Sunday, February 17, 2008

Why Race and Gender Do Matter

To their credit, Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama have tried their best to keep race and gender out of their respective campaigns. They have, intelligently, realized that no good can come of it. But, like it or not, it is still an issue.

A lot of people don't understand why so many Black delegates who jumped on the Clinton bandwagon early are rethinking their endorsement of Hillary Clinton now that Obama has a genuine shot of winning the nomination and possibly the entire election. Some have called the moves racially biased and, in truth, they probably are. As Jesse Jackson Jr. pointed out, what Black man is going to want to be the deciding vote that prevents America from electing its first Black President? Not I.

There are other issues at stake here as well, America has a lot of old unhealed wounds when it comes to racial politics both at home and abroad. Electing our 44th old white man to run this country would be a symbol that not much has changed but what a change it would be to elect a woman or a Black man! Imagine what a powerful message that would be to the sons and daughters of slaves to see someone with the same skin color that once branded them as inferior beings (and in some circles still does)running this country. Imagine what a powerful message that would send to the Asian, Arab, Latin, and African nations that America is not the same old great white bully that it has been for the past eight years. Imagine how much easier negotiations would go in Iraq, Iran, Saudia Arabia, Kenya, Somalia, Zimbabwe and many other nations with the leaders of these countries sitting down with Barrack Obama instead of yet another ivory tower White millionaire who they suspect looks down at them or at the very least is completely aloof to their concerns. Imagine what a total overhaul that one gesture could give to America's international image. Nothing would say that America has changed louder than the US not electing its 44th geriatric white man to head the nation.

I was listening to National Public Radio, as I always do while driving to and from the gym, and I heard a discussion on Barrack Obama's candidacy between a reporter and an eighty-year-old white southern gentleman who had grown up back when uppiddy negroes were still being hanged. I'm going to try my best to give you an accurate quote.

"I used to be a Republican but the Republicans have messed this world up so bad that now I think I'm voting as a Democrat. I change my mind everyday but right now I think i'm voting for that Black boy. He seems to have it upstairs."

Wow. Just fuckin' Wow. I was flabbergasted that I actually live in an age where a man who still refers to a Black man as "boy" would actually elect one president. Fuckin' Wow! That's some major change for that ass.

There are still some serious racial tensions in this country. Many Black people still look at the chances of them being elected to public office or of rising to CEO of a Fortune 500 company as slim and none. Many Black Americans still think that White America has it in for us. Many of us still feel so disenfranchised that we don't even feel like Americans. How do you think that perception might change if America were to elect a Black President? How do you think Black children would now view their chances of living a successful life, of having a part of the American dream? It would be hard to still believe that America is a racist country and that all white people are "trying to keep the Black man down" with a duly elected Black man leading the country. I'm not saying that electing Obama would cure all the racial ills of this country but it would be the biggest step in that direction since desegregation.

My grandmother will be eighty-one years-old this year. She grew up in the age of colored bathrooms and segregated lunch counters. My mother grew up during the Civil Rights Movement. I want them both to live to see a Black man run this country.

And what about Hillary? John Lennon once said that "Women are the niggers of the world". Even in this country, in our enlightened age, women have only recieved the right to vote and to own property in the last century. Many still see women as sex objects and the exploitation of women in film, music, television, and advertising is perfectly acceptable. There is a billion dollar a year fashion, and health and beauty industry that preys on their self-esteem, telling them that they are nothing if they are not thin and beautiful. We have a billion dollar porn industry that features women doing everything from having sex with animals to breaking the world gang-bang record. Women still make considerably less than men in this country for doing the same jobs. There are still many jobs from which women are segregated, in practice if not in theory. Just go check any construction site if you think I'm off-base. There are women in my own family who still suspect that a woman would be too emotional to be president. Imagine what it would do for the self-esteem of women in this country if Hillary were to be elected president. Imagine what that would say to the world, where there are still so many countries in which women have no rights and are little more than slaves to their fathers and husbands.

As much as men in this country and in this world are still judged by the color of their skin more often than by the content of their character, so too are women still judged by their bra-sizes, hair styles, and body weight rather than their intelligence or moral character. What a symbol it would be to the women of this country if Hillary Clinton were to give the inauguration speech next January. It would be a symbol that Americans are willing and ready to change the status quo and admit and correct the mistakes of the past.

To look at the two candidates there is very little to choose between them. Their agendas and proposals are almost identical. One has more experience. The other has less baggage and more charisma. That's about where the differences end. The differences in their proposals are so negligible that I can fall asleep listening to them debate the hairline differences. Either one of them would be a far better president than the present or former Bush or that other screw-up, Ronald Reagan, that Americans with short-memories have ridiculously canonized. I lived through Reaganomics and old Ronny was far from a great President. He did more to polarize this country in terms of race and class than any president in the preceding twenty years. But, he was a master at fear-mongering and of taking credit for things that had nothing to do with him like the implosion of the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, he was also a master at borrowing and spending which sent the deficit into orbit and the ghettoes into mayhem. Remember when "The Drug Epidemic" became "The Drug War" and suddenly the US became the country that imprisoned more of its own citizens than any other industrialized nation? Remember when we suddenly began spending more on prisons than on schools? Yeah, that was Ronny. Iran-Contra? That was Ronny. I don't think Clinton or Obama could do worse than that.

The one problem I do see for Hillary Clinton as president is the same thing I mentioned above as a positive. Much of the world does not respect women as leaders and they just happen to be the parts of the world we are currently at war with. Who do you think would have greater diplomatic success with Islamic extremists, Barrack or Hillary? Who do you think has a better chance of brokering peace with African nations that still use rape as a part of warfare? For all of her experience, I hate to say it, but her gender would be a handicap here. Though one, I'm sure she could overcome.

Either way this nomination turns out I'll be happy. I'd rather have the first Black president because I think it would do a lot to heal some of the wounds left over from slavery, Reformation, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights Movement, and would inspire an admittedly lost generation of Black children. I also think it would do a lot to repair the international image of this country shaped by the Bush administration into the bullies of the world, an image that now has a white face. And, being a father, I would love to be able to point to my bi-racial children and tell them about another bi-racial child who became president of the United States but I'd settle for being able to tell my daughters that they too could one day become president just like Hillary Clinton.