Archive for August, 2008
The Denver Post’s Kim Mitchell did a brief but interesting story on a march by 800 people at the Democratic National Convention last week, one that got very little other media attention. These marchers were raising very important questions about the U.S. treatment of immigrants and the failure of the Obama campaign to raise the issue from an aggressively humanitarian and human rights perspective. Mitchell reports that their press statement said (h/t: Commondreams)
“This is Germany in the 1930s all over again! . . . The past seven years of the Bush regime have seen a dramatic escalation of attacks on immigrants on many fronts.”
Yet the marchers were also critical of the Barack Obama campaign:
“Obama has made no call to reverse this whole ugly program,” the statement says. “Stop the attacks on Immigrants! Stop the ICE raids! Stop the Criminal Bush Program!”
Interviews with protesters were revealing:
“We want to build bridges and not walls between our countries,” march organizer Rudy Gonzales said. “We want pathways to citizenship. We want to decriminalize immigration.” . . . Felipe Perez . . . said he is a first-generation citizen who lays tile for work, and that several members of his family were deported, including his aunt who was pregnant…. “We didn’t know what happened to her. Something has to be done to open our borders. I still have family members who come here to make a better life,” he said.
People came from around the country to protest U.S. immigration policies:
The Rev. Ron Stief, of Washington, D.C., helped organize . . . . “There is no issue more important than how we care for immigrants,” he said. “The way that families cannot be united is a problem as well as the way people have been criminalized and end up in jail.”
Even our more liberal political candidates do not seem to be able to do an honest assessment of immigration, for fear of losing voters. The humanitarian crisis here is huge and well-documented, yet nativism seems to still be lurking over every US politician’s shoulder. Does one still have to be nativistic to win state-wide or national political office these days, as has been the case for more than a century in this country?
Jim Brunner, at the Seattle Times, has a story about a top Snohomish County, Washington, Republican Party official apologizing for their group selling at the Evergreen State Fair “$3 bills” that showed Senator Obama in the center in Arab dress and showing a camel. The official blamed a volunteer and said she had the bills removed when she heard about them.
Brunner reports that the $3 bills are sold nationally by an arch-conservative website (which has other racist and vicious attack paraphernalia). The website
feature signatures from “Teddy Kennedy” as chief socialism adviser and Al Sharpton as new spiritual adviser. Obama’s face, in the traditional Arab headgear, is pictured above the words “Da man.”
White racist thinkers and activists love to mock the speech of Americans of color, especially African Americans and Latinos. (Odd too that they clearly cannot hear their own accents since everyone speaks with an accent.) A Democratic Party supporter complained at the Republican booth, but was given a hard time:
The bills offended some passers-by at the fair, including Ronnie Thibault, a Monroe woman who said Republicans at the booth threatened to call security on her after she complained. . . . Susan Ronken, a volunteer at the nearby Democratic Party booth at the fair, also saw the bills, which were present at the booth for at least two days this week. “It was an absolute hate crime,” said Ronken.
Yes, these politicized hate crimes are already spreading like toxic mushrooms across the country. The Republican official was quoted as saying that
hopes the presidential campaign will avoid illegitimate personal attacks — such as insinuations about Obama’s religion or McCain’s age.
Yes, she balances the Muslim attack to an age critique of McCain, but without assessing the point about the former being the kind of hate crime that is often associated with racist violence against Americans of color. The explosion of politicized racist attacks in the next two months, I predict, will be extensive and huge. One can already find many racist political attack sites on the web targeting Obama, several with the N-word as part of their url.
In my view the only way to meet these attacks is openly and assertively, especially by people with influence and power. It is time for our media and our politicians to take these and the many other hate crimes in the US very seriously–as well as the deep white racial frame that makes them possible–and to discuss, counter, and act openly against these political hate crimes. They cannot be swept under the rug without making them much worse.
Last night at the Democratic Convention, Barack Obama was officially selected as the nominee by acclamation of the party’s delegates (photo from the Demconvention Flickrstream).
Tonight, Obama will give his speech to the party and the nation on the forty-fifth anniversary of Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech in Washington. Georgia Rep. John Lewis, a veteran of the civil rights movement who stood with King that day, characterizes the nomination of Obama as a continuation of a long struggle that may lift us all as a nation. Obama is the first African American to achieve the nomination for president in the more than 400 years the U.S. has been a nation. These are remarkable times. But, what is the sociological significance of Barack Obama’s candidacy?
Recently, a group of sociologists discussed the social significance of Barack Obama’s candidacy. At an online roundtable hosted by the ASA’s magazine Contexts our own Joe Feagin joined Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Josh Pacewicz, Enid Logan, Jeff Manza, and Gianpaolo Baiocchi. The editors at Contexts solicited short statements from these six sociologists on the significance of Obama’s candidacy and potential Presidency, then published them online & then held a group discussion about the statements in the comments. You can read the entire discussion here.
At last night’s DNC, Hilary delivered the speech of her career calling for Democratic party unity, galvanizing the delegates (photo from the DNC Flickrstream). Todd Beeton, live blogging the speech for MyDD, wrote:
Holy crap. When she spoke of Harriet Tubman’s advice: “Keep going!” that was the moment of the night. It resonated on so many levels. It defines America. It defines how Hillary ran her race.
The people commenting on Beeton’s blog, and pretty much everyone else, including Spike Lee, is cheering Hilary for her speech, so I’m prepared to stand our here alone in my criticism of her. I’ll grant that it was a finely crafted political speech, delivered well. My issue is with that ending.
Hilary does not have a great record on issues of race and racism in this campaign, as I’ve written about here before. When Hilary started in on the part of the speech about Seneca Falls, I expected her to mention race along with gender. Yet, she ignored the issue even though that early convention on the rights of women was forged out of the anti-slavery movement. Instead, what she (or her speechwriters) did was use the rhetorical flourish of Harriet Tubman to close the speech. Here’s what she said:
And on that path to freedom, Harriett Tubman had one piece of advice.
If you hear the dogs, keep going.
If you see the torches in the woods, keep going.
If they’re shouting after you, keep going.
Don’t ever stop. Keep going.
If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.
Even in the darkest of moments, ordinary Americans have found the faith to keep going.
Clearly, this language resonated for huge numbers of people. To my ears, though, seeing and hearing Hilary invoke the legacy and the words of Harriet Tubman to describe this political campaign elides the importance of race. It also seems like the classic white-person move to look backward in time and identify with the oppressed, when in point of fact Tubman was leading people out of slavery and away from the danger of white people. Now, I get that Hilary was trying to do the “party unity” thing and she did. I’m just saying, it makes me cringe a little when the white feminists (especially this one) start invoking Harriet Tubman to describe their own struggle.
My other favorite thing about Hillary’s speech is that she wrapped herself up in Seneca Falls, and my God Harriet Tubman, even Harriet Tubman, and yet somehow she never once referred to Roe vs. Wade. She never once mentioned choice. She never once said the truth, which is that any Hillary supporter who doesn’t understand that this issue alone is the reason to vote for Obama has no business pretending to be a Democrat.
And, there are some powerful racial politics around reproductive health in this country, but of course, Hilary didn’t go there either.
Last night, Michelle Obama took the stage at the Democratic National Convention. She was the keynote speaker of the night, charged with personalizing Barack Obama and, more implicitly, with showing a different side of herself. Michelle Obama has been very negatively reviewed by the press and by Republicans, often described as unpatriotic for her statements about her perceived lack of pride in her country (photo by Jackson Solway, from the DNC via Flickr). Hence, at the convention, her speech had two goals: to make Barack Obama relatable and to define his history as a typical American story, and to “soften” her image and to showcase herself as someone who most Americans could envision as First Lady.
Michelle’s speech touched on all the requisite themes. She explained why she loves America, discussed Barack Obama’s commitment to everyday Americans, his middle-American roots and upbringing, and love for his family. For me, however, what she said in her speech was much less important than having the opportunity to watch her say it.
For many African Americans, there has been a long sense of being shut out from most levels of the U.S.’s social, economic, and especially political systems. Many of us are all too aware of the ways African Americans are taken for granted and/or ignored in national elections, and the ways that Black Americans are often invisible at the uppermost levels of the political spectrum. We see how infrequently loving, caring, happy relationships between Black men and women are depicted, and we notice the scant coverage that polished, smart, passionate Black women receive in the mainstream media. So to see Michelle Obama speaking about her husband with love and pride, to hear him tell her after her speech that she looked “very cute,” and to see their adorable children conclude with “we love you, Daddy!” was an incredible moment for me and many other African Americans who are acutely aware of how infrequently these types of images are shown.
We’ve talked a lot on this blog about the challenges facing Barack Obama, the covert and overt racism inhibiting his historic campaign, and the ways intersections of race and gender have shaped the ways Michelle Obama is depicted as an “angry black woman.” It’s pretty clear that Barack Obama still has an enormous task ahead of him in overcoming white racism. It is unfortunate that Michelle Obama must work so hard to combat gendered racist stereotypes that demean and belittle her. But as an African American woman, it was such a profoundly moving moment to see someone who looked like me included, rather than excluded. Whatever else happens in this election, Barack Obama’s candidacy has been a welcome departure from the implicit “whites-only” norms of presidential politics, and has given a glimpse of America’s opportunity to finally start cashing that check that keeps coming back marked “insufficient funds.”
I have admired and appreciated Barack and Michelle Obama as a couple since he completed his 2004 keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, went backstage, and grabbed his wife in a huge bear hug. In the Obamas, I see my husband and I, our friends, and our family members. In many ways, we’re similar to the Obamas– typical, everyday, working professionals, but we are painfully aware that Black Americans like us are rarely the subject of media attention, much less present in a central, defining role in American politics. Watching Michelle Obama speak eloquently and candidly about her love for her husband, her family, and the familiar particulars of her life story, I (and many other Black Americans) experienced a welcome departure from the typical feelings of exclusion and marginalization induced by national politics. Like her, for the first time in my life, I felt not only proud, but represented and included in a way I’ve never felt before.
Over at Slate, Jacob Weisberg, raises some important points about the racial implications of Senator Obama’s campaign, especially why he might lose and what the impact might be. The latter question is one rarely discussed in the mass media so far.
Weisberg reiterates a point we have made with social science data on whites’ racist thinking on this site before:
To some white voters (14 percent in the CBS/New York Times poll), Obama is someone who, as president, would favor blacks over whites. Or he is an “elitist” who cannot understand ordinary (read: white) people because he isn’t one of them.
Then he discusses overt white-racist stuff that gets very little critical attention in the media or from politicians:
In May, Pat Buchanan, who writes books about the European-Americans losing control of their country, ranted on MSNBC in defense of white West Virginians voting on the basis of racial solidarity. The No. 1 best-seller in America, Obama Nation by Jerome R. Corsi, Ph.D., leeringly notes that Obama’s white mother always preferred that her “mate” be “a man of color.” John McCain has yet to get around to denouncing this vile book.
Why don’t these pundits get the critical attention they deserve. Clearly, the media’s own racism seems to handicap them in an honest and critical examination of the racist ideas of such pundits.
In my view, in this country now we need to end this sweeping racism under the rug. We need a huge and candid public discussion of white racism, its great and continuing toxic reality, and of our need for anti-racist action on a large scale. And we need that large scale organizing for that anti-racist action now if we are to see a Black man as president.
Weisberg closes with some rather insightful discussion of the positive effects of an Obama victory, but then asks out loud about the impacts of his losing:
If Obama loses, our children will grow up thinking of equal opportunity as a myth. His defeat would say that when handed a perfect opportunity to put the worst part of our history behind us, we chose not to. In this event, the world’s judgment will be severe and inescapable: The United States had its day but, in the end, couldn’t put its own self-interest ahead of its crazy irrationality over race.
I am inclined to agree with all but the “crazy irrationality” part. Systemic racism is about material inequality, white power and privilege, and a strong white racial framing to protect white interests, now over nearly four centuries, and not about some wild-racist irrationality.
What do you think of Weisberg’s comments?
This is a short (3:40) and powerful interview with Irwin Tang, author of “Gook: John McCain’s Racism and Why It Matters”:
In this clip, Tang explains that “gook” is always a term of war and violence, first used against Haitians. The times he says that he has been called this epithet are the times when he is being physically threatened by people. Why is this man seen as a viable candidate for president?
Well, it appears that most any U.S. problem is worse than racism. (H/T: ColorLines) I have heard many discussions of whether sexism or classism is worse that racism, but this seems to set a new low standard for inanity in such comparisons. At the Denver Post, Kirk Mitchell reports this story, “Abortion foes using racism to make point at DNC,” which is about planned protests at the Denver Democratic party convention next week:
Operation Rescue leaders vowed today to pass out hundreds of thousands of racist pamphlets and to stage sit-ins. . . . Handing out the pamphlets is the group’s way of spotlighting a greater evil than racism, [Randall] Terry said. “The flier is meant of offend. Do you think racism is abhorrent?” Terry asked at a news conference. . . . He said child killing is much worse. Anyone who votes for Sen. Barack Obama supports the killing of babies…. “Which is a worse crime: slavery or murder? The correct answer: murder. A slave can get free, but a murder victim cannot get ‘undead.’ “
What do you make of this kind of political and moral logic? Please add your comments below to this open thread.
Audre Lorde wrote that “… what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood. That the speaking profits me, beyond any other effect” (excerpted here). Audre left us in 1992, but her legacy continues. Today, there’s a network of women of color (WOC) bloggers that are bringing the tradition of Audre Lorde to the digital age. Despite the disabling rhetorics about the digital divide, and the near fetishism of the white-male-mainstream-blogger, these radical women of color speak truth to power. And, since the New York Times is highlighting the work of one WOC blogger at the Democratic Convention (hat tip Pam via Twitter), I thought it would be a good time to highlight just a few of these brave women here:
Lots of these blogs are covering mainstream politics, such as the presidential election, yet these voices are rarely the ones that mainstream news outlets read and draw on for commentary. Let’s hope that’s changing. Perhaps these blogs can offer a different angle of vision in the social and political landscape, while providing a mechanism for speaking truth to power.