Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Are black people that much of a mystery?

Does anyone with access to the mainstream media know any actual black people? I mean really, has Ralph Nader ever really had an actual conversation with a black person? And I mean a black person in real life, not one from a sociology textbook. How inane and clueless is this?

Asked if he thinks Obama is trying to "talk white," Nader said, "of course….The number one thing that a black American politician aspiring to the presidency should be is to candidly describe the plight of the poor, especially in the inner cities and the rural areas, and have a very detailed platform about how the poor is going to be defended by the law, is going to be protected by the law, and is going to be liberated by the law," Nader said. "Haven't heard a thing."

Nader is running against Obama for president and perhaps the nature of political campaigns means you speak in hyperbole. Who knows? But this "talking white" nonsense and the implication that the concerns of any given black person can be boiled down to the plight of the poor is insulting because it means that even for a "progressive" like Nader, I'm not individual. I'm merely a ghetto statistic, or, even worse, a deluded black person talking white. It's exactly this kind of cluelessness, which abounds in the mainstream media, which explains how the pundits have been caught so off-guard by Obama's popularity among black people.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Roe v. Wade

Alison sent me a link to an article in which a doctor described the days before Roe V. Wade. Here's the most salient point from that article:

It is important to remember that Roe v. Wade did not mean that abortions could be performed. They have always been done, dating from ancient Greek days.

What Roe said was that ending a pregnancy could be carried out by medical personnel, in a medically accepted setting, thus conferring on women, finally, the full rights of first-class citizens — and freeing their doctors to treat them as such.

I've talked before in this space about my own abortion and what that has meant for my life (primarily it's meant that I got choose when to welcome into my life the two amazing daughters I have now). So it feels like beating a dead horse to say this again, but here goes: Every child should be a choice and every woman deserves to make that choice, or not. We can force them to make that choice out of fear and desperation, or we can let women make that choice with dignity. Feminism is not a one issue movement, certainly, but my right to self-determination (which is absolutely what choosing if and when to have children is) is certainly at the top of the list, which is something we should remember when we encourage people to vote for John McCain in protest of Hilary Clinton's primary loss.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Dap Heard Around the World--More Reason to Love Michelle Obama

Over in the corner of the blogosphere where I hang out there's a lot of ballyhoo about the Obamas' dap (see the photo below) just before he gave his speech. There's a lot of discussion about whether this gesture is really black (um, yeah) and whether dap is the correct name for that gesture (it is, but for a great list of the various ways the press has tried to describe it, including "‘Hezbollah’ style fist-jabbing," look here).

You know what I loved? That Michelle initiated it. It's a small thing really, but what I saw was a woman who understands herself completely as an equal partner and knows that her husband feels the same way. It was a moment between the two of them, not for all of us. That dap is a gesture of friendship, of comraderie, of recognition. It says so much about that marriage. And what a great thing to be able to turn on the television and see--two real life black people so obviosuly in love with each other.


Full disclosure: I have been the "first black" many things in my life and I'm often (really, almost always) the "only black" person in a room. How much has that mattered? It's hard to say--it mattered when it mattered and it didn't when it didn't. What mattered is that I rarely conceived of my blackness as something as limiting. My being the first black woman to do this or that never felt as barrier-breaking to me as I'm sure it did to women a generation older than me.

And then this primary election season came around and my blackness started to feel like a burden, not because I felt limited or constrained, but because it seemed that no matter what I did or Obama did or any black person did, we were still in a place where one seemingly angry black man (Wright, who, to be sure is justifiably angry and spot on in so many ways about this country) condemned us all. Where a black woman can't acknowledge that this country has given black people very few things to be proud of without a threat of lynching on national television. I fully, intellectually recognize that I've been jerked around and manipulated by a mainstream media eager for ratings. But, still, it was disheartening and upsetting. I am responsible for sheperding safely through the world two beautiful black girls and to think that one day I have to send them off to a world that will treat them no better than it did my mother or grandmother or great-grandmother is deeply deeply upsetting. That's probably an exaggeration, I know, but it really has felt that way these last few months.

But this morning, when my 7 year old sat eagerly in front of the news waiting to hear the results of last night's primaries and was so excited that Obama will be the nominee (something she predicted last June), I was teary-eyed. Because this is historic. This couldn't have happened before this moment. And my kids will grow up in a world forever shaped by this moment. And that has to count for something.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Afrogeekmom Bookshelf

First a brief note on the Sex and the City movie: am I missing some essential girl gene? Because I don't think I could care any less about this movie, despite their pandering efforts at trying to win me over by casting Jennifer Hudson. Moving on...

Oh the joys of summer! To be able to read books completely unrelated to what I teach or research. I feel positively decadent. I'm starting with two books featured on one NPR program or another (I can't really remember where I heard/read about them--I do know that both these books wound up on the electronic post-it on my computer desktop reserved for "books I will read one day when I have some time").

The first book is Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping by Judith Levine. I confess upfront that I only got through half of this book (to May of the year without shopping). Maybe it gets better in the second half. The premise of the book is that the author, during one Christmas shopping season, becomes so dismayed by consumer culture and her own in participation in it, that she and her partner decide to embark on an experiment to buy only the necessities for 12 months. This is an admittedly self-indulgent, lefty experiment borne of privilege. Still, I was intrigued to read about how the author and her partner come to conclusions about what it is a necessity and what isn't. Well, it turns out that the daily New York Times is a necessity, and books for "research" are necessities, and six different kinds of vinegar are necessities (because, of course, you have to spend money on sustenance), and a $10 membership fee for a simplicity support group is a necessity. Along the way Levine trots out various academics talking about the psychology and economics and history of consumer behavior, but all this information seems to have little effect on her own thinking. Again, I only got to May. Maybe in December she has a revelation. In May her only revelation seems to be that buying only the necessities cuts you off from what you desire, which is so patently obvious and untrue at the same time that I just had to stop reading.

Luckily I also had on my nightstand The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade by Ann Fessler. The book covers the tears between WWII and the Roe decision and looks at the experiences of women who were sent to maternity homes to have their children before relinquishing them for adoption. The whole time I was reading I was struck by two things. First, my own mother had me at 16, in 1973, and faced some of the same things the women in this book do. She felt deeply ashamed and that she'd betrayed her family. She wasn't allowed to go to her actual school until she was no longer pregnant. Like so many of the women in the book, she was an excellent student, from a nice family, and completely clueless about sex and pregnancy. She got pregnant the first time she had sex. Unlike the women in the book, though, she got to keep me. And no one ever made me feel as if my existence was a mistake, as I were unwanted. That makes such a difference.

Second, the book was a stark reminder of the importance of real sex education and access to reliable, affordable birth control, including abortion. This cannot be said enough, but the right to choose when and if to have children is the most important right women have and the one that should always be at the forefront of any feminist agenda. I've had a really bad attitude about feminism lately, and this book was nice reminder of why I adopted feminist politics in the first place.