And hope moves to concern…
I’d wanted to start publicizing this blog last week when I started it but life gets busy and I didn’t jump on it. Today I received a second copy of the “Be Careful, be very careful” email that’s circulating after a conversation last night regarding a golf channel announcer Kelly Tilghman’s “lynch him in the back alley” comment with really good friends of mine who had no idea of the offense that could cause. So my second post after the primary loss in N.H. is a lot less starry eyed about the state of the nation.
The “mulatto moments!”
So let’s start with Saturday night. Me, a Filipino-American, a South Carolinian white American, and a Chinese-American are sitting around after a steak dinner and bottles of wine. Three guys in the neighborhood of 40 and a woman around 30.
“You’re black, right?” says the white man with his characteristic jest. He’s one of my best friends, and has been for years, so I’m used to the silliness and know there’s no malice and potentially ensuing political incorrectness is more Lenny Bruce than Michael Richards.
So did you hear about the white announcer on the Golf Channel and the controversy with Al Sharpton?
I don’t pay attention to golf or Sharpton much, so no.
He explained that she had said in the context of a discussion of Tiger Woods’ dominance, that the only way to stop that was to “lynch him in the back alley.” (It was actually an amplification of her co-announcer’s statement that the players would need to gang up on him to pass him.) Sharpton wants her fired. She got a suspension. I’m with Al on this one. Tiger said that Tilghman and he were friends and it was no big deal.
I’ve bit my tongue. I have and haven’t called friends on offensive remarks in the past. It’s a subjective thing. Like the law, it’s discretionary.
I was asked my opinion and I agreed with someone whom I don’t think is an idiot, however goofy he may seem to me at times. My friend kept asking if I thought she should lose her career, based on one remark, by being fired. I don’t think necessarily that it is career ending to lose a job, but I do think that people in the public communications business have a responsibility to understand the weight of certain terms in a diverse society. And fairly or not, a white woman from the south saying a black man should be lynched, when a good many black men were lynched and castrated for the appearance of an alliance with white women in the not so distant past, carries a skewed weight of offense. (Anyone remember To Kill a Mockingbird?) So I would fire someone who made such a remark because I wouldn’t want one of the faces of my organization to be someone so ignorant or irresponsible. But if in the next awkward breath she said, “Oh my god, that was awful, I’m sorry” I might give her a pass. Jason Whitlock on Fox Sports had a nice discussion of it, and he was cool with the two week suspension. (http://msn.foxsports.com/nfl/story/7658418) For me, I’d just wish her well and ask her to move on. (I also liked this article regarding the issue: http://www.dailyherald.com/story/?id=112662 which speaks to the comment from Tiger’s Camp of the “non-issue.”)
But what came up in the discussion later while we all were trying to bring up other contexts with other races, etc. surprised me more. One friend had never heard of the Japanese Internments in World War II and another friend kept insisting that the majority of Americans didn’t even know Barack Obama was black, and most likely thought people were talking about Osama bin Laden when they heard the name Obama. Then I had to explain the caucus system to the group. We don’t have caucuses in California or New York or Florida, so it’s understandable to a degree, but it still makes me wonder how people can vote with such little knowledge of the way government works.
Do we all understand at this point that the US is a Republic and not a Democracy? Though the framers were political animals that caved to a 3/5ths ranking of the humanity of “slaves” who were not allowed to vote, they were smart enough to know that Democracy means Mob Rule and a Republic is a more reasoned and protective sort of government for the needs of all, especially those of minority opinions.
So in a way, it almost seems like the major two parties are misnamed. In high school I wrote a Political Science paper where I compared the Republican Party to the “Id,” concerned with individual liberties, “what’s in it for me?” and the Democrats to the “Super Ego,” concerned with the collective good, sacrificing for the poor, etc. Granted this was the 80s, before “ending welfare as we know it” was looked at as a Nixon in China moment. And I’m abbreviating in my haste to blog as opposed to working for the grade. But my Republican friend agreed, saying that under George Bush he was able to get health care, every job he ever considers makes $80,000/year and he got $600, so he votes Republican. (Do you remember the Bush tax rebate based on our budget surpluses during the Clinton years?) In our discussion he kept asking me to “dumb it down” saying that if a candidate offers $600 and another doesn’t most people are going to vote for the one offering $600. I asked if you were a family of three siblings that got to choose your dad and one candidate offered to give allowance and health care to you, but not your siblings would you vote for that candidate knowing that your brother and sister will suffer, but you’ll be better off (in those tangible ways)? I know, though I might’ve had a moment when I was a tyke when that would appeal to me, I would choose the parent that would provide for my family equitably. Suffice to say there was a lot of agreeing to disagree, a few votes of “present” to keep the peace, and a few accusations of people being pissed off. There was also a dispute over which candidate would present a more dramatic symbol to the rest of the world if elected President of the United States.
Then this morning–to speak to the notion of dumbing down–I received the above mentioned forwarded email. And to clarify, both times I received the e-mail it was from a white person sending it on to me with a copy of their rebuttal to the person who had sent it to them. And though I’ve received my share of inane forwards from friends of all backgrounds, it struck me that these e-mails were sent to white people, and not me. Either my immediate community is hipper than my extended network, or some who might’ve sent it to me knew I’d think it was inane or worse. I dunno, but there’s your answer on the symbolism question. In a world where two thirds of the world is brown skinned or “people of color,” many who believe, at best (as do many good, educated Americans) that we would never elect a person of color to be the leader of the free world, and at worst America is an intolerant country that demonizes people of color (despite its tokens) and even more so people of non Judeo-Christian religions especially the “last branch” of the Abrahamic religions, the election of a man (who for the record is Christian), with a non-European, Muslim father, who has lived in the “third world” even if just as a child, would probably seem more significant a symbol than a white woman joining the tradition of Margaret Thatcher and Angela Merkel as leaders of some of the most powerful nations in the world and as leaders of countries where the head of government is of the same dominant race or ethnicity as its populace. (Add to that list most of the women here, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Female_heads_of_government, think of Corazon Aquino, Indira Gandhi, the late Benazir Bhutto, and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.)
All this reminds me of the old gotcha joke/question: What nationality is Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori?
I don’t know if it’s really smart in consecutive breaths for an Obama supporter to mention that guy who turned out to be pretty bad news. But the idea that the president of a nation is not of that nation’s nationality is a mulatto moment akin to my being asked “what nationality are you?” while my features and skin tone reflect the people who were here before Columbus, the people who came after, and the people who were shipped here in chains.
I like Hillary. I think she’d make a good president. She lacks the charisma and some of the political instincts of her husband, which to me make her slightly less suited for the role of “leader of the free world.” But they make a good team, with her coming down as probably more passionate about some things I care about than Bill. I like the effectiveness of the Clinton machine. [Addendum Feb 3: At this point, after South Carolina, I’ve lost respect for the Clinton Machine, I’m just saddened by them.] And I think she would be a great role model to all Americans as one who remains committed to an ideal even in the face of dramatic odds or shame. (I liked this article on the Incremental Revolutionary, comparing Obama and Hillary Clinton: http://www.newsweek.com/id/91755).
I just think Obama is a stronger symbol of change and probably better equipped to get the job done in terms of negotiations across party lines (the baggage to experience ratio seems to weigh in his favor in my view), symbolism–which is extremely important in politics, charisma and even political thinking.
So here’s the real answer to that question: Peruvian born, Alberto Fujimori, the son of Japanese immigrants to Peru, actually did have dual citizenship secured by his parents for him. So truth and symbolism is more complicated than it appears.
And here’s my response to the email smear: (This was actually a response to the original sender’s second e-mail maintaining Obama has lied to us about being a Muslim, after my friend called her on perpetuating ignorance. Be careful of using “reply to all” with your emails… click here for the entire exchange, names removed of course.)
It’s snopes.com, not snoops.com. And if you look at it you’ll see that most of the assertions in this email are lies and the rest are mischaracterizations. The link is http://www.snopes.com/politics/obama/muslim.asp There’s also a good article called “Sliming Obama” on Newsweek’s site: http://www.newsweek.com/id/91424.
Unfortunately, by replying to this email by saying “The fact that he is Muslim isn’t my concern – the fact that he lied is!” without verifying your information shows a really sad pride in your ignorance on this issue. He’s not Muslim (freshman congressman Keith Ellison is and after he was sworn in posed for pictures with his hands on Thomas Jefferson’s copy of the Koran) and Obama’s at least as honest as any of the other politicians running for office or running the country. (I’d venture to say more so.) Also Clinton fired a campaign worker who forwarded on a similar Obama smear e-mail. (And please don’t mischaracterize this as a claim that it originated from the Clinton campaign…as politically ruthless as they are, I can’t imagine them organizing something so laughably false. I actually like the Clintons and feel they are really effective leaders on issues of tolerance among many other things.)
I don’t know you “—“, but you’ve sent easily verifiable lies twice two more than a dozen of your friends. I can only hope that most of your friends are smart enough to investigate before they believe a chain email and cast a misinformed vote. Things like this make me really happy we live in a republic rather than a democracy. (The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic…follow the links, it’s edifying).
I changed my subject line to the email response from “Be Careful…” to “Please verify before accusing people of not being truthful.” Yet, for a moment earlier in this writing, I was going to attribute these emails as being sent by white people to the white people who forwarded rebuttals to this half-white guy. I don’t know that my mother’s classmate was in fact white, (though being in her mid-60s from Maine it’s likely) nor do I know that my friend’s friend was white. What I know is that assumptions often need to be examined. By all of us.
I know I’d be happy in a world where the word lynch didn’t have horrific associations for blacks. And I’d probably be just as happy in a world where I didn’t know that it had horrific connotations, until I made the mistake of using it in a public forum.
As a six year old child I was happy in a world where the word Nigger meant the same to me as the word Fucker until I called a black boy Nigger and was beat up. My parents educated me and five years later I was beat up by a white kid and told to run home like a Nigger. I knew what it meant.
(And PS, I don’t mean to characterize my friends as heartless or unintelligent. These are people I love, who are wonderful people, generous and we’re about as diverse as they come. I’m just amazed that education and the national media as well as the public discourse has been so weak, that vital moments of history and important themes in the larger context of America’s character are unknown to so many of us. What I’m really thankful for is that we as friends, and being of such “diverse cultural backgrounds” have the love and respect for one another to be able to speak frankly, disagree and yet really enjoy each other. That’s what the Obamanation is: people gathering in harmony in situations and relationships that less than 50 years ago were seen as anathema in the eyes of much of the public and the law.)