where the writers are
Good, and Now Back to Work: Avoiding Cynicism and Overconfidence in the Age of Obama

Tonight, after Barack Obama was confirmed as the nation's president-elect, I looked in on my children, as they lay sleeping. Though they are about as politically astute as kids can be, having reached only the ages of 7 and 5, there is no way they will be able to truly appreciate what has just happened in the land they call home. They do not possess the sense of history, or indeed, even a clear understanding of what history means, so as to adequately process what happened this evening, as they slumbered. Even as our oldest cast her first grade vote for Obama in school today, and even as our youngest has become somewhat notorious for pointing to pictures of Sarah Palin on magazines and saying, "There's that crazy lady who hates polar bears," they remain, still, naive as to the nation they have inherited. They do not really understand the tortured history of this place, especially as regards race. Oh they know more than most--to live as my children makes it hard not to--but still, the magnitude of this occasion will likely not catch up to them until Barack Obama is finishing at least his first, if not his second term as president.

But that's OK. Because I know what it means, and will make sure to tell them.

And before detailing what I perceive that meaning to be (both its expansiveness and limitations) let me say this, to some of those on the left--some of my friends and longtime compatriots in the struggle for social justice--who yet insist that there is no difference between Obama and McCain, between Democrats and Republicans, between Biden and Palin: Screw you. 

If you are incapable of mustering pride in this moment, and if you cannot appreciate how meaningful this day is for millions of black folks who stood in lines for up to seven hours to vote, then your cynicism has become such an encumbrance as to render you all but useless to the liberation movement. Indeed, those who cannot appreciate what has just transpired are so eaten up with nihilistic rage and hopelessness that I cannot but think that they are a waste of carbon, and actively thieving oxygen that could be put to better use by others.

This election does indeed matter. No, it is not the same as victory against the forces of injustice, and yes, Obama is a heavily compromised candidate, and yes, we will have to work hard to hold him accountable. But it matters nonetheless that he, and not the bloodthirsty bomber McCain, or the Christo-fascist, Palin, managed to emerge victorious. 

Those who say it doesn't matter weren't with me on the south side of Chicago this past week, surrounded by a collection of amazing community organizers who go out and do the hard work every day of trying to help create a way out of no way for the marginalized. All of them know that an election is but a part of the solution, a tactic really, in a larger struggle of which they are a daily part; and none of them are so naive as to think that their jobs are now to become a cakewalk because of the election of Barack Obama. But all of them were looking forward to this moment. They haven't the luxury of believing in the quixotic campaigns of Dennis Kucinich, or waiting around for the Green Party to get its act together and become something other than a pathetic caricature, symbolized by the utterly irrelevant and increasingly narcissistic presence of Ralph Nader on the electoral scene. And while Cynthia McKinney remains a pivotal figure in the struggle, the party to which she was tethered this year shows no more ability to sustain movement activity than it was eight years ago, and most everyone working in oppressed communities in this nation knows it.

It's like this y'all: Jesse Jackson was weeping openly on national television. This is a man who was with Dr. King when he was murdered and he was bawling like a baby. So don't tell me this doesn't matter.

John Lewis--who had his head cracked open, has been arrested more times, and has probably spilled far more blood for the cause of justice than all the white, dreadlocked, self-proclaimed anarchists in this country combined--couldn't be more thrilled at what has happened. If he can see it, then frankly, who the hell are we not to?

Those who say this election means nothing, who insist that Obama, because he cozied up to Wall Street, or big business, is just another kind of evil no different than any other, are in serious risk of political self-immolation, and it is a burning they will richly deserve. That the victorious presidential candidate is actually a capitalist (contrary to the fevered imaginations of the right) is no more newsworthy than the fact that rain falls down and grass grows skyward. It is to be properly placed in the "no shit Sherlock," file. That anyone would think it possible for someone who didn't raise hundreds of millions of dollars to win--at this time in our history at least--only suggests that some on the left would prefer to engage politics from a place of aspirational innocence, rather than in the real world, where battles are won or lost. 

So let us be clear as to what tonight meant:

It was a defeat for the right-wing echo chamber and its rhetorical stormtroopers, foremost among them Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck.

It was a defeat for the crazed mobs ever-present at McCain/Palin rallies, what with their venomous libels against Obama, their hate-addled brains spewing forth one after another racist and religiously chauvinistic calumny upon his head and those of his supporters.

It was a defeat for the internet rumor-pimps who insisted to all they could reach with a functioning e-mail address that Obama was not really a citizen. Or perhaps he was, but he was a Muslim, or perhaps not a Muslim, but probably a black supremacist, or maybe not that either, but surely the anti-christ, and most definitely a baby-killer.

It was a defeat for those who believed McCain and Palin would be delivered the victory by the hand of almighty God, because their theological and eschatological vacuity so regularly gets in the way of their ability to think. As such, it was a setback for the religious fascists in the far-right Christian community whose belief that God is on their side has always made them especially dangerous. Now, having lost, perhaps at least some of these will be forced to ponder what went wrong. If we're lucky, perhaps some will suffer the kind of crisis of faith that often prefaces a complete nervous breakdown. Either way, it's nice just to ruin their Young-Earth-Creationist-I-Have-an-Angel-on-My-Shoulder day.

It was a defeat for the demagogues who tried in so many ways to push the buttons of white racism--the old-fashioned kind, or what I call Racism 1.0--by using thinly-veiled racialized language throughout the campaign. Appeals to Joe Six-Pack, "values voters," blue-collar voters, or hockey moms, though never explicitly racialized, were transparent to all but the most obtuse, as were terms like "terrorist" when used to describe Obama. Likewise, the attempt to race-bait the economic crisis by blaming it on loans to poor folks of color through the Community Reinvestment Act, or community activists like the folks at ACORN, failed, and this matters. No, it doesn't mean that white America has rejected racism. Indeed, I have been quite deliberate for months about pointing out the way that racism 1.0 may be traded in only to be replaced by racism 2.0 (which allows whites to still view most folks of color negatively but carve out exceptions for those few who make us feel comfortable and who we see as "different"). And yet, that tonight was a drubbing for that 1.0 version of racism still matters. 

And tonight was a victory for a few things too. 

It was a victory for youth, and their social and political sensibilities. It was the young, casting away the politics of their parents and even grandparents, and turning the corner to a new day, perhaps naively, and too optimistic about the road from here, but nonetheless in a way that has historically almost always been good for the country. Much as youth were inspired by a relatively moderate John F. Kennedy (who was, on balance, far less progressive than Obama in many ways), and much as they then formed the frontline troops for so much of the social justice activism of the following fifteen years, so too can such a thing be forseen now. That Kennedy may have been quite restrained in his social justice sensibilities did not matter: the young people whose energy he helped unleash took things in their own direction and outgrew him rather quickly in their progression to the left. 

Tonight was also a victory for the possibility of greater cross-racial alliance building. Although Obama failed to win most white votes, and although it is no doubt true that many of the whites who did vote for him nonetheless hold to any number of negative and racist stereotypes about the larger black and brown communities of this nation, it it still the case that black, brown and white worked together in this effort as they have rarely done before. And many whites who worked for Obama, precisely because they got to see, and hear, and feel the racist vitriol still animating far too many of our nation's people, will now be wiser for the experience when it comes to understanding how much more work remains to be done on the racial justice front. Let us build on that newfound knowledge, and that newfound energy, and create real white allyship with community-based leaders of color as we move forward in the years to come. 

But now for the other side of things.

First and foremost, please know that none of these victories will amount to much unless we do that which needs to be done so as to turn a singular event about one man, into a true social movement (which, despite what some claim, it is not yet and has never been). 

And so it is back to work. Oh yes, we can savor the moment for a while, for a few days, perhaps a week. But well before inauguration day we will need to be back on the job, in the community, in the streets, where democracy is made, demanding equity and justice in places where it hasn't been seen in decades, if ever. Because for all the talk of hope and change, there is nothing--absolutely, positively nothing--about real change that is inevitable. And hope, absent real pressure and forward motion to actualize one's dreams, is sterile and even dangerous. Hope, absent commitment is the enemy of change, capable of translating to a giving away of one's agency, to a relinquishing of the need to do more than just show up every few years and push a button or pull a lever.

This means hooking up now with the grass roots organizations in the communities where we live, prioritizing their struggles, joining and serving with their constituents, following leaders grounded in the community who are accountable not to Barack Obama, but the people who helped elect him. Let Obama follow, while the people lead, in other words.

For we who are white it means going back into our white spaces and challenging our brothers and sisters, parents, neighbors, colleagues and friends--and ourselves--on the racial biases that still too often permeate their and our lives, and making sure they know that the success of one man of color does not equate to the eradication of systemic racial inequity.

So are we ready for the heavy lifting? This was, after all, merely the warmup exercise, somewhat akin to stretching before a really long run. Or perhaps it was the first lap, but either way, now the baton has been handed to you, to us. We must not, cannot, afford to drop it. There is too much at stake.

The worst thing that could happen now would be for us to go back to sleep; to allow the cool poise of Obama's prose to lull us into slumber like the cool on the underside of the pillow. For in the light of day, when fully awake, it becomes impossible not to see the incompleteness of the task so far. 

So let us begin.    

Comments
36 Comment count
Comment Bubble Tip

Thanks for the reminder.

And I am definitely not one who doesn't see this as a change for the better.  The words of Obama's acceptance speech were moving, but the real message was in the faces in the crowd as the cameras swept over them.  People are starting to believe that things can be better, and that change will happen, and I believe, personally, that for all the talk of being "compromised" - President Elect Obabama had the spark in his eyes too, and people may well find themselves surprised at how he gets caught up in the wave he's set in motion.

But none of that is why I wanted to comment.  I was going to leave it to the hundreds of others who will bat your words around and agree and disagree over the next few days.  I just wanted to thank you for the smile I will not be able to lose today as I think about "That crazy lady who hates polar bears," because, well, it's so accurate.  She was / is crazy, and I hope the election brought that message home to Alaska as well...

In my neck of the woods we ushered out Elizabeth Dole, and up North slightly, Thelma Drake - more hate mongers. One message hammered home last night was that negative ads aren't winning the war any longer.

It's a very good day.

DNW

Comment Bubble Tip

I Wish I Could Be Happy...

I truly do, but I can't help but get a sickening feeling at the pit of my stomache. I love the fact that Obama won and seeing Jesse cry was so symbolic and sent chills running down my spine, bu what has gotten me sincerely worried is what comes afterwards. Just my observation, but I think that the majority of minorities were voting for Obama as a "whole". They were voting for the black man that they agreed with and thought was the best canidate, I say this because of their pride in calling him the first black president and the tears in their eyes. For many whites, I think that they voted for the best canidate despite the fact that he was black as in, they no longer viewed him as a black man any more. There's a difference.  As you have said before, Obama has become racially neutral...a Denzel, a Bill Cosby, so while his accomplishment is wonderful and while I do think that it says a lot about the people who voted for him, I think it says MORE about who Obama is and what tactics he used to get to the point where he is now. Not to discredit his accomplishment, but if Obama wasn't willing to denounce Rev. Wright, and wasn't reluctant to point out racism that he has faced throughout this campaign, and did not pander to whites, and did not throw blacks under the bus...would he be where he is now? 

 Needless to say, I'm bothered by the  sentiment of many people already. I don't think that America will be racially harmonious because of Barack, what I think will happen now is a new wave "colorblind movement", in which hordes of people will now profess how blind they are to color, and how Barack's win means blacks should "stop whining" and "move on". It will make it more difficult for us to convince others that racism is still a problem in this society. And worst of all, from what I have seen already, it will make whites LESS likely to believe racism is still an issue in America, and blacks overconfident.

Comment Bubble Tip

The Rhetoric

What wonderful words to consider, Tim.  I sent this to my sons who are educators in San Diego. 

This morning I drove in to the airport at 3 AM to head to the CES conference in Charlotte where I am doing a session on The Unexamined Whiteness of Leadership.  As I listened to the radio, I heard one person after another talk about how you can't call this country racist now," "We've finally eradicated the past," and basically pat themselves (ourselves) on the back about the fact that a Black president was elected. 

Is this white space or what?  It's as if I'm hearing that this one act means everything is going to to be all right and we can all go on with business as usual.  I was amazed I went there in my head since I was so excited about Barack's victory.  So, reading your article gave clarity to my feelings.

Now we get to work.  As I rode in on the airport bus, I was alone with the driver who said, "Well, I don't know what we got ourselves into but we'll have to deal with it now."  I thought about it and stepped in to say, "What do you mean?  We clearly have a president now that is in touch with the people.  He went on to tell me that Barack and Michelle burned flags, are going to change the national anthem, and want to redesign the American flag.  At this point, I looked to see who this guy was...and continued to press in through my discomfort.  I asked him "Do you really believe that?  Because, that is the most ridiculous stuff I have ever heard and I have seen NOTHING about it."  Well, obviously I am not on the list that the letters were sent out to during the campaign.  I challenged him to find one place that verified that as a fact and encouraged him to think for himself and not rely on mailers.

Now, I know I won't change his mind.  But he was taken aback that I spoke up since I "looked just like him."  And, in the past I might have quietly avoided the confrontation (though a cordial one) and remained silent in my privilege. 

 As I sit in the airport today at SFO, I feel a buzz going on..one of excitedment and yet uncertainty and discomfort about what to say.  One person walked up to a total stranger who was black in the security line and said, "Congratulations!  I'm excited about this and I'm sure you are thrilled!"  The black passenger looked confused and uncomfortable, uncertain what to say.  I wondered if he wanted to tell the white guy that what he just said to him was a perfect example of the problem.

So, I'm heartened that I am noticing.  I am seeing some of these things from a different perspective and not just assuming a universal truth based on my view.  And, as I listened to Obama last night, I had chills up my spine and found myself getting teary - this from a woman who has never really engaged in the political process other than to vote.  I was moved by his speech, moved by his calm and confident message, his humility, and his promise to always tell us the truth.  And I also noted the eyes of the people in the audience and thought that it was the first time I have ever seen that expression during a presidential acceptance speech. 

Thanks for the chance to reflect.  

Julie

Comment Bubble Tip

Self-proclaimed anarchists?

Lovely piece, as usual, but not a very nice jab at anarchists. I'm white, an anarchist, and I've never had dreadlocks. I've never gone aorund saying there is no difference between the candidates, either, though I have, in my own writing, tallked about exactly what you are talking about: that real, positive change comes from the ground up, by people doing the hard work in their communities. A fairly simple anarchist message, actually.

I usually don't vote for candidates, but I voted for Obama this time because I wanted to see a person of color take the presidency after over 200 years of white men. I voted for him because of my father and all those like him making jokes about what do we call the white house? I voted for him because it was the least I could do for communities in this country that have been under-represented and for the symbol Obama represents.

 

So, hey, no need to be a big meanie. "Self-proclaimed" is a media tool, but can also be considered an insult. That you are not that thing--like saying, Tim Wise, self-styled anti-racist.

 

Comment Bubble Tip

Well...

Ryan: I also am an anarchist, but there are a lot of self-proclaimed anarchists who I think fit the bill in being relatively anemic in actual protest (hell, it's been awhile since I've been at a protest myself, despite being on a college campus) and who say emptily that Obama is just another corporate oppressor. That's not the entirety of the movement, not even close, but Tim was talking about a subsection.

Comment Bubble Tip

THE JOURNEY IS NOT OVER, YET

This is a great article and I will pass it along. I believe the lesson we also take from last night is how American Obama's supporters looked. Throughout this entire campaign, we have seen a stark difference between him and his opponents. On one end there is this stubborn hold to the white supremicist ideals of yesteryear, cloaked in feigned patriotism, conservitism and most perversely Christianity. Obama on the contrary has invited all of us to the table, even his opposition; and in my opinion displayed authentic characteristics of patriotism, conservatism and Christianity.

I agree with a previous respondant, that, unfortunately many will become lax and complacent, as it relates to the depths of America's racial legacy. We must be vigilante, because power does not concede easy. We can no longer leave our servant/leaders to themselves. We must keep them accountable, but, as you imply and as Obama has exclaimed, this is a nation of WE THE PEOPLE. We must move this country by our own efforts.

Comment Bubble Tip

beautiful post

And so true...not just for issues involving racisim, but also for other civil rights issues.  As a gay woman - last night was a tremendous victory and a crushing defeat.  And my thought this morning is much the same as yours....now - the real work begins.

 http://crunchy.blogsome.com

Comment Bubble Tip

Excellent

Only one thing to say, Tim.

"There's that crazy lady that hates polar bears."

That is the most hilarious summation of Palin I have ever heard. That was worth quite a few chuckles. Rock on, Wise family.

Comment Bubble Tip

Dealing with change...

Hear hear... Tim, excellent article!

Sindy McKinley:

"I Wish I Could Be Happy...I truly do, but I can't help but get a sickening feeling at the pit of my stomache. I love the fact that Obama won and seeing Jesse cry was so symbolic and sent chills running down my spine, bu what has gotten me sincerely worried is what comes afterwards."

(1) You shouldn't worry about what comes afterwards because what will come will be largely predictable.  Ugliness doesn't take a day off and that never ending parade of stupidity is actively plotting their next line of attacks.

"Not to discredit his accomplishment, but if Obama wasn't willing to denounce Rev. Wright, and wasn't reluctant to point out racism that he has faced throughout this campaign, and did not pander to whites, and did not throw blacks under the bus...would he be where he is now? "

(2) I think that most reasonable people know the answer to that question.  However, what I think people miss when they bring this up is several important factors.  I will go through them in the hopes that you will understand something important and fundamental.

(a) Don't hate the player..hate the game. Some times, you have to give a little to get a little. In an ideal world, Obama could have taken the Father Phleger approach to the whole situation as seen here: http://www.wikio.com/video/185131  Which was honest. However, considering the way this whole non-story was mishandled by the Media, it would have only led to a bigger circus. The media is like a bad movie, you know the ones, where there is an obvious question or solution but where people go out of their way to make the most ineffective choices.

Add to this the fact that most people who still to this day foam-at-the-mouth over what they've heard / seen in youtube clips could never be bothered to actually sit down and spend 20 minutes listening to the entire sermons for which those clips were lifted should be a clear indication of the magnitute of the problem. Obama took the only reasonable option he had.

(b) As for pandering to whites, I've heard this one a lot from understanably frustrated people.  But just like welfare, class-confusion and taxes people get so wrapped up in their frustrations that they either don't know or understand the size and scope of that for which they are frustrated about.  Put simply, Obama or no non-white person for that matter in a country that is 70% white would get very far without some white support.

"Needless to say, I'm bothered by the  sentiment of many people already. I don't think that America will be racially harmonious because of Barack, what I think will happen now is a new wave "colorblind movement", in which hordes of people will now profess how blind they are to color, and how Barack's win means blacks should "stop whining" and "move on". It will make it more difficult for us to convince others that racism is still a problem in this society. And worst of all, from what I have seen already, it will make whites LESS likely to believe racism is still an issue in America, and blacks overconfident."

(3) I would be suspicious of anyone who would take this election as proof positive that America is beyond race and that "now" we are in a "post racial" society.   This is a very simple-minded and obsurd stance especially when you consider that this is a historically significant event that is, It never happened before. We will be in a "post racial" society when electing people of color into power is so common place that their ethnic background is rendered irrelevant.  Furthermore, anyone proclaiming such stupidity is likely to subscribe to other well known crackpot racist theories.  And therefore, I wouldn't worry about trying to "convince" them of anything.

Comment Bubble Tip

We are not finished

Yesterday was absolutely incredible. At the local democratic headquarters, people wept. I feel hope for the first time in a long time. But yes, we have so much further to go.

My joy was tempered by learning today that Proposition 8 in California, where I live, which amends the constitution to prevent gays from the right to marry, had passed. Even worse, I felt the sting of irony to hear that whites voted 50% to 50% on this issue, and what put it over the top was blacks, 70% of whom voted for Proposition 8 to prevent rights to gays and lesbians. They turned out in record numbers in this election. The irony is almost too much to bear for me. Many of these people voted for the first time ever, emboldened by their hope and passion to overcome discrimination. Had they not come out to vote for the incredible Barack Obama, Proposition 8 may well have gone down, as it should have. On the same day which saw an incredible milestone in the journey to equal rights, those who had some of the greatest personal insight into discrimination also chose to vote against the rights of a whole group of people. So YES, we have much further to go when even some of those among us (black and white) who chose to put a black man in the White House seem not to understand the deeper lesson in that.

However, my overwhelming sadness at this has been tempered today because I now have the hope and evidence that narrow minds and prejudice and oppression can be eroded. Slowly and with great struggle, but it can be eroded. Barack Obama stands as a symbol of BOTH how far we have come, as well as how far we still have to go. This election has exposed the underbelly of racism and discrimination AS WELL AS revealing how much we have evolved, on so many levels. And I feel confident that Barack Obama will fight for us because we are clearly not done. As I heard Bill Moyers say on NPR today, "This country is not finished." (By the way, it was an incredible interview that also touched on race- http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=96648963 )

Comment Bubble Tip

not finished

You are so right. We are not finished. I wish I could be experiencing pure joy. I wish Obama's win could fill me with newfound respect and hope for the American people's maturity and wisdom. It does those things, and I am truly relieved to be moving on from the Bush years. And I'm grateful that a remarkable man like Obama WANTS to be president and tackle all our messes. BUT, California has rained on my parade. How could we pass a ban on gay marriage? In California? This saddens me.

www.marshallbooks.net

Comment Bubble Tip

I Wonder How Black Gays Feel?

Ehhh...my stance is that we need to get out of this "gay vs. black" "black vs. gender" argument that has been going on for a while now. We saw how this played out with Hillary and Barack. We see how awful the relationship between black feminists and white feminists are.  It's extremely counterproductive, homophobic, racist, and overall offensive. It completely ignores the existence of black women and black gays. I am disappointed in what has happened, but this attitude that is being presented is not conducive to growth and just makes it harder for black gays and white gays....black people and white people to work together to fight bigotry in general (racism and homophobia).  Black women scream for a "part" in the feminist movement only to be shut out completely. As a white bisexual woman who self-identifies as a feminist....I can't ignore that.  I am very much pro-gay and was just as bothered by this as anyone else, however, I cant sit back and watch the discussion become a battle of the oppressed, knowing good and well that the white gay community-my community-has not made a fraction of an effort to build strong alliances with blacks (or black gays for that matter), but have latched on to the Civil Rights Movement and oppression of blacks in the process while further pushing black gays from the movement. That, to me, is an example of irony as well, and just like hordes of gay black blogs are calling for personal responsibility of "black homophobia" in the black community....the white gay community needs to take responsibility for our shit as well. We have loads of it, and we are rarely held accountable (much like white heteros). Quick to point the finger, reluctant to point the thumb. Quick to make a "we are the new blacks" t-shirt (or imply that we are the new blacks) but reluctant to accept the fact that Shirley Q. Liquor is blackface, racism is awful in the white gay community, and the voices of LGBT people of color is ignored.

So if the discussion becomes a divisive "blacks want equality  for themselves but inequality for others" than the discussion should also be "white gays want to use blacks when it's convenient for them, but want nothing to do with them any other time."

Here is an article that I thought touched on the issue quite well,and Kenyon Farrows piece is good too.

"The narrative I'm seeing in some of the white progressive community regarding Tuesday's election results seems to be "High black turnout gave Barack Obama a landslide, but it also led to the passage of nasty homophobic ballot initiatives." Cable news pundits, who seem to draw on The Screwtape Letters for inspiration, have immediately jumped on this line of thought to tactically create another marginalizing division in the progressive movement. In the primary it was black vs. female (too bad if you're black and female); in the postelection it's black vs. gay (too bad if you're black and gay).

Here's why this line of reasoning is screwed up.

First, the data itself is misleading because exit polls ignore the impact of income level on voting patterns. Yes, African Americans tend on the aggregate to support anti-gay initiatives slightly more often than whites--71% supported Florida's Proposition 2, for example, relative to 60% of whites. But African Americans are three times as likely as whites to live in poverty, and have a median income of approximately $32,000 per year versus the median white income of $51,000 per year. While there has not been adequate study of the impact of income level on U.S. attitudes towards homophobia, a 2006 study of 38 nations found substantial correlation between levels of economic inequality and heterosexism. Is it any coincidence that Mississippi, the nation's poorest state, passed a ban on same-sex marriage by the highest margin of any in the country--86%? Or that Connecticut and Massachusetts, ranked #1 and #3 in per capita income, are the two states where same-sex marriage has been legalized?

Second, white support for LGBT rights isn't adequate either. If only white voters had voted on Proposition 2 in Florida, for example, then it would have still passed with 60% of the vote. You can't really blame that kind of number on African-American voters, and it makes no sense to blame African-American voters because the outcome is 62% instead of 60%.

Third, candidates whom black voters support tend to do much better on lesbian and gay rights than candidates whom white voters support--so any alleged damage that black voters might be seen as doing as a group by supporting anti-gay ballot initiatives is more than compensated for by the essential role that black voters play in electing pro-gay officials. In fact, the argument could be made that white voters are responsible for the fact that marriage equality has not yet been achieved. If black voters showed up to vote and white voters stayed home, it is likely that legislators would have made same-sex marriage a reality in all fifty states a long time ago. The national LGBT rights movement would have virtually no political clout if it were not for black activists and black voters, and it relies on black support for survival. Any LGBT rights activist who complains about African-American voter turnout is only revealing his or her ignorance of who the pro-gay legislators are and who is responsible for electing them to office. Likewise, any black civil rights activist who complains about the gay rights movement would be well served to imagine what would have been of the civil rights movement if it were not for gay black activists such as Bayard Rustin, the principal organizer of the 1963 March on Washington.

And fourth, the "black vs. gay" narrative is itself both racist and homophobic. As Darkrose writes on Pam's House Blend:

It wasn't a black group that put Prop 8 on the ballot, and paid the signature-gatherers and bankrolled the ads. Nor is it fair to say that Obama's have-it-both-ways position meant that black voters were going to march sheeplike to the polls and vote as Obama dictated.

Writing off an entire race as hopelessly unenlightened isn't going to help; in fact, a lot of the rhetoric I've seen in the left blogosphere tonight is only going to serve to reinforce the idea that "gay" = "white", and that the gay community only notices people of color when there's a comparison to the Civil Rights Movement to be made. And the Blame the Brown People push leaves those of us who are queer people of color marginalized by both of our communities.

That's not the way to build a coalition, and it's not the way to win.

Relatively high levels of black support for anti-gay proposals send the message to antiracist people in the LGBT rights movement to increase outreach to African-American communities, and send the message to pro-gay people in the civil rights movement to more vocally support lesbian and gay rights. And it is a challenge to all of us to make integration happen--integration between gays and straights, integration between blacks and whites, and integration among all four groups. To do otherwise is to play into the hands of an institutional, heterosexual white power structure that gives little power to African Americans, gays, or gay African Americans. We must be prepared to challenge heterosexism regardless of the race of the speaker, and to challenge racism regardless of the sexual orientation of the speaker. We must be a coalition movement for social justice. We must all walk this road together, because we will only get lost if we walk alone."

Comment Bubble Tip

Scramble to Justify

Sindy,

I think it's disingenuous to "explain away" the hypocrisy of the black community when it comes to this issue by focusing on things like their economic status. It's akin to saying we can't blame whites for being racist because they tend to be wealthier, and wealthier people are more racist, and so it's really not their fault for their attitudes. My sense of betrayal has nothing to do with infighting of black gays and white gays. I am talking about the attitude of the general black population with regard to civil rights for others. It's a bitter pill when, as Jon Stewart put it, you hear "free at last, free at la-- Hey, where are you two going?" I feel that an oppressed minority should have a GREATER insight into and recognition of discrimination than the white community. Yet it appears they do not. Just as on this blog, Tim holds a mirror to our faces and demands that we call out racism where we see it, I think we must call out homophobes who chose to eliminate the rights of a whole class of people. Here in California, the black voters put this constitutional amendment to take away civil rights over the top. I'm not giving the narrowminded whites and latinos who voted for it a pass AT all. And I recognize the 28% of blacks who saw this for what it was and made the just choice. But to see that the majority of those who had the most at stake in this election for their own demographic turn around and overwhelmingly vote to eliminate rights for another minority is shocking. In California, they voted 72% in favor of a constitutional amendment, a much higher percentage even than whites. The reason I single out the blacks is that they have been the victims of the same kind of discrimination as gays. They should be coming from an experiential place. They know that whites once used all the same arguments, used the bible to justify banning interracial marriage and slavery.

Unlike you, I think black community leaders SHOULD be highlighting that and fighting this apparent double standard in the community. Until we can be honest about the problem, it can't be fixed. I think it's equally racist to allow bigotry to be given a pass in one demographic and "excused away" because of the color of their skin, which somehow inherently means we cannot call them out on hypocrisy. We spend a lot of time on this blog demanding that people take responsibility and take a deep look at things like institutionalized racism. Let's also demand that the people take a deep look at institutionalized (ingrained in the culture) homophobia.

Comment Bubble Tip

M E - I've been enjoying

M E -

I've been enjoying reading your comments and you have a lot of constructive things to say. I am also incensed about the passing of Prop 8 in California, and terribly disappointed in many of my fellow Californians.

However, I did take exception to your statistic. I read a very enlightening piece this morning on DailyKos, linked here, that was very clear in illustrating that the 70% figure is entirely misleading and based on faulty/unexplained data from a single CNN exit poll.

There's lots of work to be done, and people to educate. They are on the wrong side of history, but without us to push it forward history moves far too slowly. 

-Max Sindell, Red Room

Comment Bubble Tip

70%, 55%, 60%...

Max: While the 70% figure may be the outlier, what no one has done has shown that LESS blacks voted for Prop 8 than whites. From my understanding, a majority of blacks voted for Prop 8. This is clearly a problem.

Comment Bubble Tip

....the curse of the straw people

M.E, I initially typed out a pretty long response to what you originally said, but  to save time (I honestly don't want to spend days arguing with you on how much you DIDN'T respond to what I said or how badly you misconstrued my statements), I'll say this. Casting the entire black community as hypocrtical and homophobic, based off of this very small amount of blacks (comparatively to the larger black community) who voted "yes" is comparable to how Muslim extremists are used to demonize the entire Muslim community. Get it together. No one here was "justifying" bigotry, however I also choose not to ignore it when it comes from the mouths of white gays either. You see, I have an issue with YOU the Dan Savages of the world AND the blacks who voted yes (including every other group of people). I could list a plethora of groups with essentially the same interest that do NOT see eye to eye or even view themselves as having the same fight. By your logic, it should also come as a "shock" to you that white gays don't typically "understand" black gays or white feminists don't "relate" to womanists. All of these groups are essentially a part of the SAME movement, but don't "get" the other one. People are not monolithic.....that's inclusive of blacks.

I wont even waste my time responding to every point and misrepresentation that you have made in  your apoplectic rant, however I would like for you to point out where I stated that black leaders shouldn't speak out in regard to homophobia in the black community or "highlighting"and fixing the "double-standard" (or whatever the hell you said, Lord knows you pulled it straight out of your ass). Jesse Jackson, Joseph Lowery, Kweisi Mfume, Marion Barry, David Dinkins are pro-gay and so was Coretta Scott King. In South Africa, Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress  created the world's first constitution that specifically outlawed sexual orientation bias. The Congressional Black Caucus has supported GLBT issues ect. I LIKE the fact that they do this, no where have I said otherwise....but just as I expect homophobic blacks to take responsibility for their homophobia...I also expect non-inclusive racist white gays to as well.

Comment Bubble Tip

Black Leaders

To answer about the black leaders statement...

No, you did not specifically state that black leaders should not speak out against homophobia, but I was trying to make the point that I think this should be addressed specifically within the black community as well as across the board. Your initial post made a case for not singling out one group for its homophobia, and I was taking an opposing view, that the homophobia within the black culture should be addressed specifically within that community. That's why I said that unlike you, I thought it SHOULD be singled out and addressed by black leaders.

Also, where are you getting that Jesse Jackson is pro gay when it comes to gay marriage? Everything I have read says the opposite. In fact, he seems to support my argument that homophobia is very ingrained in the black culture specifically:

"Jackson reiterated his support for the heterosexual definition of marriage, saying, "In my culture, marriage is a man-woman relationship."

http://www.planetout.com/news/article.html?date=2004/02/17/6

 

Comment Bubble Tip

Explanation and Justification

ME: I don't believe your interlocutor was attempting to JUSTIFY the heterosexist vote. Rather, I believe she was attempting to EXPLAIN it.

Discrimination can produce superior consciousness, and often does. So can oppression. And yet both can produce protectiveness, and nationalist hysteria, and concern. Israel, for example, is a brutal state engaged in "genocide" (that is, the attack upon people as a people, not necessarily mass extermination), a state formed with the hope to defend a people. While this is of course a historical simplification, like all models I think it underlines something interesting.

So, yes, the blacks who voted for Prop 8 can be called homophobic. And such criticism can be done without being racist or inappropriate.

Comment Bubble Tip

P.S.

Also, unlike Florida, in California our constitutional amendment would not have passed without the black vote. It's a moot point to me, though, because I am talking about homophobia being wrong in all populations and I already know there are homophobic whites, but I am pointing out that it is especially ironic in a black community which has direct experience with active discrimination and a history of legal racism. I had expected that half of whites would be narrowminded and discriminatory. I had NOT expected 72% of blacks to be so. It shocked me because it's so hypocritical.

Also, I take exception to the idea that people must be embraced by activists for a position in order to know what's right. How absurd. Right is right. I don't need to be accepted by the LGBT community to know that homophobia is wrong. I don't need the Black Panther party to like and include me (oh wait, they DON'T) in order to know racism is wrong. I think it is a really unsubstantial excuse. There is no excuse that makes it OK in my mind- whether black, white, or brown.

Comment Bubble Tip

Straw Mans Part II

I'm not interested in why you are implying that the entire black community is hypocritical or homophobic. Spare me the redundancy.

Than I suppose you should be "shocked" (and if you truly are, as shocked as you claim to be I'd say that you honestly can't be more.....simple, I mean seriously) at the white women who voted "yes" since they have experienced sexism. Or maybe, you were "shocked" at white old people who voted "yes" because they face ageism. So let's be clear...you ARE giving whites here a free pass. If your argument is that oppressed groups should be more sympathetic and supportive of other oppressed groups than it does NOT make sense for you to be "shocked". It's laughable that you were "shocked". I'm shocked that you are "shocked". As if throughout history oppressed groups have never harbored bigoted feelings for the other.

I'm saying that there needs to be stronger alliances built between the two communities..which DOES need to happen, that doesn't excuse the actions of these black homophobes, and it's not an excuse NOR am I offering it as one. For the love of God....READ before you post.

Comment Bubble Tip

Some Observations

"I'm not interested in why you are implying that the entire black community is hypocritical or homophobic. Spare me the redundancy."

But she isn't. This is a straw man on your part, and a rather insulting one. Pointing to a real problem among a community is not problematic nor racist. Plenty of black feminists, for example, criticize hip-hop and associated trends in black culture that sometimes stress homophobia and sexism.

"Than I suppose you should be "shocked" (and if you truly are, as shocked as you claim to be I'd say that you honestly can't be more.....simple, I mean seriously) at the white women who voted "yes" since they have experienced sexism."

I don't think this is analogous, actually.

Sexism is quite real, but I think it ends up being a little more subtle than racism (not any less important, just more subtle). More importantly, it does not put people into overwhelming groups that must rally together to protect themselves. One of the worst parts about sexism, unfortunately, is that women being disproportionately likely to be domestic are quite likely to identify with their spouse's views and not think of themselves as in allegiance with other women. Meanwhile, blacks, by virtue of being forced into segregated largely urban areas, by virtue of the array of discrimination they face, are usually quite conscious about being a vilified group and must band together.

So, for example, we have black culture, black music, and so forth. And a lot of this speaks about the pain of being black per se. But until recently, there was no "women's [or feminist] cinema" or songs. Sure, there are "chick flicks" and musicians who aim their interest primarily at women, but it is not nearly as organized or conscious.

This means that the impression that blacks have of being an oppressed people, as well as other people of color, is much more cogent and frontal. The early socializiation and seemingly "natural" way that sexism operates makes consciousness about it much harder, such that feminist movements have traditionally only formed AFTER other movements for justice first activated women to the cause then forced them into subservient positions.

All that would mean that blacks should have more immediate consciousness, more immediate compassion, of what it feels like to be repressed. But unfortunately, the opposite result has occurred.

"So let's be clear...you ARE giving whites here a free pass. If your argument is that oppressed groups should be more sympathetic and supportive of other oppressed groups than it does NOT make sense for you to be "shocked". It's laughable that you were "shocked". I'm shocked that you are "shocked". As if throughout history oppressed groups have never harbored bigoted feelings for the other."

And it being historical makes it clear?

In this instance, what seems to be the case is that blacks supported this homophobic initiative MORE than whites. Wondering why an oppressed group went beyond the oppressor group in society in wanting to deprive another minority of rights is quite relevant.

Yes, obviously this has happened, over and over, throughout history. But unless you have no curiousity or just want to offer excuses, asking WHY is always relevant...

"I'm saying that there needs to be stronger alliances built between the two communities..which DOES need to happen, that doesn't excuse the actions of these black homophobes, and it's not an excuse NOR am I offering it as one. For the love of God....READ before you post."

Obviously we are in agreement here. The question, of course, then is: Why hasn't this happened? What obstacles are there in the way? How do we get THERE from HERE? All relevant questions that you seem to want to dismiss bewilderingly early.

Comment Bubble Tip

continued...

For some strange reason my comment submitted before I was done. Hopefully the first half was captured...

What I was saying was that I am disgusted with all groups but shocked at the black population stripping civil rights from another class, not only becase they did so in larger numbers than even the white population (as Frederick pointed out, the oppressed surpassing the oppressors), but because they were unable to see the extreme irony in showing up in record numbers in order to answer to years of discrimination and put a black man in the White House (that is primarily what they were there for), and simultaneously vote for a measure to strip an entire group of their rights. That is my shock. I'm not shocked by homophobia and narrowmindedness in the people who historically have voted that way. I am disgusted by them, but not shocked. I am, on the other hand, shocked when I don't expect it. I would be likewise shocked if Hillary had been our candidate, and 72% of women who showed up in record numbers had simultaniously voted to support the ban on gay marriage, as opposed to 50% of men. But that's not the scenario.

And as I stated before, I am not giving any of the rest of the "yes" voters a pass at all. And I also said that I recognize the 28% of blacks who voted on the right side of history. But I am focusing on the general black community here, and I think we set a double standard when we do not propose to take a close look at institutionalized homophobia in that community, and do so when it comes to racism. You do point out several black leaders who support gay rights. I think that is a great start.

In the end, I think we agree that this is an issue that needs to be worked on and overcome. I cannot feel good living in a society that denies basic dignity and civil rights to one certain class of people. And I hope the Obama presidency will help to chip away at homophobia in this neo civil rights era.

Comment Bubble Tip

race, or age?

A somewhat belated response that may change the demographic picture somewhat: Nate Silver over at fivethirtyeight.com did the numbers and concluded that it was really older voters who tipped the balance towards yes on 8, and that most younger voters of color actually voted against the proposition.

see http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/2008/11/prop-8-myths.html

Comment Bubble Tip

Okay, But...

"A somewhat belated response that may change the demographic picture somewhat: Nate Silver over at fivethirtyeight.com did the numbers and concluded that it was really older voters who tipped the balance towards yes on 8, and that most younger voters of color actually voted against the proposition. "

Okay, but this still means a few things. First of all, if older voters can so wildly impact the proportions, that means that most of the black folk VOTING must have been old. That means that a lot of apathy must exist among young blacks who don't vote, and in fact it's very likely that many young blacks who didn't vote would have quite ignorant views about homosexuality. Even Nate points out that, had young black voters and other new voters voted for the proposition at the same rate as they had voted for Obama (that is, were they as progressive and excited about another community's rights as their own), Prop 8 would have lost. Second, as Nate also points out, it's quite probable that if such a large majority of black voters voted for Prop 8, then even once one abstracts out age it is quite probable that the old black voters were even MORE eager to vote against Prop 8 than the white voters. Nate brings up a key point, but what I think none of his arguments disprove is that there is a major homophobic tendency in the black community.

Comment Bubble Tip

Great stuff!

While I found the first half or so of your piece enjoyable for its caustic wit and underlying truth, the second half (beginning with "So let us be clear") was pure fire.

Tuesday was a great start, but a great deal of work remains.  A great deal of latent racist rage has been reawakened in the last few months, and it cannot be taken lightly.

So, as you say, let us get back to work, invigorated in the knowledge that progress has been made, steeled against the forces of hatred and fear that seek still to thwart it.

Comment Bubble Tip

Needless and Self-Serving Divisiveness

Dancing Toward Danger?    

In an article ironically entitled 'Avoiding Overconfidence and Cynicism in the Age of Obama', ( http://theragblog.blogspot.com/2008/11/tim-wise-tuesday-night-obama-made.html ), an article that is being widely circulated on the Left, Tim Wise goes well 'over the top' in issuing highly counterproductive  and inflammatory categorical denunciations of anyone who has severe misgivings about the irrational jubilation being expressed by progressives over the election of Barak Obama, most of whose major stated policy positions as a candidate were decidedly UN-progressive.

In vindictive and self-centered denunciation of legitimate progressive viewpoints that do not happen to conform with his own, Mr. Wise graces us with such edifying thoughts as  "those who cannot appreciate what has just transpired are so eaten up with nihilistic rage and hopelessness that I cannot but think that they are a waste of carbon, and actively thieving oxygen that could be put to better use by others", and he actually directly addresses these people, whom he has so narrow-mindedly pigeonholed, according to his own narrow and self-centric perspective, with the crude epithet, "Screw You". With all due respect to Mr. Wise, and the overwrought jubilation he is obviously feeling, this kind of self-important, self-serving rhetoric can only be divisive, and will only serve to inhibit our efforts, as progressives, to find the means to create ongoing organizational unity.

It is no surprise that Mr. Wise, who is identified in the brief bio that accompanies his article as an "anti-racist activist", would offer a largely race-based perspective. There is certainly no harm in that, in and of itself. I hold a great deal of respect for that perspective. But Mr. Wise feels compelled to go far beyond expressing his jubilation, to include a vindictive denunciation of anyone who is looking past this one narrow aspect of the implications of Obama's election.

If we look at what is happening from the post-racial perspective that Barak Obama himself promoted, we might see that beyond the 'victory' that some feel, in that a mixed-race African American has been elected president, Barak Obama has not represented himself as 'progressive' in the most important and defining major policy positions he has established.

In an election cycle that was almost totally focused on 'narrative', and 'character', rather than substance, Mr. Wise categorically denounces, (as nihilists, and with other inflammatory epithets, as well as his provocative "screw you"), those who have looked past the foolishly short-sighted bamboozlement of 'narrative over substance'. Anyone who is willing to maintain Reason in the face of the widespread irrational jubilation we are witnessing, anyone who is willing to look beyond narrative to the actual issues themselves, has every reason to be alarmed, and the irrational exuberance being expressed by so many comprises a significant area of concern in itself. Mr. Wise even goes so far as to castigate anyone who is not participating enthusiastically in this foolish exercise in willfully ignoring reality with his inflammatory denunciations.

To listen to Mr. Wise's divisive rhetoric now, one wonders if he celebrated the appointment of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court simply because he is African American? While Barak Obama is certainly more palatable to the progressive viewpoint, by a quantum leap, than Clarence Thomas, his stated policy positions are indeed extremely problematic for anyone who hopes that the nation will move in a progressive direction.

Barak Obama deliberately, and many would say cynically, wrapped himself in the 'narrative' he defined by his soaring rhetoric, while at the same time he established major policy positions that are in complete conflict with the heroic rhetoric itself, and with the carefully packaged narrative it promoted. Beneath his inspiring rhetoric, he has offered up only minor proposals to placate progressives, while he adheres closely to major policies that serve the staus quo power structure, while packaging the whole shebang as "change".

He is NOT, and never was, an anti-war candidate. He merely opposed the Iraq war before it started for pragmatic reasons. He does NOT intend to end the war. He only intends, as he has stated clearly, to reduce troop strength in Iraq to about 40% of its current level, and to redeploy troops to the huge permanent bases that Haliburton has built in commanding positions over the oil fields.

He avidly supports the US Imperial Mission. He has endorsed the major tenets of the Bush Doctrine, including military incursions into sovereign nations whenever it suits our unilaterally determined self-interest.

He is an unabashed and enthusiastic supporter of the criminally cruel apartheid Zionist project. He has agreed to pretend that the cruel military occupation that Israel has maintained over an entire nation of people for over 40 years simply is not taking place.

He ignores Israel's possession of nuclear weapons, while he pledges to use "any means necessary" to prevent Iran from developing even its independent peaceful nuclear capacity.

He has promised to "beef up" the US military budget, when we already spend more than the rest of the world combined on weapons and military capacity.

His FIRST significant act as President-elect has been to appoint an avowed Zionist as his chief of staff.

On the domestic front he has received massive financial support from Wall Street investment bankers, and has already rewarded them in return with his assistance in ramming the disgraceful 'bail out' of obscenely wealthy Wall Street bankers by reaching into the pockets of the common citizens, while they kicked and screamed and shouted out in outrage. He avidly helped stampede this historically disgraceful travesty past Congress, without hearings, without consideration of alternatives that might benefit the nation's citizens rather than wealthy financiers. He did this with completely insulting contempt for the 'will of the people', directly 'in the face' of the VAST majority of the citizenry that was crying out in protest against this bailout of the rich by their victims.

His health care proposal carefully preserves our universal need and desire to be healthy as a lucrative profit opportunity for the insurance and health care industries. In order not to anger some of his major backers, he has carefully avoided any suggestion of a 'medicare for all' one-payer system that virtually every other country in the developed world has adopted as the only sane way to deliver the highest quality health care at the most reasonable cost.  

How or why could anyone possibly consider this man a 'progressive'? Are we such 'rubes' that all it takes is some gilded rhetoric, some smoothly silver-tongued sweet talk, to make us swoon helplessly into a pliant willingness to ignore the very facts of reality that we can see and hear with our own eyes and ears?

Mr. Wise, with his nonsensical contention that we should ignore Obama's clearly stated policy positions in our jubilation over the fact that an African American has been elected president, only contributes to the atmosphere of irrational exuberance that is going to do harm to the progressive cause. It is certainly going to delay, and it even might possibly deliver a significant blow to, the necessary organizational steps we need to resolve ourselves to take in order to advance a progressive agenda.

But I feel like I am shouting into the roaring winds. Not that I am by any means alone. But those of us who realize that the progressive cause was NOT represented in this election, are now finding ourselves directly subjected to insulting epithets by those who insist that all progressives should be dancing in unbridled jubilation because a charismatic African American 'centrist' who has declared himself a supporter of US militarism, apartheid Zionism, free market economics, and the socialization of investment risk backing up the privatization of profit, has been elected president. 

The willful ignorance of reality that is at the root of this jubilant celebration of 'narrative over substance', is a sort of 'social madness', a willful abandonment of Reason, that obviously must run its course. Any who are apart from it, any who are in control of their faculties of Reason in the face of this exercise in mass irrationality, must surely be watching in awe as we witness this stark example of the power of mass media to 'sell' any narrative at all, even when that narrative stands in direct contravention to the actual known facts.

It is certainly sobering to witness that even progressives who talk a great deal about the power of media to bamboozle the people, are not in any way immune to this power ourselves.

Zwarich

Comment Bubble Tip

Eye Rolling

R: You ironically miss the entire goddamn POINT of the article you're commenting upon, since you're just copy-pasting a reply to another article.

I could, as my product here as shown, rebut innumerable of your points had I a mind to, but that's not necessary.

Read the second goddamn half of THIS article.

Can we all just agree that

a) There is clearly SOME difference between McCain and Obama (even if it's just their names? Litearlly, some real world difference?)

b) That this difference clearly does not extend to altering basic institutional frameworks

c) That Obama's success is a real symbolic achievement for blacks

d) That it doesn't make racism disappear [as the Daily Show put it: "We're good, but we're not idiots"]

and

e) That we have so much more work to do to make our society civilized?

Your attitude is dreadfully counter-productive and sectarian. I notice, for example, that you say that Tim says "gnore Obama's clearly stated policy positions in our jubilation over the fact that an African American has been elected president."

Quote him saying anything remotely resembling that.

If you can't do it, then apologize to everyone who had to read the wall of text you wrote (I know, hypocritical coming from me).

Yes, no matter what anyone believes, clearly social change will require people still hitting the streets, writing Congressmen, protesting, doing teach-ins, building our alternative institutions, etc. This doesn't mean a McCain victory would have been just as good as an Obama victory. It just means that the real impetus for anything resembling progressive or revolutionary change will HAVE to come from below. Even Obama continues to imply this, with his chant of "Yes We Can" (though clearly the direction of his proposed activism is far more regressive than what any of us would prefer).

And to deny that this rightly matters to quite a lot of people of color is monstrous and soaked in white privilege.

Comment Bubble Tip

Needs Beyond a Two Party System

It is healthy for us to express our feelings cathartically.  Mr. Wise has helped me by sharing his feelings on the results of the turbulent election. However,  I would suggest his following statement on alternate candidates could have viewed their positive influence:   "They haven't the luxury of believing in the quixotic campaigns of Dennis Kucinich, or waiting around for the Green Party to get its act together and become something other than a pathetic caricature, symbolized by the utterly irrelevant and increasingly narcissistic presence of Ralph Nader on the electoral scene."  

 This election I felt elated to be able to cast my vote for Obama.   But in the past, I have voted for such people as Norman Cousins (Citizens Party) and  Dennis Kucinich.  So what was the purpose in their candidacies?  Currently we have a two party system enforced by interests who wish it to remain so. Politically, it is in the best interest of the two existing political parties, corporations and other special interests to have a two party system.  Lacking such a system,  our "minority" political candidates bring focus to national issues that a two party system cannot:  corporate power, single payer universal health care, compassion, not confrontation in international negotiations, medication testing, alternate energy needs and global warming to name a few.  But is the purpose of supporting such candidates purely cathartical? Consider the power coalitions have had in countries that have multi-party systems: New Zealand, where native people have achieved recognition of their needs.  The Green Party in Germany.  In recent history, the only way such interests have had an influence has been through rebellion.  Joe Lieberman now has an opportunity to help build coalitions between the two major parties, but instead now is being considered for political minimization. We need a multiparty system not intentionally minimized by the two parties in power.

 

Comment Bubble Tip

Political Capital

Lloyd: You bring up good points, but I think that you're missing Tim's core point.

One finds that Greens, Kucinich or Edward type candidacies that are more quixotic, etc. find much more support among white or already well-off liberals, progressives and leftists. Blacks overwhelmingly vote Dem, even those with very progressive leanings and no illusions about the weakness of Democratic candidates.

It's about one's political capital. Decisions in our society aren't just right or wrong by some universal standard, because not everyone is making the same calculations. So much sectarian behavior could be prevented if people remembered this simple maxim.

I agree that it's valuable to vote Dems or Kucinich or Edwards, to shift the political spectrum slightly left. (Like all votes, it only matters in proportion to the movement and organization behind such votes, but that's neither here nor there for my point). But that costs political capital. Some of us can afford to expend it, and doing so is fine. Others of us, say people of color, can't. So those of us who have it should do so, and those of us who don't should proceed with the best move available.

Also, pointing to other countries with different electoral systems is a terrible argument. Different electoral systems produce different outcomes, as do different social arrangements. The experiences people have with coalitions or party brackets or what not in New Zealand or Britain or Germany are not necessarily transferable here.

Comment Bubble Tip

Who was it said…

"Never hope more than you work." 

 Right on! 

Comment Bubble Tip

I don't agree entirely

As a black woman I am happy to see Obama reach these heights, but I cannot subscribe to the success of blacks paraded by the media.  As a woman I find it especially offensive to define the man as purely black on the basis of his skin color.  The fact is, his father abandoned mother and child.  His mother raised him alone and when she was not around, his grandparents were.  They get credit.  Period.  The idea that Obama is black at the expense of white is deeply offensive to me as a woman.  The history of black identities that are in question in America is either the "1/8th drop of blood" rule or purely paternalistic.  Neither should apply in this case.  Obama is black and he loves whites, too.  Loves them as he loved the people who raised him.  So I'm telling black Americans that whites are not the only ones with some reflecting to do here.  Martin, Jesse, Al and the whole Civil Rights movement made a way and I am glad about that.  But when it comes to testing the temp of the nation, when it came time to ask how many whites could see past race, Obama knocked on the doors virtually alone, and millions of whites raised their hand, way up.  More than this, I have to say I don't think Obama reached us simply because of the symbolism etched in race relations in America.  I was happy along with German, Caribbean, French, British, Japanese, and African people.  I was happy because a candidate for President, a leader, loves the American people more than the idea of America alone.  I was happy because the human being was back on the table and their desire to be heard, to have hope, and to participate in something larger than material concerns was reflected in universally large numbers all around the world.  It was a great day.

Now I have to say to blacks.  How can you  celebrate Obama's success without asking yourself, "would he have believed this was possible if he had been raised by you?"  My community made it clear to me that despite the progress made in the last 40 years, I should be prepared to work "three times harder to get half the credit."  I was mocked for dreaming of becoming anything like President of the United States.  I heard blacks like Cornell West and Travis Smiley say Obama was "dreaming" if he thought he could convince the world that racism would not be an obstacle to success.  Cornell denounced Obama for failing to align himself clearly with his socially given identity.  He denounced him for choosing to court white communities more than black ones.  If he had made himself clear that he was a black man, isn't it obvious based on these comments that he never would have become President?   And assuming he wasn't just strategizing to gain votes, isn't it at all possible that his outreach was and is sincere towards both races? 

Let's get clear on Obama's victory.  If Obama is post-race, then it means the end of white prejudice AS WELL AS black prejudice.  If this whole thing was about race, then "YES WE CAN" was an answer to the following question: Whites: Can you see past race?  Blacks: Can you move on past race?  The reality check is that black youths are not only sick of white racism, they're also sick of black cynicism.  Children don't want to hear that their efforts will be torn down by forces far beyond their control.  They don't want to hear that they are destined towards suffering and brutality.  They don't want to hear that every time they meet a white person they should proceed with caution and distrust them, even if they seem to be friendly.  They don't want to hear that despite food, shelter, friends, and an education, they're still on the losing side of privilege.  And they don't want to hear that they are predestined to have to think about this and only this for the rest of their natural born lives.  They want to be free to explore their curiosity.  They want to create, like everyone else.  They want to dream.  Obama represents that childlike faith that got lost.  It's not about Obama telling blacks to "stop whining."  It's about the kids.  What are we telling them?  When they look upon Obama I hope they don't see a race.  I hope they see America's promise.  A promise to protect their dreams and their path to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."  I hope they see that they can walk that path without sacrificing blacks or whites in the process.  I am not with blacks on the way Obama's win is represented in the media.  This was America's win.  Any pride I have is coupled with a certain amount of humility.  It's inappropriate to gloat about something you doubted was ever possible and thus did not support until it seemed obvious that Obama's efforts just might work.  To take full credit for it now is disingenuous and decisively dismissive of what he had to do to get there.  He had to get past whites, but he had to get past blacks, too. 

 

Comment Bubble Tip

Really?

"As a woman I find it especially offensive to define the man as purely black on the basis of his skin color.  The fact is, his father abandoned mother and child.  His mother raised him alone and when she was not around, his grandparents were.  They get credit.  Period.  The idea that Obama is black at the expense of white is deeply offensive to me as a woman.  The history of black identities that are in question in America is either the "1/8th drop of blood" rule or purely paternalistic.  Neither should apply in this case."

But they apply because that's the way the social forces work, primarily decided by white people. Obama LOOKS black, ergo he is black to most. Many black commentators, such as on the Daily Show, pointed out that Obama has a quite diverse ethnic background, but that doesn't mean Jesse Jackson is wrong to lump him into his group to the exclusion of others, because Obama is in that group. One of the horrible things about racism is exactly that it MAKES the subordinate group rally together and become somewhat insular, just because that's what's actually happening and the alternative is suicide.

Obama has attended a primarily black church, married a black woman and engaged in historically specific black forms of activism. It's not he's been forced into the community kicking and screaming.

"So I'm telling black Americans that whites are not the only ones with some reflecting to do here.  Martin, Jesse, Al and the whole Civil Rights movement made a way and I am glad about that.  But when it comes to testing the temp of the nation, when it came time to ask how many whites could see past race, Obama knocked on the doors virtually alone, and millions of whites raised their hand, way up"

Really?

Obama has always had a lot of support and engagement with the black community, even alongside a lot of criticism.

More importantly, LESS white voted proportionally BY FAR for Obama than blacks. Had he had the same vote percentage among blacks as he did white males, he would have lost. Yes, a large portion of whites were able to put aside their prejudice, but not a majority of the white electorate. Obama's landslide was thanks to overwhelming, eager black support.

"I was happy because a candidate for President, a leader, loves the American people more than the idea of America alone.  I was happy because the human being was back on the table and their desire to be heard, to have hope, and to participate in something larger than material concerns was reflected in universally large numbers all around the world.  It was a great day."

I think this is an incredibly naive way to look at Obama. A man who approves of neo-liberal politics, who is backed by major banking and financial institutions, who sees nothing wrong with our corporatist system of governance, who cannot say that the Vietnam War was an imperialist endeavor, does not fit your criteria.

"Now I have to say to blacks.  How can you  celebrate Obama's success without asking yourself, "would he have believed this was possible if he had been raised by you?"  My community made it clear to me that despite the progress made in the last 40 years, I should be prepared to work "three times harder to get half the credit."  I was mocked for dreaming of becoming anything like President of the United States.  I heard blacks like Cornell West and Travis Smiley say Obama was "dreaming" if he thought he could convince the world that racism would not be an obstacle to success. "

Honest whites said that too. On House, for example, Joe Morton played an Obama-surrogate who House said wouldn't make it to the White House. (Joe Morton's character agreed).

The fact is that Obama had to PROVE his mettle to both blacks and whites. The moment he secured the Democratic nomination, the vast majority of blacks were automatically going to vote for him. What he had to do is convince WHITE America to vote for him. To say that blacks sabotaged him by this view is, I think, a little repugnant.

Further, your argument is logically incomplete. You simply ASSUME Obama won because he heard that such a victory would be nigh-impossible and he ignored it. Maybe his victory was possible because he heard such a victory was nigh-impossible, listened, and made a plan that would allow victory? This resonates FAR more with the evidence, especially when you note the degree to which Obama bleached himself to be palpable to the white community. One can easily make an argument that WHITES, who insisted that he ignore race, who told him dishonestly that he could easily get a majority of white votes because racism is over, were far worse than blacks telling him the honest TRUTH (that being a black President would be hard).

"Cornell denounced Obama for failing to align himself clearly with his socially given identity.  He denounced him for choosing to court white communities more than black ones.  If he had made himself clear that he was a black man, isn't it obvious based on these comments that he never would have become President?   And assuming he wasn't just strategizing to gain votes, isn't it at all possible that his outreach was and is sincere towards both races? "

This is true. Obama could not have won by ignoring the very community HE had aligned with (it wasn't just socially given; see above).

But what Cornel is saying is that from an individual perspective, victory was not worth the sacrifices Obama had to make. Obama had to make deals with the devil. Cornel is saying this is wrong.

Note, too, that it's not just that Obama "chose" to court white communities over black ones, as if he just said some things that would play OKAY in black communities but GREAT in Peoria. He chose to run a tepid, liberal, reactionary, corporate campaign and entirely ignore race and racism. Blacks decided to ignore the utter contempt his positions were showing for their community and become excited anyways; you seem to be asking them to go even BEYOND this and actually be EXCITED about Obama's anemic and actually repugnant proposals.

If, to be a black President, one has to ignore all the things about oneself that made one black in the first place and play up everything else, racism is still incredibly salient and whites are still a key impediment to black progress.

"Let's get clear on Obama's victory.  If Obama is post-race, then it means the end of white prejudice AS WELL AS black prejudice. "

But it doesn't mean this. You clearly don't believe this, given your criticisms of the black community for holding onto what you perceive as prejudice.

"If this whole thing was about race, then "YES WE CAN" was an answer to the following question: Whites: Can you see past race?  Blacks: Can you move on past race?  The reality check is that black youths are not only sick of white racism, they're also sick of black cynicism.  Children don't want to hear that their efforts will be torn down by forces far beyond their control.  They don't want to hear that they are destined towards suffering and brutality.  They don't want to hear that every time they meet a white person they should proceed with caution and distrust them, even if they seem to be friendly.  They don't want to hear that despite food, shelter, friends, and an education, they're still on the losing side of privilege."

People often don't like to hear ugly things. I don't like to hear that I am on the winning side of privilege and, no matter what I do, my achievements are shadowed by the fact that I would never gotten as far or as fast without my community's privilege. I also don't like to hear that we have a vicious, predatory capitalist society, that I can't drive my car everywhere I want because it'll destroy the ecology, that people are starving, or that a million people are dead in Iraq. But these things are TRUE, and us not wanting to hear them is an IMPEDIMENT to getting good done, not an asset.

"They want to create, like everyone else.  They want to dream.  Obama represents that childlike faith that got lost.  It's not about Obama telling blacks to "stop whining."  It's about the kids.  What are we telling them?  When they look upon Obama I hope they don't see a race. "

But they do, because they're socialized from birth to do so.

"I hope they see America's promise.  A promise to protect their dreams and their path to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.""

But they shouldn't, because Obama represents no such thing. Obama represents the status quo with minor progressive rhetorical alterations. True, there are real changes that have been won. But Obama is no new direction for America. Long-time anti-racists like Paul Street, Cornel West, etc. have been quite critical of Obama ever since he began to appear on the radar.

"I hope they see that they can walk that path without sacrificing blacks or whites in the process. "

But even you admit that they shouldn't see that because Obama COULDN'T.

"It's inappropriate to gloat about something you doubted was ever possible and thus did not support until it seemed obvious that Obama's efforts just might work"

Why isn't it?

It's not like Obama was the first black man to try a Presidential bid. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton routinely tried to run and were always considered laughable fringe candidates.

It makes SENSE when there is a PROVEN HISTORY of failure for a community to be skeptical until they start seeing promise. This is not cynicism.

"To take full credit for it now is disingenuous and decisively dismissive of what he had to do to get there.  He had to get past whites, but he had to get past blacks, too. "

I really think it is the height of illogicality to put in the same category the group who had to be courted to and pandered to for years to come out for him in anemic proportions and the group that automatically voted for him in record droves, as if both were equal impediments to his progress. Please.

Comment Bubble Tip

Yes, really...

But you make some fair points.  Perhaps I was "naive" and/or "illogical."  The piece was not meant to pretend gross inequality does not exist nor was it meant to simplify several centuries of injustice or racial divide in this country.  I also selected Tim Wise's essay to post this response because I support his efforts to bring consciousness to whites on the issue of race inequality and privilege.  I recently saw his speech on protecting Affirmative Action, a subject that will undoubtedly return to the table now.  If it seemed like I was asking "too much" of the black community or, as you say it, "criticsizing" them without proper context, it's probably because I can't make out how to show "love," tough or otherwise, to my own community without having to first pass a history and sociology exam that should have me seeing things exactly the way they do when I'm done - and it ususally ends with my eyes on whites.  I just do not agree that Obama was wrong when he did not explicitly state his allegiance to the African-American community.  I saw a man who promised loyalty to African-Americans, but his allegiance was to his conscience, which does not reject or embrace people on the basis of color.  It's a quality I really want in a leader.  And I just cannot agree that just because society sees him as one identity, he must subscribe to it wholesale.  Also, I am sorry I implied that blacks have not been supportive of him throughout this campaign.  That IS patently untrue.  Most notably Michelle Obama comes off to me as Coretta Scott King - just incredible.  And there were many others.  But perhaps I am responding to the tension between the collective and the individual.  Sometimes the individual should get some credit and deserves a little distance from the collective, but I get the sense no community can really do this.  I just used my personal experiences and projected that on to the scene here.  It wasn't academic, just emotional.  Something I think I should probably shelve until my community leaders say they are satisfied that all the wrongs of the past have been made right and I am now "free to roam the cabin."  (yes, it's a little snarky) 

Thank you for the very serious and persuasive insight.  I do see your point/s.

 

Comment Bubble Tip

Fair Enough

"But you make some fair points.  Perhaps I was "naive" and/or "illogical."  The piece was not meant to pretend gross inequality does not exist nor was it meant to simplify several centuries of injustice or racial divide in this country.  I also selected Tim Wise's essay to post this response because I support his efforts to bring consciousness to whites on the issue of race inequality and privilege.  I recently saw his speech on protecting Affirmative Action, a subject that will undoubtedly return to the table now.  If it seemed like I was asking "too much" of the black community or, as you say it, "criticsizing" them without proper context, it's probably because I can't make out how to show "love," tough or otherwise, to my own community without having to first pass a history and sociology exam that should have me seeing things exactly the way they do when I'm done - and it ususally ends with my eyes on whites. "

That's not my point. My point is that the black community's response, while maybe wrong on some details or to some degree, is nowhere near the magnitude of the cynicism, ignorance and prejudice of the white community's response, so it severely misdirects us to liken them. Obviously you're coming from a perspective of in-group criticism, which is all fine and good, I just don't think this particular criticism is especially helpful or well-founded...

"I just do not agree that Obama was wrong when he did not explicitly state his allegiance to the African-American community."

But that's not all he did. He went far beyond that by DISTANCING himself from his race and doing so by resurrecting stereotypes of how the rest of his race supposedly act, so he could truly BE "different" from them. His policy proposals are also deeply destructive to black groups, though obviously superior to McCain.

Nor is it true that he did not "state his allegiance". That is, he wanted to have his cake and eat it too, relying on his identity, his community activism, his membership in a primarily black church, etc. to get an even larger share of the black pie than usual for a Democratic candidate. I think this is the height of cynicism and politicking.

"I saw a man who promised loyalty to African-Americans, but his allegiance was to his conscience, which does not reject or embrace people on the basis of color."

If his "conscience" is leading him to not want to give reparations to the Iraqis and unconditionally withdraw if a majority of Iraqis want, or unequivocally reject the "war on terror", or stop the neo-liberal destruction of the world's economic futures, I frankly don't want to meet the man. That'd make him a soulless sociopath. As it is, I think he's dishonest and power-hungry.

"It's a quality I really want in a leader.  And I just cannot agree that just because society sees him as one identity, he must subscribe to it wholesale."

Sure, he can do what Tiger Woods did: Carve out his own identity.

What Tiger DIDN'T do is vilify his own community.

See the difference?

"Also, I am sorry I implied that blacks have not been supportive of him throughout this campaign.  That IS patently untrue.  Most notably Michelle Obama comes off to me as Coretta Scott King - just incredible.  And there were many others.  But perhaps I am responding to the tension between the collective and the individual.  Sometimes the individual should get some credit and deserves a little distance from the collective, but I get the sense no community can really do this.  I just used my personal experiences and projected that on to the scene here."

I think if you re-examine your personal experience, you'll find that being critical of attempts to work within white institutions and skepticism as to the viability of a black President, while it may be negative or misguided, is never as problematic as blissful denials of racism combined with proof of prejudice.

"Something I think I should probably shelve until my community leaders say they are satisfied that all the wrongs of the past have been made right and I am now "free to roam the cabin."  (yes, it's a little snarky) "

All right, so maybe Jesse Jackson doesn't have to announce to the globe that racism is over.

But certainly YOU can look at Obama's victory and realize that won't instantly end mortgage discrimination, or employment discrimination, or discrimination in the criminal justice system.

For example: Obama's position on affirmative action is WORSE than Ronald Reagans'. That's a staggering fact.

Comment Bubble Tip

I Have A Question...

I do not think that racism will suddenly disappear just because Obama is in the White House.  I believe that there will be discrimination - housing, education, employment, and otherwise.  BUT, I also believe that how we go about obtaining equality between the two races depends on both parties, their current vision and how they apply them.  Obama aside, I have a question: why do we have to make clear, undifferentiated statements about our idenity?  Why do we have to SAY it?  That's been demanded of Obama by both whites and blacks  - and it's suspicious.  I mean, Obama loves his very African American wife and children; his mentors have been African American men, his career got its legs in African American communities, but its not enough.  I thought his relationship with Rev. Wright was about seeking a father figure.  It should go without saying that he's Black, but HE HAS TO SAY IT.  He has to state he is African American and behave in an approved manner that allows us to recognize him.  Anytime someone tells me to clearly shout my identity from the mountain tops, it's just suspicious.  It stinks of religious ideology, which generally lacks any flexibility.  Race in America is its own religion.  And the problem with religion is and will always be...what happens when one group's imaginary world spills onto another group or person's reality?  I don't mind if we disagree on certain points, but how someone expresses their identity does not have to look like how I, you or Tiger Woods chooses to do it.  Your comments imply that his form of expression was hostile to the African-American community and I cannot understand why that is. 

With the best of intentions, I do see why there might be problems with Obama's approach to a community that almost unanimously voted him into office.  In fact, if African Americans voted for McCain in the same fashion, Obama would have lost the race.  In that sense, I understand why there is an expectation of appreciation and consideration.  I'd like to keep things positive, though.  One of the positive things that came out of this was the development of a new discourse within the diaspora (or maybe a revised version of an old discourse).  It just seems like people are offended by this rather than encouraged by it.  That worries me. 

 

 

 

Comment Bubble Tip

Gap Between Justice and Reality

"I do not think that racism will suddenly disappear just because Obama is in the White House.  I believe that there will be discrimination - housing, education, employment, and otherwise.  BUT, I also believe that how we go about obtaining equality between the two races depends on both parties, their current vision and how they apply them. "

Depends on if you mean EXCLUSIVELY dependant or as part of many variables.

If the Republicans got up and started asking for out-and-out death camps for blacks (and Jews just for nostalgia's sake), then clearly supporting the Democrats would be the right move to make for racial harmony and equity. But such a proposal would be insane in the present political climate.

But both sides agree on a variety of things, like neo-liberal policies, that slam black communities. Both sides have been complicit in cutting welfare based on racist justifications. Clearly, we can't do anything about that: We can't vote the bastards out because the only alternative is voting Green or something.

Nor is political pressure always the right move. If there's a particularly nasty corporation that's uniquely racist, hammering them in particular with boycotts, bad PR, and so forth is the right move, not just going after the government.

Institutional change is going to come from below. And it'll just have to be done with collusion between white groups, some acting out of self-interest, some principled, and black groups, hoping to end racism as well as other sinister systems. Hoping that candidates will do it for us is lazy, undemocratic and plain misguided.

"Obama aside, I have a question: why do we have to make clear, undifferentiated statements about our idenity?  Why do we have to SAY it?  That's been demanded of Obama by both whites and blacks  - and it's suspicious."

Because those identities matter in a racist society.

Yes, it's a pity, but resisting the identification is ultimately quixotic. It prevents one from aligning with others who are in the same boat. And no matter how much Tiger wants to CALL himself "Cablinasian", white people will see black, and if they don't recognize him will shoot him for trespassing or for reaching for his wallet or will get security to monitor him in a store.

I'm not saying that people have to identify themselves any particular way. I identify myself as Quebecois, for example. But if we think that other people will think "Oh, he's Quebecois" and not "He's white" or "French-Canadian" or "immigrant" or "foreigner", then we're deluding ourselves.

" I mean, Obama loves his very African American wife and children; his mentors have been African American men, his career got its legs in African American communities, but its not enough.  I thought his relationship with Rev. Wright was about seeking a father figure.  It should go without saying that he's Black, but HE HAS TO SAY IT.  He has to state he is African American and behave in an approved manner that allows us to recognize him."

Well, the problem is that he did all those things with the one hand then tried to distance himself from his community with the other. Jesse Jackson didn't get calls like that, because he generally doesn't do that, even with many of his flaws from a political standpoint.

" Race in America is its own religion.  And the problem with religion is and will always be...what happens when one group's imaginary world spills onto another group or person's reality?  I don't mind if we disagree on certain points, but how someone expresses their identity does not have to look like how I, you or Tiger Woods chooses to do it.  Your comments imply that his form of expression was hostile to the African-American community and I cannot understand why that is. "

Let's say Obama all his life had felt closer to white communities and just naturally identified himself as white. Okay, that'd probably be fine.

But that's not what happened. Rather, he got the support of the black civil rights establishment, attended a black church (for a variety of reasons), married a black woman, has black children, and so forth, but then in order to win a Presidential bid implicitly AND explicitly cast aspersions on his own community by distancing themselves.

It's all about context, Kette. If someone says, "I'm not black", they could be describing a literal statement of fact, or they could be objecting to a social identification, or they could be trying to make people stop thinking of them negatively. But if someone says, "I'm not really black" to criticisms of black folks, one is admitting that those criticisms are correct and well-founded.

That's what Obama did. By distancing himself from the black community, or the "baggage" of the civil rights movement as many whites chose to think, he made it clear to those whites that he thought they were RIGHT that the civil rights movement was "baggage".

THAT'S the problem. It's not that he failed to identify himself as black. It's that, in our society, when a black person does that, it implicitly sends a message that one is trying to not be black because black is something bad to be. Because that's what people will hear, no matter your intentions.

In a racist, classist, sexist, statist society, a lot of things that would be appropriate in a just society are stupid, misinformed or downright bad.

"With the best of intentions, I do see why there might be problems with Obama's approach to a community that almost unanimously voted him into office.  In fact, if African Americans voted for McCain in the same fashion, Obama would have lost the race.  In that sense, I understand why there is an expectation of appreciation and consideration.  I'd like to keep things positive, though.  One of the positive things that came out of this was the development of a new discourse within the diaspora (or maybe a revised version of an old discourse).  It just seems like people are offended by this rather than encouraged by it.  That worries me. "

Well, I can't speak to that unless you get more specific about what you think this new discourse is (that's simply ignorance on my part, I imagine).