6 days ago
09 October 2008
one of the things i've found frustrating about the obama campaign is the way in which race has been deployed. this time, i won't harp on the point about obama's father being from africa and not, say, the south side of chicago. that's important, but i really only think it matters to white people, as it contributes to the way they subconsciously understand him. though the silence around that point gives me pause, what irks me more was how, especially during the early part of the campaign, obama talked to black people. i hate to say it, but i agreed with jesse jackson on this.
it seems to me that obama's talks about the absenteeism of black fathers, his assuaging of white people's fears by implicitly telling him that he-- and more importantly, his wife-- won't make them feel guilty about racism; that he would rather repeat the moynihan report and chastise poor blacks, consequently conflating the pathology of many into some sort of modus operandi position of all; and that his campaign would be complicit in allowing, and therefore encourage this media-obsessed "transcendence of race" talk all relies upon some notion of black exceptionalism. doing so implicitly accepts racial blackness as a list of behaviors and traits rather than, maybe, a particular relationship to various and varying historical experiences--which would, i guess, disqualify senator obama altogether. accepting the former position allows obama to say, "i'm not like them," and also, maybe, "i will make them more like me and my family."
gayle, in a certain sense, i suppose i can't fault him. he is, after all, trying to win a national election. then again, i wonder what the political fallout would have been for him to have said simply, "no, i'm not necessarily transcending race in all the ways you might think. i identify as a black man; my wife is a black woman. sans my desire to become president and a few other things, certain aspects of my life are only exceptional and transcendent if you have a constricted sense of who black people are and what they do. lots of black people, for example, matriculated through harvard and princeton and columbia before me. lots have and will after me. this is only a big deal if one's imagination regarding such things is limited." moreover, what would the media look like had he said there's nothing wrong with being muslim?
the other reason i might not blame him for rather easily accepting this transcendence stuff is because this isn't new--even amongst our (black) selves. though i'm not that into eating outside or drinking games, and despite the fact that i've never seen an episode of friends (or even seinfeld for that matter), i occasionally and rather glibly (more like lazily) pronounce my adoration for certain "white shit." for instance, i got the oddest stare from a black guy one day when he pulled up next to me in traffic; it might have been a myriad of things, but for whatever reason, i'd decided to blame the stare on me blasting the cranberries from my car stereo (what can i say? i want dolores o'riordan to sing me lullabies). at the same time, my friend and i got the biggest chuckle out of peeping a black dude singing a james blount song at the top of his lungs from the driver's seat of his escalade--we heard the music, his voice, the car, then finally saw him.
so i guess what i'm saying is what was so frustrating about those moments during the campaign was the fact that it seemed like an opportunity to expand who and what we think black people are. granted, a lot of folks' minds will and have been expanded. one can only hope that such enlightenment transfers to other avenues. for example, my list of available images for black women in the popular mind is pretty short. to name a few: nell carter, beyonce, clair huxtable. michelle obama fits very nicely into the latter category. but surely, there's something else.
of course there is. gayle, i've taken the scenic route to my essential point: the student body presents is totally rad. (yes, i said "totally rad.") i initially fell in love with the oakland duo late last summer. a musical guru of mine suggested them to me; i copped their cd and was immediately smitten by how weird they were. i listened to arts and sciences pretty heavily for a minute, and then they somehow fell out of rotation. last week, while rolling through my city, i blindly grabbed their album from the inside of my arm rest. i instantaneously re-enrolled in their course. i remembered sitting in my parked car in front of lake michigan playing this joint on repeat. their track "driftwoodit" is worth the bones alone. they talk about everything-- from outer space to the boxes people sacrifice themselves for just to fit in.
as i re-acquanted myself with tsbp's music, i mentally compiled a list of people i need to urge to listen to this record. then my thoughts turned to how often i've decided to do this with music i fall in love with. though i sometimes become protective of such slept on artists, i wonder what the world would be like if we understood what was coming out of my speakers as black music, too.
santogold has an awesome (yes, awesome) quote about music critics. about being lumped into the r&b genre because she's black she said, "it's racist (laughs). it's totally racist. everyone is just so shocked that i don't like R&B. are you shocked that good charlotte isn't into R&B? Why does R&B keep coming into my interviews? it's pissing me off. i didn't grow up as a big fan of R&B and, like, what is the big shocker? it's stupid. in the beginning i thought that was funny. i'm an 'MC', i'm a 'soul singer', i'm a 'dance hybrid artist'. and some guy said i looked like Kelly Rowland!"
exactly. to come full circle: i'm not that into transcendence. i prefer expansion. transcendence allows us to retain prior notions and accept the foreigness of others without disrupting or complicating our long-held beliefs and ideas. expansion inspires us to move beyond codifying people, and understand that though there are types--to a certain extent, we all are-- the great task is to recognize the humanity beneath, below, above, within-- in ourselves and others. that, i imagine, would be the ultimate goal of an awesome liberal education. in other words, cop arts and sciences. it'll send your brain to outer space.
there's a square peg in all of us.
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