¡Sí, Se Puede!
A couple days ago I added the subtitle: “Mulatto Moments in ‘Post-Racial’ America.” Of course I hope that everyone here would recognize the jest: how could you really have “mulatto moments” if there weren’t discoveries that weren’t based in truly segregated realities? But I’m consistently surprised. Years ago I used in a song: ‘The colorblind man sees better than the rest / I’m trying to believe it’s true.’ I’m convinced now, as I pretty much was then, was that the operative part of that compound is blind. (There’s a good Op-Ed by Uzodinma Iweala that appeared in the L.A. Times on Jan. 23 that breaks down the idea of “Post Racial” America.) And who really wants to be blind? I’m sure there were folks with me at the Democratic Debate in Hollywood on Thursday that saw “a man” staring down from all those posters for Barack Obama. I saw a man, too. But I saw a biracial man, who is called Black, or African-American, by himself and others, who kissed his white grandparents, like I kissed mine. And because I know a little of his story, I know that he’s spent some time here and there, in different nations, where different religions were dominant. And I was a little scared thinking about the joy I feel seeing old pictures of similarly hued Malcolm X (probably lighter than the biracial Obama, and definitely lighter than Denzel Washington), and Malcolm’s end. I wasn’t born then, Barack was 3, and things have changed. Now there’s real hope that a man that looks like that will lead this country…a country that was heavily invested in not giving power to anyone even the shade of a paper bag when he was born. (Follow the link and search around, a paper bag test was really the result of internalized racism, but you get the picture. When was Thurgood Marshall appointed to the Supreme Court? And what shade was he? The later’s answer is interestingly the day after Loving v. Virginia struck down all Anti-Miscegenation laws in the country, June 13, 1967.)
I’m glad I know this history and can see it.
I don’t need to know the concepts behind a great piece of music. I don’t need to know the lyrics. But I’m excited by that knowledge, intrigued by the confluence and how that contributes to the power of the work. And I’m annoyed by those who dismiss it, dismiss the traditions of the music. This isn’t because I’m getting old, the first song I ever wrote was influenced by Woody Guthrie’s use of traditional source material. I was 9.
So I’m equally annoyed by those who are ignorant of the history of color prejudice, who wistfully long for a period when it will not matter in the near future or, even more egregiously, claim that time is now.
Tonight I’m just getting in from a Black/Brown dialogue by way of a Poetry Choir Performance in Highland Park. Really, most of the crowd, however identified, was ironically the shade of a brown paper bag, give or take. Maybe this is post racial, where we’re all the same shade but the difference is the cultural traditions. But the shade (the cover that you can’t judge!) leads to a story of the alchemy. And part of that alchemy includes the history of prejudice and how it has impacted all of our lives, privileged and not.
But beyond that, ( ¡SÃ, Se Puede!), history is fun and illuminating. I’m at the debates Thursday, and the blue English signs for Obama are all out. So I get the red one, which is in Spanish. I’m not bilingual. And I’m the kid who took French in my upper-middle class suburb. But I dug “El pueblo unido jamÃ¡s serÃ¡ vencido” better than “The People United will never be defeated” when we demonstrated against Aparthied back in the 80s. And I heard ” ¡SÃ, Se Puede!” then. I heard it in the streets a couple years ago. And I’m completely thrilled. There are probably some cynics that will say it’s a co-opting akin to AeroMexico’s. But to me it’s an embrace, an embrace of the Farm Workers’ movement, et. al. I feel like only a true believer with the audacity of hope could think that he could use a phrase so identified with leftist movements to win a mainstream election while signaling his inclusion of people who have been historically shut out. And talk about inclusion, Obama even has a LGBT link on his page! (I wonder what Pat “see sah perda” Buchanan would say about that!). I’m just so excited that my generation, a generation with leaders that are post modern, recognizing the real presence of difference, of cultural circumstance, without bowing to the hierarchies of the past, has the chance to lead. That is the future, not some colorblind, bland, “we’re all the same” thing.
Yes we can embrace all these differences and thrive. Remember when multiculturalism was “hot?” Well now it just “is.” And we need someone who understands that intuitively, dare I say natively. We don’t need someone who’ll cynically use codified race baiting on the campaign trail, whether intentional or not, and I know it was Bill, not Hillary. (Remember when Bill Clinton discussed what the meaning of the word “is” is? I embrace ambiguity, but there’s a little cynical manipulation going on there. And I liked Clinton well enough. But both Clinton and George Wallace have won the South Carolina Primary along with John Edwards, Jesse Jackson and proto neo-con Henry M. Jackson.)
I said originally that this wasn’t going to be a blog just about Obama. And it isn’t, but this movement is really inspiring me.