Saturday, May 10, 2008

Obama Nation

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.


Anonymous said...

Uh, wow. Mostly Clinton supporters are making this campaign negative? Perhaps you don't spend enough time talking to my college-age cohort about politics. I've been made to feel consistently marginalized, "not progressive enough," somehow destroying the party, etc., for genuinely preferring Clinton, for being astonished and dismayed by the ridiculous amounts of open misogyny thrown about, for having the temerity to think it's important enough that people need to stand up and disavow it, and ESPECIALLY, for being astonished and dismayed by the degree to which this openly misogynist rhetoric and/or rhetoric that calls up these misogynist frames out of pure, unexamined privilege and ignorance, is coming from so-called "progressives."

Since I apparently always have to put this qualifier in, this does not mean I endorse the stupid and racist things that come from Clinton supporters or stupid and racist things coming from Clinton herself. But honestly. It's all OUR fault. I should just get in line and shut up. Sure. Whatever.

I like your blog, but I'm tired of getting this shit wherever I go.

Poor Charlotte said...

All I'm going to say is that Omar is my favorite character on The Wire, too!

anthony grafton said...

In the words of Will Rogers, "I don't belong to an organized political party. I'm a Democrat." They're both pretty good, it seems to me--they're smart; they know a lot about policy; and they're not undead or Daleks, which distinguishes them from the party in office.

Both of them have done and said things I wish they hadn't. That's politics: you fight your election with the candidates you have. Though I prefer Obama, by a clear margin, I'd be happy to vote for either of them. Eventually I will vote for one of them, probably Obama. If Clinton's the VP candidate, all the better.

Debrah said...

Barack Obama is far too smart to be coaxed into putting Hillary Clinton on his ticket.

He'd not only lose the Diva's vote the second time around, but he'd lose many other votes in the general.

Put that discussion to bed.

Anonymous said...

I'm happy for you, sweetie.

It is so much easier to just go with the flow in academia. You cannot understand what it is like to find everyone around you praising Obama and vilifying Clinton, to the point that your longtime colleagues and friends are impossible to be around.

Anonymous said...

Do you really think skin color, sexual orientation or favorite fictional characters form any basis for selecting the individual to hold the office of President of the United States. I hope you're just joshing.

Anonymous said...

I have had any number of female students, including graduate students, come to me and quietly announce they support Hillary Clinton. I'm less quiet about it. I prefer her to Obama. And, I'm allowed to. And, guess what, I thought Omar was a great character, but taste in tv characters is hardly a way to choose presidential candidates...unless you're TR, I guess.