Court upheld the first federal abortion ban since Roe v. Wade.
I'm back in the family womb for the weekend for a family ... occasion ... and we're sitting at dinner tonight. My relative is talking about the movie Juno, which I found entertaining but empty when I watched it, and came to loathe while thinking about shortly thereafter. (Some hints as to why here.)
So my relative is describing the movie and gets to the character of Juno herself and describes her as a wiseass and "politically incorrect." What? I dug in about that. What was "politically incorrect" about the character? Both her politics and her indie cred are flawless. He couldn't say or give me examples, just repeated that she's a wiseacre and makes funny comments.
I've been picking up on this for a while now but I can't avoid the conclusion anymore. "Politically incorrect" is now a synonym for "smartass" or "irreverent!" Just kill me now!
It wouldn't be so bad if "politically incorrect" would just wholesale replace the word "irreverent," since the latter appears to be hard for some people to pronounce and those same people get so much joy out of declaring themselves the former.
But that's not what's happening here. What's happening is that people are still aware of the term's current denotation--referring to language and ideas that are, from the liberal point of view, politically regressive and potentially discriminatory--but have added strong connotations. Those are, of course, "irreverent," "smartass," and, wandering a little further afield, "cool." "Politically incorrect" is now spoken or written with an almost universal sense of delicious, naughty approval.
Or put another way, social justice activists never use the term at all.
Political correctness" seems to be a too serious and fascist, demagogic way of saying "civil language". Of course, when civility is not our purpose, there are other languages and vocabularies available to us. With the need for a language of civility and doing business with strangers without betraying our secrets or slashing our wrists or starting a war in mind, I suggest PC stand for "pidgin contest".
Civil language and tolerant behavior can't be imposed from the top without exercising heavy police-state censorship and driving everyone with a discouraging word underground. But in the bustling, competitive, passionate marketplace atmosphere of a port city or corner store, civil language and tolerant behavior are invented, or you go broke, brah.
Yep, that's right, folks, "civil language." That's what people are referring to when they say "political correctness." I'll spell it out, though: if you replace "politically incorrect" with "speaking without civility," it becomes a lot less cool.
Yeah, I'm overplaying the point. Because, as we all know, political correctness isn't just about polite language. It's about giving over the power of naming to the people being named; the power of description to the ones being described. And that's a lot more profound than just being polite. What it means is that your public speech, to a certain extent, is buffeted by somebody else's winds of change--without your input or say so--and you're still responsible for keeping up with it. Why, that's ... that's ... undemocratic!
The term "politically incorrect" is the ultimate expression of privilege. I think everyone would find it obnoxious if a stranger, on being introduced to "John," insisted on calling him "Telly." But when a whole group of people prefer to be called "disabled" rather than "handicapped," this is somehow an imposition on the non-disabled speaker.
Considering oneself a victim of fascist political incorrectness because you can't call women "girls" or champion sportswomen "nappy-headed hos" or refer to spoken Chinese as "ching chong ching chong" or call South Asian journalists "Macaca" is nothing but the tantrum of someone whose speech has never been limited by those of lesser socioeconomic status before.
Boo-fuckin'-hoo to you. Grow the fuck up and start treating people with minimum respect. All your childish tantrums aside, it's not gonna stop, so get used to it.
There are times that I know I am not as good a person as I could be, but I don't really care. I know that I could exert myself more in this direction or that, but I don't care enough to.
But there are also times when I genuinely wish that I was a better person--more concerned about others and less about protecting myself. That happens around conversations about race with clueless white people. I have a lot of friends of color who really draw my admiration for their boundless patience and kindness for this type of conversation. I have none of that patience and kindness.
What I do, and a lot of others do this too, is as soon as someone says something awkward or insensitive, I either bowl them over with a rapid-fire critique of what they said, or I clamp my mouth shut and look away. In the latter case, I'll refuse to pick up the conversational ball, and just leave them hanging with the stupid thing they said, knowing that they did something wrong, but not knowing what.
Later on I'll have to recognize that I missed the opportunity to educate someone ... or at the least, to loosen someone's ignorance. And all arguments that it's not my job to educate people about race sound somewhat tinny. It's exhausting, having to teach people things that it's their own responsibility to learn by themselves, but I'm there, and I'm spending the time with them anyway. So what's my problem?
(For those of you who genuinely don't know what my problem is, this is the nutshell: all poc have to deal with having their ideas and viewpoints invalidated to their face. A good example of this is when people ask me what my ethnicity is, I tell them, and then they dispute what I have told them about myself. Another example is when, say, a black blogger posts about his/her *personal* experience as a black person in a white-dominated world, and a bunch of white trolls tell them that they're whining or simply dispute their understanding of their own *personal* experience. A major component of racial privilege is that the privileged are always right, and the Others are always wrong, even when the Others are talking about themselves. So getting into a discussion of race with ignorant white people is basically an exercise in asking to be invalidated and patronized about something you know more about than the person invalidating and patronizing you.
Another issue would be, of course, having to batter down someone's defensiveness about their own lack of racism just to have a conversation that you've had fifty thousand times already. You're pushed into a discussion that is tedious and fraught for you, and then you have to fight just to have the conversation in the first place, and just to get basic respect for your viewpoint. No, thanks.)
I just had such an experience, from the other side, recently when trying to talk about class issues. I work for an organization that serves low-income people. Our clients have to fall below a certain income level to be eligible for our program. Yet all of our office staff positions--which pay well and carry excellent benefits--require a college degree and a high level of skillsets. So we're by definition a bunch of middle/upper middle class people serving a bunch of lower middle/working class people.
Our org culture emphasizes customer service, so our staff tends to get along very well with our clients. But there are inevitably a number of interactions which reveal class differences. Some of the projects that I am responsible for themselves raise interesting questions about class viewpoints and ways of proceeding with various tasks. But we're too busy at work--and probably too wary of engaging in such fraught discussions--to get into more theoretical conversations about class differences. We proceed at a very pragmatic level.
This weekend I met a woman at a party whom I had met before. She wanted to participate in my org's program but didn't qualify, so she had ended up going to another org. We were talking about various interesting things we'd noticed about the people involved in these programs and the programs themselves. I embarked on a thinking-out-loud moment about something I'd been thinking about but had never had the opportunity to talk about with someone who understood the background of this kind of work.
I wanted to say something about the strangeness of middle/upper-middle class workers serving low-income workers and helping them to become financially self-sufficient when the "higher" class workers, employees of a large organization, weren't financially self-sufficient themselves, but did earn more based on their high skill level. This was going to lead to some thinking-out-loud about how a higher socio-economic bracket meant access to a higher-paying state of dependency, and how popular programs promoting self-sufficiency for the poor were popular with many people precisely because they meant that we didn't have to deal with the question of how to give greater access to "dependent" but high-paying jobs to the poor.
I got about halfway through the first thought when the woman froze me out. She did the same thing to me that I do to clueless white people who say something stupid or offensive: clamped her mouth shut, looked away, and jumped into someone else's conversation while I was still talking. I don't know what it was that offended her: if I used the wrong word, or if she mistook where my comment was heading ... or if she didn't mistake where my comment was heading but just didn't want to go there.
And I'm not sure it really matters which it was. I'm pretty sure that this isn't the usual thing that people talk about when they talk about class differences (if they ever do), so what she thought she was protecting herself against was probably not what I was getting at. But if she did know where I was going with it, it may not be such a bad thing that she didn't get into it. Someone who is working her way through a difficult and time-consuming program to increase her own skills and self-sufficiency, doesn't need to waste any energy considering that the people who are helping her might be avoiding difficult discussions about access.
And if I used a offensive word or phrasing, I obviously don't know I did it.
Clearly I wasn't going to get the interesting discussion about class and access out of this woman that I was hoping for in any case. But what bothers me is that I don't know where I can go to get this discussion. I can't talk about these things at work, I'll be much more wary of talking about them with people I don't know well who are involved in these projects, and my friends who are up for such discussions aren't involved in this nonprofit field, so they can only talk about theoretical things. Yet I spend half my working day on this type of work. I don't have access to discussions about class differences.
Discussion is an essential resource; discussion with people who know what they're talking about is an even more important resource. As much as I and other poc resent being treated as a public accommodation in discussions of race, we are sitting on knowledge and experience that are an important--nay, essential--resource for truly informed and intelligent discussions of race. If someone is spouting ignorance, it's because they have not yet availed themselves of their access to such resources (you know, like libraries and the internet.) I wish I could be more of a resource to the people who actually need it. Maybe that would have a higher impact in changing the world the way I profess to want to change it.
And I'm not just saying this because I got smacked down this weekend. This certainly wasn't the first time it's happened to me and won't be the last. But these moments are a reminder of something I feel--perhaps less strongly--when I'm on the other side of the equation and just. can't. take. another. stupid. discussion. about how cool and funny political incorrectness is.
Not to be down on Scott Westerfeld, whom I consider a friend on the skiffy side of the blanket, but his recent blog post about the "Missing Black Woman Formation" (hereafter referred to as MBWF) needs some complications added to it.
The MBWF concept is explained by one of the characters of Scott's YA novel So Yesterday thus:
“You know, the guy on the motorcycle was black. The guy on the bike was white. The woman was white. That’s the usual bunch, you know? Like everybody’s accounted for? Except not really. I call that the missing-black-woman formation. It kind of happens a lot.”
Scott then goes on to point out that we're living through a MBWF right now, posting a picture of our current Democratic presidential front runners (Edwards, Clinton, and Obama, natch). He underlines this by posting a photo of Neo, Trinity, and Morpheus from The Matrix.
Okay, but not really.
There are a number of problems with this, starting with how complaining about a missing black woman only works for commercials (which is mostly what the So Yesterday characters were talking about.) Commercials are 30-120-second gestures in the direction of a brand. You have time to say one simple thing, so that's what you say.
The black man inserted into a white couple says, "Our brand is diverse!" whatever that means. The missing black woman, if she were to appear, would say, "We're selling to blacks and whites equally!" which is not what most commercials want to say. Most want to say, "Hey, liberal white guilt dollars! Flow this way!"
When you get into broader pop culture, and especially when you get into the bizarre mix of current mainstream reality, branding, idealism, fearmongering, and passion play that is the contemporary presidential race, the MBWF has nothing interesting or true to say to the matter anymore.
Gloria Steinem proved this in the NYT op-ed that Scott (and everybody else) linked to. By Shakespeare's sistering Obama (dang, can't we get some new feminist tricks?) Steinem sought to prove that women have it worse than blacks, but only managed to give every reader a case of SIWWTABIDKW (something is wrong with that argument but I don't know what), which is usually accompanied by a terminal case of the squirmies.
What was wrong with that argument, by the way, is that you can't compare apples and oranges (or sexism and racism), and you can't predict society's behavior towards the intersection of the two except by, as Steinem did, assuming that each must be overcome separately before the intersection will become penetrable (Frex: we needed an Albright, and a Powell, before we could have a Rice.)
So, a listing of problems with MBWF as applied by Scott:
Flip through a magazine and check out the ads. In any group of three or more models, one invariably will be black. (If there are six or more models, one will be Asian and one Hispanic.) Same on TV. In any commercial for beer or snack food, one of the guys on the sofa is always black. This probably misrepresents the incidence of interracial hanging out, but it isn't just tokenism. It's a harmony fantasy, buried deep in the collective conscience.
I.e. the MBWF, a white fantasy scenario, is leaving out a much more complicated, and truly diverse, group of people because that would complicate and diversify the white audience's social scene, rather than placating them for having a mostly white peer group. So it's a bit more complicated than just a missing black woman. If we're going to look at negative space, let's really look at it.
It is for both these reasons--the obvious multiraciality and his acceptance by mainstream audiences--that Keanu was cast in the racially radical Matrix. Suitably millenial, the first Matrix suggested that a lot of race mixing had gone on among surviving humans after the apocalypse with its casting of actors of a variety of races and mixtures (including Marcus Chong, Tommy Chong's adopted son, whose ancestry isn't public, but is almost certainly multiracial.) This was deliberate.
Morpheus as the odd black man out in a MBWF is questionable, but his status as a magical negro? not so much. I said the first Matrix was radical, not perfect. (By the way, I distinguish between the first Matrix and subsequent Matrices because the Wachowskis got lazy in the race element, as well as everything else, and let a bunch of black actors stand in for diversity thereafter, i.e. losing grip on the multiracial aspect of the whole thing.)
As I said, in our new millenium, our mainstream culture has become sensitized to multiraciality, so that we begin to recognize it when it appears in the public forum. But we're not so sophisticated as all that. We recognize it, but we still gawk at it. It's still unusual, exotic ... and not yet re-problematized, as all new, exotic things are.
Obama's clear and apparent multiraciality (one that left him with darkish skin and European features, which earn him the adjective "handsome" even though he's nothing of the sort) put him beyond our immediate racial hierarchy into a biracial status that is still fluid in the public consciousness. If he were just black, he wouldn't be here, but because we don't exactly know what he is, he might still be electable. So there, Gloria Steinem, my lass.
Furthermore, Obama is not the child of an African American descendant of slaves and a white American; i.e. he's not that difficult and problematic product of centuries of slavery and sexual stereotyping. Rather, he's the child of a white American and a black immigrant. A what? Exactly. We don't know what to do about it, because it's an exotic and new story: the black immigrant. But, dudes, immigrant. Undocumented labor issues aside, the American identity is an immigrant identity, and the American story is the triumphal story of immigration and assimilation.
In this context it's much easier to see why Obama, the child of a black man and a white woman, doesn't trip more people's black man/white woman wires. The white woman in this case is the agent of assimilation to an honorable immigrant. As copious recent immigration from the Caribbean and East Africa shows, it's a toss up whether such an immigrant will come down as black or as immigrant in their interlocutor's estimation, when the shit really hits. Clearly this question is decided by what is most beneficial to the interlocutor. If the black immigrant in question is threatening them, then they're black. If, however the interlocutor needs an ally and the black immigrant shows willing, then they're an immigrant.
White America needs an inspiring leader--an ally--to take us away from all this horrible Bush stuff, so Obama falls off on the immigrant side in our popular subconscious, even if the public debate has been hijacked by the word "black." I'll bet a lot of people have already forgotten the recent debate over whether or not Obama is really black or black enough. That fight had to be fought out to get detractors out of the way so that we could talk about Obama as a black candidate without digressions. What no one has noticed is that we're processing him simultaneously at both levels: as a surface black, and a crypto-immigrant.
By accepting Obama as our symbolic representative, even if only for a few months, we are essentially underlining and celebrating our existing core American values: immigration, assimilation, triumph, and pot-won't-melt-in-my-mouth virtue.
And via Racialicious, here's a little sumpin' sumpin' to make you think hard about the intersection between race and gender: a nice, long, fascinating article about transgender people of color.
A Republican operative was jailed for phone harrassment campaigns in which he:
called liberal Democrats and urged them to vote for the Green Party candidate.
... [called] white households asking them to vote for the Democrat, using the voice of, as he puts it, a “ghetto black guy.” He also called union households, using voices with thick Spanish accents.
... jammed the lines — placing hundreds of hang-up calls an hour — to five Democratic offices across the state and a phone bank run by volunteer firefighters.
Add these to the account started by the nasty robocalling Repubs conducted last year, ringing progressive voters over and over with computerized calls that sounded like they came from the Dems. So yeah, it's a win that at least the little guy goes to jail and the dirty tricks are highlighted, even if the shot-callers get off scot-free.
But the whole thing is really depressing, if you step back for a moment, because what it says about liberal and democratic voters is that they:
Lord help us: do we really want a Democrat in office?