Tag Archives: barack obama

The Unintentional Argument: My Response to Melissa Harris-Perry and Joan Walsh

27 Sep

Who are ‘white’ liberals and who are ‘black’ voters? How do these groups of people define progressive politics for themselves and collectively? The recent debate between Melissa Harris-Perry and Joan Walsh prompted me to question what’s in a name, or more precisely, what meanings we give to things. The purpose of this blog post is to lay out my thoughts about both articles mainly so I can get them out of my head. I’m not writing this piece to get  “clicks” or to be invited to speak on some panel about ‘race’, or to inadvertently place myself in a salacious conversation for attention. I’m writing this post because over the past two days I found myself physically unable to ignore the issues both women brought up in their pieces, and the subsequent debates that have emerged as a result. I attempted to tweet my thoughts about both articles and the debates, but I soon realized that I needed a more reflective medium to lay out my ideas, which in this case comes in the form of a WordPress blog post.  I emphatically thank both women for writing their articles and prompting me to grapple with complex ideas about identity and meaning.

As I tweeted earlier, we can never really have a genuine debate about ‘race’ in cyberspace because, more often than not, meaning, intent, and messages get lost. Talking points and choppy headlines become the narrative when they should not be. If we are to honestly engage in a discussion about ‘race’ then we need more than a 300-500 word blog post or 140 characters. This doesn’t mean, however, that online news columns, blog posts, and tweets are ineffective for critical engagement, it just means that critical engagement should not be limited to computer-mediated media texts. At this point, both Harris-Perry and Walsh’s pieces should further discussions about ‘race’ and politics offline, in both private and public spaces. They should not, however, function to continue to stifle these discussions online. As I write this piece using an online medium, I do so with the intention to continue these conversations offline and out into our respective communities.

The Unintentional Argument

As I see it, the argument from both sides has been reduced to what ‘white’ or ‘black’ people do during the Obama presidency. I can’t help but think of that tired old Def Comedy Jam shtick “white people do this while black people do that!” except in this case, it’s not so much a comedy as it is a tragedy of how we’ve come to understand our own racialized situatedness against one another. Using terms like ‘black’ voters or ‘white’ liberals as rhetorical strategies of critique do in fact generalize groups of people. Using these generalized terms may also encourage others to dismiss the social and psychological elements of ‘race’ that we all suffer from, namely pathalogized racial superiority and pathologized racial inferiority as a result of white privilege and whiteness.

The point here, it seems, is that the argument should be less about why ‘blacks’ and ‘whites’ support ‘black’ and ‘white’ candidates differently, and more about interrogating how support or abandonment across all racial lines shifts according to whiteness, racial pathology, and other intersecting oppressions and political issues. I have a feeling that people may be abandoning Obama across all racial lines for reasons that both Harris-Perry and Walsh point to in their pieces (subtle racism, economy, ideology, and jadedness). Yet, there are still some ‘white’ liberals celebrating President Obama’s achievements (very very loudly) more so than some ‘black’ progressives. Is this celebration a result of ‘white’ guilt or a result of genuine support for Obama’s legislative policies based on aligned political ideology? It’s hard to say without, at the very least anecdotal evidence, because it is difficult to measure perceptions, especially when those perceptions are muddled with anxieties about self, Other, and nation.

What I Wished For

To fully understand what Harris-Perry poignantly calls “a profound and important shift in America’s electoral politics,” I wanted her and Walsh to better interrogate the underlying issues of racial angst and oppression. Instead both seem to have built and rebuilt the foundation of their arguments based on what abstract racialized groups of people think about President Obama and former President Bill Clinton, and how those perceptions influences electoral politics. I wanted both women to center their arguments on the existence of whiteness by using the language of whiteness to describe how whiteness impacts all voters across racial lines. I wished both women would have also acknowledged the taboo side of our social psychology that enjoys seeing others fail, most notably politicians.

To her credit, Harris-Perry has wisely articulated whiteness in mainstream media previously, and I celebrated her for that. (The Loop 21 has since removed my piece. But luckily for you, I link to it here).

I wrote of Harris-Perry:

During her segment [on Countdown with Keith Olberman], Harris-Lacewell [sic] noted that “some whites honestly don’t see racism,” which suggests that white privilege operates under our radar. We don’t see racism because we don’t talk about white privilege and the effects of whiteness, but rather, when talking about race relations in the U.S., we fall back on what Harris-Lacewell [sic] describes as “rhetorical acts of racial inequality.” In other words, we fail to penetrate the proverbial surface of what racism actually means.

Here I understand Harris-Perry stating that we must work to identify whiteness (especially in subversive ways) in public discourse because it is crucial to our understanding of racism and of ‘race’ relations in the U.S. The collective problems as a result of white privilege and whiteness are all shared across racial lines, whether we want to admit or acknowledge them or not. Likewise, these social and psychological effects of whiteness are illustrated by how we employ binaric racialized language, as evident in both Harris-Perry and Walsh’s pieces. With that said, I do not want readers here to think I am suggesting that a tenured professor of political science and a seasoned journalist do not understand concepts of whiteness and intersectionality, but rather I am writing to state that I had hoped for more critical discussions about ‘race’ from both thinkers, and thusly more critical engagements about ‘race’ from others who read and admire their work.

With that said, do I believe that ‘race’ plays a role in how we perceive the effectiveness of our 1st African-American president? Yes.

Do I believe that class issues and status play roles in how we perceive the effectiveness of our president; African-American, biracial, or otherwise? Yes.

Do I think there is a tendency for “white liberals to hold African-American leaders to a higher standard than their white counterparts?” In order for this to be true for me I had to think about my personal experiences with ‘white’ people in corporate American, high school and college sports, and in academia. So, yes.

Do I think there is a tendency for ‘blacks’ to hold African-American leaders to a higher standard than their ‘white’ counterparts. Yes. This too plays out well in corporate American, academia, and elsewhere. This idea reminds me of the “marginalized people as saviors” trope that is not just perpetuated in Disney movies. I come across this all of the time in professional, academic, and personal spheres.  This trope we tell ourselves says that we can save dominant groups because of the very nature of our marginalized gender, ‘race’, class, and/or sexuality status. Exactly who or what are we trying to save, and for what purpose? Again, this trope seems connected to our pathologizing and internalizing ‘race’, gender, class, and sexuality oppressions (as well as other identity-based oppressions).

But who can blame us?

What I see currently happening in the blogs and on Twitter is a narrative of anxiety. This narrative of anxiety began with a long and racist history in the United States and continues to play itself out in modern society entangled with gender, class, and sexuality issues. Because these issues intersect, it’s not surprising that we, wo/men, ‘blacks’, ‘whites,’ Latina/os, Asians, gays, lesbians, and poor people tend to repress and pathologize ‘race’. It becomes even more complicated as we try to understand who we are as individuals and as a country in the age of Obama. We are all trying to figure out our own ways, and it’s terribly difficult to see ourselves outside of ourselves as we shift within a paradigm of making and remaking meaning about identity, politics, and culture. Certainly, the existence of whiteness and white privilege do not make our collective task any easier.

I may be arguing a moot point. However, consider that since Harris-Perry and Walsh published their respective pieces other sorts of conversations have emerged. Some that I don’t see, at least at this point, as transforming our anxieties or racial politics in the U.S. Instead, conversations emerging from the comment sections, Twitter streams, and blog posts sound pessimistic, divisive, and animus. The “us against them” mantra has taken on new forms in this debate, and it’s not only race-based. Intra-group quarrels have risen based on class (the “Black bourgeoisie” phrase has been thrown around a few times); based on progressive politics (i.e. “we’re more progressive than them”); and based on personal encounters with individuals (i.e. “I’ve encountered Harris-Perry or Walsh before so I know how she is” so therefore something has to be wrong with her argument).

I don’t believe our president would find these conversations useful for his end goals, which I hope are about getting people jobs and reinvesting in education and social programs.  I’m not sure Harris-Perry or Walsh intended for this to happen either, especially since both women have been viciously attacked on the basis of their ‘race’, gender, and class status.

So where do we go from here? I mentioned at the beginning of my post that both articles have prompted some important thoughts and discussions about ‘race’ in the U.S. Are all of these discussions meaningful? If I were to take a snapshot of the conversations going on in cyberspace now, I’d say, no. However, we can transform the conversation by 1) problematizing how we name things by shifting our focus from employing binary and arbitrary rhetorical language to interrogating underlying issues of racism and ‘race’ relations, namely by identifying and calling out whiteness and racial pathology that we all have to confront in our daily lives, and 2) making visible the meta-narrative of anxiety, which stems from intersecting oppressions that Harris-Perry and Walsh’s pieces somewhat address, albeit disjointedly.

In my perfectly feminist world both Melissa Harris-Perry and Joan Walsh planned this whole debate in some secret office where all intelligent and articulate women go to conspire for the greater good and to change the world. All along Melissa Harris-Perry and Joan Walsh wanted us to get fired up to publicly interrogate identity and meaning as I attempted to do here with this blog post. That would be my wish.

In the mean time, I leave you to ponder these thoughts from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from his book Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community

The white liberal must see that the Negro needs not only love but also justice. It is not enough to say, ‘We love Negroes, we have many Negro friends.’ They must demand justice for Negroes . . . The white liberal must affirm that absolute justice for the Negro means . . . that the Negro must have ‘his due’. There is nothing abstract about this. It is as concrete as having a good job, a good education, a decent house and a share of power . . . The white liberal must rid himself of the notion that there can be a tensionless transition from the old order of justice to the new order of justice.

Thank you to a special friend who pointed me to Dr. King’s words while editing this post. I believe in you and your work. I’ll see you when you come up for air. Press on, love.

Obama’s HCR Speech Challenge, & O’Donnell’s Reality Check

3 Sep

MSNBC Political Correspondent Lawrence O'Donnell

Last night on The Rachel Maddow Show, MSNBC political correspondent Lawrence O’Donnell addressed what might be President Obama’s last chance to rally substantial support for progressive Health Care Reform in the US.  Obama will to speak before a joint session of Congress next week.

Some folks are banking on Obama’s rhetoric genius to deliver a speech that will inspire even the most cynical, namely the GOP opposition.  But can a speech actually change the hearts and minds of a party hell-bent on engaging in the art of hyperbole to belly-ache and spread blatant falsehoods about real Health Care Reform?  If you recall back in 1993 at the height of a similar Health Care Reform debate, former President Bill Clinton went before Congress and delivered what was at the time considered a pivotal speech on progressive Health Care Reform.  The result of his monumental speech, you ask? Ask our current Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.  And, as Lawrence O’Donnell points out, Bill Clinton wasn’t facing nearly as much opposition upon delivering that speech as President Obama is facing now.

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Yo, Michael Steele, Whut Up Homie!

1 Mar

michael-steele
From Huffington Post.

Dear Michael Steel –

From one Hip Hop Head to, well, I guess another, do you mind if I address your latest call on the GOP to engage broader, more diverse groups like the Hip Hop community?

This will only take a sec.

While I don’t think the idea of reaching out to broader or more diverse communities is counterproductive for the GOP, I do think that as their leader, you ought to focus more on encouraging the GOP to deeply reflect on their public policies, image, and messaging. Then, after some necessary introspection, perhaps the GOP might be ready to reach out to the Hip Hop community. You can’t expect other communities to accept your olive branch when your own tree house isn’t in order.

And then there’s that whole 2006 campaign thing, you know where you kinda misled poor, low-income folks of color to distribute campaign fliers in Philadelphia under false pretense. That was pretty gangsta, but it’s really not the kind of change we’ve been looking for. By reaching out to Hip Hop folks now, are you just using another community to satisfy your own personal interests? It’s a fair question, no? One that also asks you and your folks to engage in some serious reflecting before going forward with this whole reaching-out-to-the-Hip-Hop-community bit.

Baby steps, GOP, baby steps.

Don’t suggest that the Hip Hop community will help, or even save, the GOP. And please don’t use the “first-African-American-to-chair-the-RNC” shtick to seemingly assume black, brown, yellow, and white folks within the Hip Hop community will follow the GOP lead. Like Obama, you and your party need to earn our short attention spans by first checking your own party members. This includes voting records that hardly reflect issues of those within our communities and neighborhoods – oops, I mean, ‘hoods.

Quick! What was Mos Def’s position on the Jena Six situation, and why was it important to social and criminal justice? And no, it wasn’t that he thought Bush didn’t care about Black people – that was the other Black rapper guy talking about that other Louisiana city.

(My bad, “gotcha” questioning is so 2008.)

But nothing says ‘I’m seriously engaged in your community’ like uttering phrases such as “bling-bling” and “off the hook” while speaking to members of Congress and national press. That’s right, Michael, using patronizing slang as code words for being disingenuous is exactly what gets you an “in” with all the hipsters.

On the real though, you should encourage the GOP to be more concerned about its dangerously divisive domestic and foreign policies. Polices that, by in large, aren’t grounded in reality but instead centered on a combination of illusion and some really neat 1950’s sitcom I saw on TV Land last weekend.

Reconsider GOP messaging, which largely impacts the GOP’s perceived image and brand. Stop using folksy, out of touch women to be the “face” of the party, when it’s obvious that the party needs much more than a faux feminist face lift. Try reconstructing the entire GOP political body by supporting women and their issues all of the time, not just when it’s convenient. Stop allowing your party to use self-absorbed, self-serving, and unapologetic Black men as puppets to passive-aggressively talk smack to the opposition.

Aim low, GOP.

Consider recruiting humble, thoughtfully spoken, and open-minded individuals who have a complex understanding of the worlds we inhabit. Having a complex world view doesn’t mean adopting a post-9/11 mentality that believes “most” of Islam wants to kill “all” Americans.

Stop giving right-wing conservative warriors (?) like Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh woodies by either appearing on their shows or acknowledging their existence.

There’s always room for opposing views, but for any conservative leader to encourage such narrow-minded opinions should be held accountable – this especially includes you, Michael. (You might want to peep out fellow GOPer Arlen Specter’s radio interview with Laura Ingraham, a.k.a Ann Coulter Jr.)

When you can approach your party behind closed doors without cameras and microphones and ask them to candidly reevaluate their regressive policies and ideology, then you certainly have my permission to step up on that podium and ask to engage broader, eclectic, and creative communities of influence. Then maybe, just maybe, we’ll consider your request.

I’m outty five thizzie, home skillet!

Tara

OBAMA BABY GIRL!

2 Feb

Yes, I know the commercialism of Barack Obama and his family is outrageous nowadays.  But whatevs.  My niece (a.k.a “Obama Baby Girl”) is the shiz-nick.  Yes, I said it – shizzzzzzz-nick!

“Obama Girl” pales in comparison to Obama Baby Girl!

MUST WATCH IN HD!

Women of Color in an Obama Era

4 Dec

From Huffington Post.

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Today, like I do everyday around noon, I moved my car from one side of the street to the other as directed by the Culver City parking limit sign. While waiting at the stop sign, a block from theBrave New Films office (my employer), I watched as three Latina women crossed the street strolling along three white children. The women appeared to be related, la abuela, la madre, and the daughter following closely behind. Three generations of Latina domestic workers pushing three white-raced children in a stroller along the pristine streets of Culver City, California – what else is new? This wasn’t the first time I’ve seen Latinas walk white-raced children around the streets of this liberal-leaning city. Fifty years ago, those Latinas would probably have been African-American women – the faces have changed, but not necessarily the situation. 3035695957_00e14567b3

All this got me thinking about women of color and where we fit into this new Obama era. While I don’t believe any politician is ever more powerful than the will of the people, I can’t help but wonder how Obama’s power as President will address the myriad of low wage-(or no wage)-earning, care-taking, health-insurance-lacking, poverty-stricken women of color (WOC) in the United States.

African-American women still comprise over sixty percent of the labor force among women. Women of color in general are much less likely to hold managerial and professional jobs than white women. Women of color are more likely to be poor than white women, and with the exception of Asian-American women, WOC are considerably less likely to hold a BA degree or higher than white women. WOC earn less than white women with the same education level. Asian-American and Native American women in particular share in the highest proportion of female suicide deaths across race, ages 15-44. African-American, Native American, and Asian-American women are significantly less likely to than white women to report being a victim of sexual and domestic violence. Among women, Latinas/Chicanas are the least represented at the highest levels of education.

I thoroughly respect Obama’s National Security choices, including Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice, and Janet Napolitano. Placing these women at high leadership positions symbolizes a societal transition toward forward thinking shape-shifters. Yet, just as we aren’t in a post-race era, we certainly haven’t transcended gender discrimination and economic and health disparities among women and men – especially as it relates to women of color.

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My African-American mother is the sole caretaker of my white-raced father, a 78-year-old veteran, suffering from heart disease, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and severe emphysema. She, like many other WOC who take care of sick and dying family members, is also unemployed – and not necessarily by choice. Despite the fact that she has chosen to go back to school and finish her Bachelor’s degree, there aren’t many options for a middle-aged black women (with a plethora of work experience) in this day-in age.

But my little familial anecdote isn’t any different from, say, that of women in DC living with HIV, wherein 90% of them are black. Nor is my story any different from the Latina domestic workers in Culver City, or the large majority of Native and Asian-American young women struggling with depression, and taking their own lives as a result. We have progressed as a nation, and while we all can take great pride in our future First lady and First daughters (Michelle, Malia, and Sasha), the problems WOC collectively face in the U.S. are significant in comparison to that of white women and men. In other words, we still have work to do.

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Issues concerning women of color span economy, education, health, poverty, and popular culture. While the problems that arise within these multiple modes of society vary, the fact remains that the struggles we face as women of the growing minority are compounded by race. The implications of an Obama administration upon the lives of women of color is yet to be seen. Though we understand that policies and legislation which positively influence the conditions of WOC can, in essence, impact the entire well-being of U.S. society. If women of color suffer, we all do – because we are the workers, the (First) mothers, the (First) daughters, and yet still, the struggling and dying many.

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Right: Friend, Kami Fletcher, and I at Obama rally in Dallas during the Texas primaries.

Many thanks to Smita Satiani and Axel Woolfolk for contributing insights and editorial suggestions to this essay.

Sources:
Institute For Women’s Policy Research
Eliza Noh, Ph.D., California State University, Fullerton
National VAWA Survey

What is a Progressive Movement? (A work in progress…)

12 Nov

thinking_man

A cyber buddy of mine asked me an important question today via Facebook.  He wrote in response to my open letter to Russell Simmons:

“Hey Tara. I totally agree that it is silly to suggest that hip hop will be a serious part of the political process. I have a serious question for you though. What is the progressive movement? Can you put it into a few sentences?”

And this was my response:

Thx for commenting & asking a GR8 question! As I see it, a progressive movement is a forward shift in practice & ideology. As a practice, it’s a fluid space that looks like labor reform (EFCA), universal healthcare, energy policies that work with preserving our environment, not damaging it. I’m thinking in terms of human & civil rights – laws that give LGTBQ folks the same legal ‘privileges’ as heterosexual folks. It’s ideology (& I can write an entire thesis on my idea of progressive ideology), that doesn’t limit our scope of understanding the worlds around us. We begin to think less in terms of “us vs. them,” “this or that,” “black or white,” “moral or immoral” but consider that much of our world functions in an ‘in between’ space. By functioning within this ‘in between’ space, we acknowledge our pitfalls, failures, & vulnerabilities inspite/despite our incessant need to be right. A movement of progress means truding forward beyond what was & moving toward what can be.

I also want to add that depending on one’s ‘core belief system’ a progressive movement will differ. However, notwithstanding these core belief systems, I think folks might agree that a progressive movement is change of some sort. Now what that ‘change’ means to certain groups of people and how that ‘change’ can be accomplished will continually be up for debate.

I think asking ourselves what progress means is the $60 million question of our times.  As I continue to hash out exactly what this monster of an idea means, I wonder what others think about a ‘progressive movement.’  Can it be defined succinctly?  My guess is, probably not.

An Open Letter to Russell Simmons

11 Nov

This letter came about after reading Russell Simmons’ latest post on Huffington Post.  Actually, it was a comment that I wanted to post but I exceeded the commenting word limit by 397 words.  So I decided to make my own post about the topic of the new hip hop community’s role in an Obama era.  While I appreciate Russell’s intentions, I think he’s dodging the overall point, and I think it’s done intentionally because he wants to preserve hip hop’s legacy in our culture.  Fair enough.  But what he fails to realize is that hip hop can last if it can admit to itself its own failures and shortcomings.  Once in a while, we have to admit to ourselves that we got it wrong.  Only then can change and transformation actually happen.

Russell,

With all due respect, I understand that hip hop is an angle that you claim uniquely, but I don’t quite understand the connection you’re trying to make by inserting lines like “Hip Hop is about perseverance” and “Hip-hop is the culture of transformation” into this post about a progressive movement. Besides these lines being completely obscure, I also question how “hip hop” in the 21st century can contribute to an entire progressive movement on the brink of transformation. As one who is willing to be apart of this movement, I find it very difficult to see how SOME within the hip hop community can shout progress while purporting some of the most non-progressive ideals (i.e. stereotyping and exploiting African-Americans, Latina/os, women, and urban youth). If the new hip hop generation wants to march with me in this progressive movement, I think some serious reconciliation has to happen first.

I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s listening to A Tribe Called Quest, Public Enemy, Run DMC (your brother), Nas, etc., and I can say without hesitation that hip hop then is not the same as it is now (which can be a good and bad thing). Yeah, the message might be just as politically incorrect, but at least it was political – at least we heard our fair share of social justice messages and weren’t inundated with messages aligned with poppin’ bottles in the club. Sure, some can argue that hip hop back then was just as misogynistic as it is now, but at least we had voices like Queen Latifah, Monie Love, and MC Lyte to counteract these stereotypes. What do we have now? A bunch of one-hit wonders for people to bang out to in the club. Club-bangers are cool, but if that’s all a genre of music can produce then it’s very difficult to swallow the “Hip-hop is the culture of transformation” pill. What type of transformation, exactly, are you talking about?

For those of us who grew up during a generation when hip hop was more about cultural expression than cultural exploitation, we’re going to need clarification on what you mean by “hip hop” now and how your vision of hip hop relates to the ideals of an Obama administration. Race aside, how can a 50 Cent, Jay-Z, or Young Jeezy help with securing Universal Health Care and reforming labor rights? Are these issues that “hip hop” in the 21st century really want to confront? If not, cool. Then let the role of the hip hop community be for entertainment purposes only and escapism.

Though I’m hopeful that the hip hop community will confront these issues head-on, I’m realistic that it won’t. I hope that the hip hop community can band together to work in efforts to pass progressive legislation and help inspire a generation of people toward a progressive movement (online AND offline). However, I’m a bit worried that the hip hop community will in fact largely turn apathetic toward these efforts and instead do what’s in the best interest to preserve itself.

I believe hip hop in the 21st century is experiencing it’s own shift and identity crisis. So before the new hip hop generation (artists, Executives, consumers, critics, etc.) decide to lend itself to a progressive movement perhaps it should take a serious look at itself and ask if/how it is helping the movement. The way I see hip hop now is just like any other ‘radical’ practice that falls victim to the american (hyper) capitalist system; it’s becomes that which it proclaims to critique. The only message I hear coming from the new hip hop era – an era of excess – is “Get Rich or Die Trying.” And honestly, I don’t care too much for that message in this progressive movement that we’re trying so desperately to build.