Elegantly Put, This Is What I Was Trying to Say About Obama's Speech

by B.J. Delas Armas on 4/02/2008 11:27:00 AM 0 comments Print this post

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This Is What I Was Trying to Say About Obama's Speech

..."How dishonest it is to portray Obama as the only candidate with a racial inheritance."

[On Hilary Clinton (but should also include McCain)] "One would think she is just any woman, colorless, race-less, past-less, but she is not.

She carries all the history of white womanhood in America in her person; it would be a miracle if we, and the world, did not react to this fact. How dishonest it is, to attempt to make her innocent of her racial inheritance."

http://www.alternet.org/election08/80898/?page=entire

"Raceless" and "past-less" are the key words, particularly in a context where individuality is put at a premium. Having a race and having a past means that your individuality is not valued. Why does that matter?


"Race-less" means that by virtue of being white, you carry this aura of "naturalness" and "universality." What applies for you as a white person, applies for everyone.

If it is good for the white person or people involved, it's usually good for everyone else. Example: slavery, land-stealing, killing Indians, bombing brown people and all the justifications for that. "Slaves were destined to be slaves. Look at their muscular features, the fact that they don't get sick, and their inferior intellectual abilities. They were manufactured for slavery." "Indians aren't really using their land. Look how many of them died! Its almost as if God is trying to tell us something!" "If we are to apply Darwin's laws, the Indians are a dying race anyway so I might as well get the last of 'em." "Were here to bring democracy!"

Conversely and more destructively for folks of color, if something is bad for the white person or people involved, it's usually bad for everyone else.

Speaking any other language and any other dialect than California Standard American English is frowned upon. Some pundits even argue that diversity has made the country worse. Even in a "progressive" field like feminism, the average white woman in America or Britain is likely to see the hijab and the practice of clitorodectomy as signs of oppression. As a result of their views, they've mobilized actions to ban the hijab and ban the practice of clitorodectomy.

This is the legacy of imperialism at work: 1) What works for me the white individual, works for everyone else. 2) What doesn't work for me, will not work for you, so stop it.

However, things are different for people of color. We don't usually get the opportunity to wield that "universal" or "naturalness" appeal.

What works for my race/ethnicity, only works for my race/ethnicity (unless there is money to be made, see jazz, hip-hop other art forms). African-American vernacular English (AAVE) is something seen as a "broken" version of a language. Lots of people, many white, many black do not think of AAVE as a "legit" language used to communicate with students. The language only works for black people, but not for most white people and select black people who are not linguistic anthropologists.

Conversely, if something doesn't fly for people in my race, it's only my race's opinion, and my race's opinion frankly doesn't matter. For example, the Confederate flag controversies. Most black people might find it offensive because of its racial connotations and symbolism of hatred. However, according to Georgia, the flag is a symbol of historical heritage! Yes, and so is the swastika, but no one holds it up as something to be proud of, unless they get that much a thrill out of hating people.

If you are a person of color or really any other kind of "minority", what applies to you just applies just to you and everyone who is a person of the same ethnicity or race, gender, religion. Especially if what you're dealing with is a problem.

It's "your" problem, you deal with it. "We" the people do not deal with it at all because it's "your" problem. It's something "you" ALONE need to fix. "You" implicating an entire segment of a population that has had its families broken through centuries of slavery, disallowed from living in certain communities, getting into schools, getting jobs, and only relatively recently has been given equal protections in law.

For example, AIDS in its early years was ghetto-ized as a black and gay issue. The logic was: It's "your" problem, you deal with it. "Your" presupposes that this is a problem YOU whether you like it or not "own" as a member of a community. You "own" it in the sense that because you are a certain race, you instantly gain this intrinsic power to fix "your" problem, its "your" responsibility to pick up "your" race.

The word "History-less" simply means that you don't have this baggage of "your" own problems to carry. Hilary and McCain can be seen as individuals and their individual records. They are at more liberty to choose with whom they can associate. Their associations with controversial people aren't as likely to be simplified or strongly associated with them or their race because their race is seen as universal and natural. Universal and natural that they are in power that it's not an issue at all.

McCain can have an endorsing pastor spouting how he thinks blacks and gays caused Hurricane Katrina to come down on them. He can do that quite successfully without being called a white supremacist or being accused of being only interested in advancing the cause of white people.

Being raceless and history-less, Hilary and McCain don't have to be associated with any and everything white. That advantage is something that the Clinton campaign tried to capitalize off of when Bill suggested that Obama's campaign ran parallel to Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton's bids for the presidency.

It's pretty easy to be history-less if you're white. Just don't say anything against what good ole MLK said, and you're pretty much in the clear.

Conversely, you cannot be history-less if you are a person of color. Obama's had to play a balancing act while seemingly holding onto ideals he seems to have maintained throughout his career: he's had to prove at once that he's black enough and he cares about their empowerment, that he does care about progressive change for young, multiracial voters, and that he's not that black and will have a lot of other priorities. I don't think we've ever really seen a candidate achieve such a balance between differing points of views. Seems like he will have to be fulfilling lots of different people's expectations come January. And all I can say is that I hope he does it, and does it well.

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