Thursday, January 24, 2008

This Is How a Party Splits

What we have at this moment in the 21st century is a generation of black people born into a post-Civil Rights America, provided opportunities unimaginable to their parents, and rewarded with a world that, for many of us, is far more integrated than many could have hoped for. We have learned that a world defined completely by race (or gender or sexuality or religion) is an incredibly small world and have demanded, and continue to demand, that all aspects of our identities and lives be taken seriously. We can't be counted on to play the American race game as it's always been played. We can't be counted on to choose blackness over our gender or sexuality or class or religion.

But that doesn't mean blackness doesn't matter. That race doesn't still have a profound effect on our day to day to existence. That you can call me a nigger and get away with it.

And it doesn't mean that I have to pretend to be colorblind for your convenience.

Mickey Kaus over at Slate offered this advice to Obama, a strategy he can use to get out of the political ghetto he now finds himself in (read: how he can keep his white supporters despite his growing support among black voters):

The more obvious move is to find a Sister Souljah--after Saturday--to stiff arm. The most promising candidate is not a person, but an idea: race-based affirmative action. Obama has already made noises about shifting to a class-based, race-blind system of preferences. What if he made that explicit? Wouldn't that shock hostile white voters into taking a second look at his candidacy? He'd renew his image as trans-race leader (and healer). The howls of criticism from the conventional civil-rights establishment--they'd flood the cable shows--would provide him with an army of Souljahs to hold off. If anyone noticed Hillary in the ensuing fuss, it would be to put her on the spot--she'd be the one defending mend-it-don't-end-it civil rights orthodoxy.

So the only way Obama can win, the only way white voters will support him, is if he goes out of his way to show that he's willing to be unpopular with black people? Because black people liking you too much makes you suspect?

rikyrah at jackandjillpolitics in a post about "progressive" bloggers and the South Carolina primary had this to say:

So, let me get this straight - Hillary Clinton wins White women in New Hampshire, and it's this great victory, but if Barack Obama wins South Carolina, after ten months of campaigning, because of sizeable Black support, it doesn't REALLY count? What is this - are we back to being Three-Fifths once again? The Black vote doesn't count as much as the White vote? I'm going to say this as obviously as I can:


You simply don't. There is this underlying condescension that has been creeping into the "Progressive" blogs that, ' oh, well , THEY - meaning Blacks- have nowhere else to go. So, the Clintons and their proxies, who are actually race-baiting, but we'll say that they aren't, and tell those Blacks who are informing us as to what they see that it's in their IMAGINATION - well, they'll shut up, go SIT IN THEIR PLACE and turn up in November like they're SUPPOSED TO.' That's not a bet you want to take.

James Brown said it:
We'd rather die on our feet
Than be livin' on our knees

I am part of the Hip-Hop generation, and those of us who are Post Civil-Rights have learned our lessons well. We learned to hear the Dogwhistle of Racial Politics; our parents taught us that for SURVIVAL, but what they afforded us that they didn't have, was the option of getting off of our knees.

I hope this primary season goes down in American political and racial history as the season black people finally gets up off our knees.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Hilary vs. Barack: What's a Black Woman To Do?

Remember when this blog was about comic books and kids and random musings on life?

It's interesting being a black woman living in South Carolina these days. All eyes are on us, as if the press and politicians have just realized that we do in fact vote, and, more importantly, that we can't be counted on to vote with our black brothers or white sisters.

Of course this is all being played out most dramatically in the Democratic primary race between Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton. Neither the Iowa caucuses nor the New Hampshire primary contained a significant number of black voters, and each candidate's win is being contributed to women voters choosing one over the other. With black women making up the majority of registered black voters in South Carolina, we are suddenly historically important.

Now you would think that would translate into at least a little respect for the political power we wield (if only at this moment), but instead we're being told that we're naïve, politically regressive, or easily swayed by a good-looking face. We're being told that the civil rights establishment "doesn't know" Obama and that fact doesn't matter anyway because it was actually LBJ that made civil rights reform happen. The implication is clear--vote for Clinton (and not this shucking and jiving outsider) or forever be branded as the backward thinking cabal that brought down the Democratic party.

Alison over at Baxter Sez says she feels as if she's being asked to choose a team in this election. I feel the same way, only I feel as if I'm only being given one choice--Hilary Clinton. No one, besides the man himself, is asking me to vote for Obama. Voting for Clinton will somehow prove my rightness as a Democrat and a woman and a feminist, whereas voting for Obama, apparently, will prove only that I'm hanging on too tightly to the irrelevant category of race.

Like Alison, the last two weeks have been difficult for me because I feel torn. Like Mark Anthony Neal, I absolutely understand the importance of being black and claiming feminism as my own. It's a particularly public and political statement that demands feminism take the concerns of women of color seriously and a reminder to black people that we have our own gender work to do. But these days I'm agreeing with Aaminah Hernandez and remembering why we need a black feminist womanist movement and why it will be a while before I can be anything other than a reluctant feminist.

If Steinem's, and others', argument about voting for Hilary had been about feminism, about how a Clinton presidency would be good for the progressive feminist politics we presumably all share, that would be one thing. That's an argument I'd be willing to entertain. But of course this isn't what's happening. I'm being asked to vote for Hilary Clinton because she has a vagina and because she's white and if you doubt the "white makes right" tone of the post-Iowa push for Clinton, check out the race-baiting that her campaign has resorted to in order to drum up votes.

Is Obama the right person to be the next president of the United States? Maybe. Maybe not. But if Hilary's going to get my vote, she's going to have to do a lot more than show up with vagina and talk with a "black" accent. And I suspect a lot of other black women in South Carolina feel the same way.

Monday, January 07, 2008

More on Obama--Is it Bad to Feel Good?

Over at Diary of an Anxious Black Woman (a blog you should all check out), the author expresses some reservations about the Obama bandwagon the country seems poised to jump on. Her arguments are better read than summarized here, so I'll wait while you go read.

Her argument about the dems shooting themselves in the foot doesn't wash with me because first--the same can be said of nominating Clinton (that the nomination is setting the dems up for a loss because she's a woman and so many people don't like her); and second--obama isn't the establishment democrat choice. If he manages to get the nomination, it will be despite the wishes of the establishment, certainly despite the wishes of the civil rights establishment

A lot of people are skeptical about Obama's feel-good vibe and I get that. But couldn't we spin this another way? Couldn't it be that, maybe, after 8 years of an administration terrifying us into believing that we could do nothing but accept the fascist-like rule of presidential privilege, people are once again being reminded that it is possible to change the government because it's our government? The status quo is only the staus quo because we let it be? Obama hopes for change, sure, but he also advocates for action. As he told voters in Iowa--you can't just hope he wins the election, you have to show and vote to ensure that he does. And that--that ability to get people to show up, people who have been disenchanted and disillusioned with the whole process, to get those people excited about the process, to have hope in our collective future, *and* to get them to show up to work for that future is an impressive skill not to be taken lightly.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Spinning Obama's Victory

David Brooks had this to say in his op-ed about the Iowa Caucuses:

Iowa won’t settle the race, but the rest of the primary season is going to be colored by the glow of this result. Whatever their political affiliations, Americans are going to feel good about the Obama victory, which is a story of youth, possibility and unity through diversity — the primordial themes of the American experience.

And Americans are not going to want to see this stopped. When an African-American man is leading a juggernaut to the White House, do you want to be the one to stand up and say No?

Several NPR commentators suggested Iowa voters don't like to be told what to do (and this is why they picked Obama over Clinton) and a USA Today editorial maintained that the Iowa caucuses are not actually a good predictor of anything at all (despite the public being told otherwise for the last 12 months). Something smells fishy here. What these people seem to be doing is constructing a narrative that can be put in place in the event Obama becomes president--his election won't be about all kinds of Americans' desire for hope and change (as Obama says) but rather Americans' unwillingness to appear racist by not voting for him. It's just an upgrade of the anti-affirmative action argument--it's not that the black man was actually qualified for the job or better at the job than a white woman. It must be that the black man got the job because someone wanted to prove he wasn't racist.

I don't know what America David Brooks is living in, but in the America I live in, people are not all shy about being racist, and certainly aren't willing to elect a black man (no matter how charming and not-angry he might be) out of nostalgia for the American dream.