Friday, August 29, 2008

Cheering the Color Line

(Photo Credit: Preston Keres, Washington Post; Senator Barack Obama is joined on stage by his daughters Sasha and Malia and Michelle Obama after his speech accepting the Democratic party's nomination for president at Denver's Invesco Field, 8/28/08.)

Two questions that spring to mind upon hearing the news that John McCain has selected Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate: 1) Does anyone else think Palin sounds like the nasal-voiced character (whose name we can neither recall nor track down) on A Prairie Home Companion? We do, and now we can't stop laughing. 2) Does McCain really believe he can pick off disaffected Clinton supporters by running with a gun-toting, anti-choice Jesus freak who just happens to have a vagina? Oh, John, poor John, sweet, old, puffy-jawed John, this is not how the game of identity politics is played. Those of us who actually have vaginas are smart enough to know when some cynical pol is pandering to us. So what if Palin is a "hockey mom" with better than average hair and eyewear for a Republican? Dems offer vagina-equipped candidates whose policies and positions actually serve rather than undermine the interests of women, even if they are not, um, willing to put those candidates on the, um, ticket.

But still, watch your heads, kids -- If that glass ceiling gets any more cracks in it, it is bound to fall down pretty soon! I mean, think about it. With Palin in the mix, we are now assured of having either a woman or an African American in the executive branch for the first time in American history. And we haven't researched this, but I'm willing to bet this is also the first time we face the prospect of having either a Hawaiian or an Alaskan (though Palin was actually born in Idaho -- we did research that) in the executive branch. Finally, fellow citizens, we can smash the hegemony of the 48 contiguous states! If this election gets any more epochal and transformational, I am sure the nation's pundits will have to hospitalized. (Please, lord, let it be so.) New adjectives will have to be brought in to share the load with epochal, transformational, and post-(insert ancient relic of the bad old order here: race, gender, partisan, etc.). Are the nation's thesauruses up to the task? How many more cataclysmic changes in the zeitgeist can we be expected to endure before Wolf Blitzer and Chris Matthews simply (mercifully) explode?

And now back to what we intended to muse on before McCain's epochal, transformational announcement distracted us from our deep thoughts on yesterday's cataclysmic change in the zeitgeist:

Today's post title is brought to you by this book, a paradigm-shifting work of queer cultural analysis you should absolutely buy so that its author won't get mad at us for playing fast and loose with her brilliant title. And yet, she had to have known it was always a matter of when not if we would get around to making such a move, given our known fondness for parody as well as our fundamental laziness when it comes to coming up with titles. Besides, in this rare instance, the clever title actually has some bearing on the substance of what is on our minds as we reflect on yesterday's extraordinary events in Denver and the formal nomination of an African-American man on a major-party ticket for president of the United States.

Go back up and look at the picture at the top of this post. We could go all snarky on what transpired yesterday at Invesco Field, and we imagine some readers will be disappointed if we don't. (Sorry, Steve. Love you! Mean it!) We could join in the long line of those who are mocking the over-the-top setting and try to come up with something even more clever than "Barackopolis" or "Barackenon," but we know Dana Millbank probably couldn't get another job if we edged him out of the one he currently holds, so we'll pass on that. We could focus on the fact that we basically agreed with David Brooks' reading of the occasion, both in what he said last night on PBS and in the speech parody he published this morning. (Sorry, kids, but we do love us some parody.) Like Brooks, we thought the outdoor setting sacrificed a lot in terms of conveying the passionate intensity of an Obama speech and of his connection to his audiences. It was as if Bruce Springsteen had booked the Meadowlands and then decided to leave the E Street Band at home and do one of his somber acoustic shows. Speaker and audience seemed miles apart and on different emotional wavelengths. We could also follow Anglachel's lead and tear into the speech for its political and rhetorical incoherences.

But, gazing at this pretty picture, we don't feel moved to do any of those things, at least not right now. We want to drop the snark, put a hold on our heretofore relentless questioning of Obama's candidacy, and pause for a moment to take in the idea of this stunningly beautiful family moving into the White House. It is impossible to know what an Obama presidency might do to alter the material structures of racism in the United States, but it is easy -- and intoxicating -- to imagine how seeing this family comfortably settled into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue would alter the social and cultural logics of race and racial privilege. Even if you deplore the mingling of church and state (which of course you must), close your eyes and imagine the White House Christmas cards and the Easter egg roll featuring the Obamas rather than the Bushes -- at long last! --, the Clintons, the Nixons, even the Kennedys. It's a simple substitution but one that looks and feels monumental in its import.

Roxie's World is sufficiently invested in a politics of visibility to want to cheer the multiple transgressions of the color line contained in this far from simple substitution in the tableau of the presidential family: the bi-racial man, the tall, strong, dark-skinned woman, and the proud little girls with the sparkling eyes and the names that are a delight to say. (The younger Obama daughter, Sasha, has become a favorite in our house this week. The moms have laughingly termed her "the rascal child" for her mischievous antics on the convention stage.) In their journey toward the White House, the Obama family and campaign are walking through the great American minefield of race, negotiating the impossible binary of sameness and difference. The candidate was excoriated a few weeks back for uttering the perfectly obvious truth that he doesn't "look like" previous occupants of the Oval Office, and so his nominating convention chose to emphasize sameness rather than difference. Michelle Obama's address to the convention used a rhetoric of resemblance clearly aimed at reassuring the audience that the change we contemplate is by no means a threatening one. She patiently explained that Barack's family, despite the "funny name" and its far-away home, was "so much like" her own family in Chicago, and that she and Barack both subscribe to the values of the "American Dream" (of course, of course) and want to pass those values along to their own children and "all children in this nation" (of course, of course). No one wants to hear the truth of difference, and so the campaign takes refuge in the comforting fiction of sameness. That, my friends, is the dream underneath the "American Dream," and that is why the "dream" so often turns into a nightmare.

Let's hope in this case it doesn't. Let's pause to wish the Obamas well on their treacherous, amazing journey under, over, and around the color line. In this respect, on this day and every day, without yet, quite endorsing his candidacy, Roxie's World is proud to declare itself Obamaniacal in its good wishes for the senator, his family, his campaign, and the country he aspires to lead.

Peace out.

6 comments:

  1. Hi Roxie, first here's to Obama's journey "under, over and around the color line!" It's only a few months to go -- he's held up beautifully under the pressure so far, and the same for Michele -- well done!

    On Sarah Palin, I wish this were my own comment, and I apologize that I am still too confused by McCain's not picking a more moderate woman candidate - but I was touched by and quite agree with this unexpectedly sensitive, feminist take by Jane Hamsher (firedoglake.com):

    "I have to say that as a woman, there is something intuitively appealing about her selection, even though I politically disagree with everything she believes in and would never in a million years vote for her. And we're hearing a lot about Obama's support for equal pay and Joe Biden's championing of domestic violence legislation because a large part of the female voting block is in play. I'm still not quite sure why Obama didn't try and lock that vote down by overlooking the personal animosity he and Clinton shared and picking her as his running mate, but he didn't. The chemistry between Obama and Biden is good, and watching them together last night I thought they made an appealing combination. But it also carries risks that McCain decided to exploit.

    "The good news is that women's issues are going to become front and center for this campaign. I haven't seen enough of Palin to know how well she could do against Biden in a debate, but I'm not sure it matters. If she doesn't make some horrible gaffe, what she stands for symbolically will be more important than anything she says.

    "I'd just recommend that if anyone is thinking of going on teevee and tearing her down by saying she doesn't care about the victims of Hurricane Katrina but only cries about her looks, they might want to reconsider."

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  2. Thanks so much for that shrewd nugget of insight from Jane Hamsher, EI. Her commentary is spot-on, and I hope nothing in my off-the-cuff reaction to Palin's selection suggested that we are taking her lightly or, worse, treating her in the vicious, sexist way that others are. Our blog pal Historiann has a good analysis of that up now. It's here.

    Guess it was too much to hope that the MSM and the "progressive" blogosphere would have learned a lesson or two about misogyny through the crucible of Hillary, but we have two words for anyone tempted to under-estimate a ticket that includes an inexperienced v.p. candidate: Dan Quayle.

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  3. First, ole Goose here wants to weigh and say how much all of us should celebrate the crossing of the color line that has occurred whether Obama wins the White House or not (and he probably will). I'm very pleased by the pic you chose, Rox, and, as you know, I think that little Sasha, rascal that she is, is quite the charmer. And she can make her father giggle, totally disarmed by her irrepressible cuteness, which is quite important. That little Piper Palin is another irrepressible one. . .the campaigns should let those two innocent mischief makers romp together: THAT would be the beginnings of a politics of a new order.

    Having slept on McCain's selection, I think that anyone who tries to write it off as simply an effort to pick off Hillary voters does so at his or her peril, and so I really appreciate your comment, EI. Her conservative stands match what McCain was looking for and the fact of her selection reminds voters that he is a maverick, at least sometimes, and that a woman's place can indeed be in the executive branch. I thought liberal commentators foolish (and sexist) for simply saying that McCain was insulting women and Hillary voters in particular by picking her. It's more complex than that. Just as blacks, queers, and other constituencies are not one block of one mindset, so women are not, and do not march in lockstep to a certain set of political opinions. Yet some commentators were talking yesterday as if we do.

    Which brings me to another matter, which I think is another important aspect of her candidacy. Democrats have been talking all through the spring and summer as if the "youth vote" is singleminded. Yet young voters are as diverse and of as many minds as any other group, and in a not-so-subtle way, the selection of Palin reminds everyone that there are young conservatives as well as moderates, liberals, radicals, anarchists, apoliticals. Democrats need to stop talking as if group think rules (this has bothered me for far longer than this election, by the way). So, the selection of Palin doesn't win my vote, but that doesn't mean it won't win other women's and independents' votes.

    And I too wish the Obamas well and am pleased as punch by pics such as the one atop this post, Rox. Thanks for putting it front and center -- it's more than a symbol and that's heartening.
    --Goose

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  4. historiann4:38 PM EDT

    Hi Roxie--thanks for the link, and the comment over at my place. I think Dems are mightily hacked off that McCain successfully turned the coversation away from the Dems and Obama's historic speech and candidacy, and in selecting Palin, he's saying that "change" isn't something that the Dems own. But, Dems just can't shut up with the stupid, sexist attacks so far, and that could end up suppressing the Dem women's vote. I know that I won't feel happy to reward this bad behavior, although I will never pull the lever for McCain/Palin.

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  5. Could this possibly be... the long awaited Obama endorsement?!?!?

    If it is, consider me the happiest citizen of Roxie's World.

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  6. Now, Eitan, I know you've been well trained over there at Queer the Turtle U in the skills of close reading. Go back and read the third sentence of the last paragraph of this post again. It was revised, by order of Goose, to try to clarify that this was NOT (quite, yet) an endorsement of Obama. We are sorry to defer your happiness, but so it goes in Roxie's World. ;-)

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