Some of the most insightful discussions of race and gender in this year's endless contest for the Democratic nomination are in the May 19 edition of The Nation, which arrived at my house some time last week (why do magazines arrive long before the date on the cover? And how will future historians actually know when we knew the things in them, if the dates are wrong?) It is an excellent read, particularly if you would describe yourself as one of the following:
1. Someone who has already voted for Barack Obama, but without the enthusiasm that is seen on TV;
2. Someone who can't get a grip on all of the racial discourses colliding around this candidacy;
3. Someone who is firmly convinced that Hillary Clinton is the better candidate, but will slap herself around on election day and vote for Obama if s/he has to;
4. Someone who can't get a grip on what all the second wave feminists are up to, and why they are persuaded that the misogynistic atacks on Clinton (not, by the way, by Obama himself) justify voting for her, when in fact, she is not running on any women's issues, has publicly stated that she believes life begins at conception, and seems to think that war is, in fact, the answer.
I'm sure there are more categories, but these are the ones I have occupied. I was initially a category 3, but drifted into category 1 shortly before the primary in Shoreline; and I have always been a category 2 and an increasingly annoyed 4. Part of why I signed the Historians for Obama statement was to banish even the remotest possibility of not supporting the candidate I knew, in the end, I must support. An unexpected outcome of this has been to focus my attention on Obama himself, as opposed to the "process" -- which has become, largely because of the Clinton campaign and its supporters, mean-spirited and destructive.
Patricia Williams' regular column, "Diary of A Mad Law Professor" asks how we will "overcome the sad hypocrisy of our public discourse" about race that has emerged around the Obama candidacy in Let Them Eat Waffles. (Sorry: Nation non-subscribers will only get the first couple paragraphs.) And in "Race to the Bottom," Betsy Reed calls out second wave feminists like Robin Morgan and Gloria Steinem for persisting in the decades-old nonsense that sexism somehow trumps racism as a marker of national dysfunction. This, of course, was a falsehood that was sutured to the women's movement by so-called "politicos" in the early 1970's, who believed that women would be the vanguard of social revolution in the United States. This was because they believed in the utopian idea that the category "woman" was so broadly diverse by race, class, region and ethnicity. There were two problems with this, the first being the flaws of vanguardist politics, and the other being despite the women of color who did rise to influence and power in the movement, white women like Steinem, Morgan, and Friedan continued to generalize their own condition in ways that occluded poor and woman of color critiques. As the Combahee River Collective pointed out in 1979, unaddressed racism in the feminist establishment was an ongoing part of black women's struggle. And guess who those people were? Morgan, Steinem......
But the most outstanding piece in the issue is Ta-Nehisi Coates' review of Shelby Steele's new book, A Deeper Black, in which he takes the opportunity to explain in lucid, brilliant prose what it is that the mass public is just not getting about "the blackness of Barack Obama." As he writes:
It is an identity that asserts itself without conscious thought. It has no need of marches and placards. It rejects an opportunistic ignorance of racism but understands that esoteric ramblings about white skin privilege do not move the discussion further....Obama's blackness is like any other secure marker of identity, subtle and irreducible to a list of demands.
Coates also informs us that Obama's favorite character on The Wire was Omar, "the coal black anti-hero who prowls the streets of West Baltimore toting a shotgun and robbing drug dealers." Yes! I am finally won over! Omar is my favorite character too! And by the way -- he is also unapolegetically gay. I wonder why Coates didn't mention that?
Oh never mind. I have learned to love Barack Obama at last.
I am Claire B. Potter, Professor of History and American Studies at Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT. My blogging ethic is neither to name or to accurately describe individuals unless I am writing about a public event, or commenting on information already published about that person in a reputable source. Unless I note otherwise, situations, pseudonymous people and professional dilemmas described here are fictional. Uncivil or mean-spirited comments toward me or anyone else will be deleted, as will advertisements for products or services disguising themselves as comments. The Radical can also be found at her Zenith faculty page and at Cliopatria; scholarly and public writing can also be found here. The banner photo was taken from this page.
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