Slips of the Tongue and Things to Chew

I had a rant the other day – when it was the Che Guevara/Obama supporter controversy – and I knew it would be impossible for me to ever be a mainstream politician. I give a buck to the woman selling the Communist newspaper outside the lefty folk singers’ shows. And I’ve bought the bean pie and taken the newspaper. Some of the stuff I read resonates at times, but mostly I’m excited that people are fiercely passionate about questioning the status quo. It may not make sense to me. And there’s enough contradiction in all these dogmas, from communism to religion to the “American Dream” to fuel ironic monologue’s long after the sun dies. But it’s committed work. And the more this poor guy misspeaks, the more I believe in him.

Barack Obama is getting caught in so many mulatto moments, creating a national mulatto moment, and making clear that sometimes in those mulatto moments of multi-lingual encounters, we fall prey to the language that we suspect our listener can hear. Those are the uncomfortable moments when you let a cultural offense slip by and then find yourself in a situation where you’ve said something in a way that could be interpreted as offensive. But you want to avoid the time it takes to deliver “Barack Obama’s Speech on Race” which may or may not be received. So you figure your friends know you’re not elitist, or racist, or sexist and you let it go in the moment. I mean, you probably figure, I’ve spent literal years of my life trying to deconstruct bias in an effort to foster community and understanding, in conversations with lovers, family members, in public, in art…. I’ll just let this one go. Then someone, who hasn’t asked you what you meant by your “gaffe,” decides to interpret it for you. This person shapes it into something that fits his/her world view or aim. Then it’s turned against you.

So a “typical white person” becomes a racist remark, when in fact a “typical person” of any background in America may have the same reaction as Grammy Dunham, if you believe computer test simulations. And expressing that people cling to the things that they have left to empower them becomes an elitist observation, or a borderline racist appeal when Howard Dean said he wanted to bring the Confederate Flag bumper sticker truckers into the fold of the Democratic Party. All of these cases are situations where the speakers are trying to reach out, to say “I feel your pain” (or “their pain” depending on the audience). And yet the great pain feeler of the 90s reacts like the child of privilege when he claims no racial or ill intent in some of his statements recently. And even if you give the benefit of the doubt, to the intentions Bill or Hillary, or anyone else who thinks their “politically incorrect” statement is innocuous, a person who wishes to create real dialogue will acknowledge their words are legitimately heard differently by those from a different perspective.

In debate, I think the rule is to never give your opponent’s perspective any real credence. I prefer a dialogue between interested parties in life and in Government. Admit your mistakes, consider the different perspectives, and let’s move on. I kind of agree with Frank Rich from a couple weeks ago that it’s silly for the Dems to say that John McCain wants a hundred year war. Look at all these candidates’ long records and there’s no need to twist. Obama will be the most effective leader.

So, I got back into this electoral politics thing again…

Well here’s my religious thought of the day: God as a verb rather than a noun. I heard Chris Hedges float that idea the other day and I’m enjoying the chew.

One Comment

  1. Margit May 8, 2008

    So this was an interesting “slip” of the tongue I heard from one of my students today. Working with teenagers in and around Los Angeles, you encounter lots of declarations of identity. Sometimes it is in direct opposition to the group, sometimes it is an attempt to be included by a certain group, sometimes its a slip. The director we were working with did an excercise with the kids called train track. Everyone stands on the train track and as the train comes down the track you must decide which side of the track you will jump off to…each side of the track is something that you believe or identify with or is true about you. For example, I believe in God on one side /I don’t believe in God on the other side. So after getting the hang of it, the choice was I’m Black/I’m White. So there was a lot of confusion. First of all there really weren’t any students that were obviously black or white. Well, being both, I got stuck on the train tracks. Not such a big surprise…but many other students were stuck as well, they didn’t identify with either. Some were latino/a, some were Persian/Middle Eastern, one student was white but she wasn’t sure what part of her background made her white because she was half Italian, one of the instructors is African but he refused to choose and said that he was human. Here is the intriguing part for me: one girl asked, “do you mean what really are or how we act?” this was said by the girl who said she was Persian.

    So does that mean that blackness and whiteness are no longer attached to the epidermal reality? Well, that has always been true to a certain extent But what does that imply for a claim of a post racial america? i thought, well these kids don’t identify with any of the categories that America has used to carve out its identity. Our engagement with otherness is racially based and constructed as a performance. What we really are or how we act? What defines us?

    Not so directly related but that is my riff on slips of the tongue.

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