Monday, September 29, 2008


am I misreading this?

In this morning's Globe there is an opinion piece by James Carroll called "Obama's three challenges."

It's a fairly short piece, but in case you don't feel like reading, Obama's three challenges are:

Carroll introduces the three by saying, "Race, gender, and class define American identity, but Obama, just by being who he is, directly challenges the core assumptions that undergird each category."

In regard to race, Carroll is saying that Obama is just as white as he is black, though he defines himself as black. In this way he uncomfortably challenges people to think about their definitions of race and what it means to them (and society as a whole).

With gender, Carroll says that Obama successfully avoids that threatening "angry black male" stereotype, but he also "eschews the informality, and ethos, of blue jeans," and he is NOT a hiphop gangster sort, both of which prevent him from connecting with those potentially useful demographics.

Finally, class. Carroll proposes that since Obama is educated and financially secure — even though he worked very hard for these two achievements — "his very distinction is taken as evidence that he must regard himself as better than others... ."

Carroll then follows up with a paragraph that states how McCain is untouched by these three questions/concerns/etc; that McCain fills each spot perfectly, in an acceptable Americanized way that makes him appealing and "deeply of the status quo."

I'm not denying that Obama faces challenges that McCain does not. Color of skin is a very big factor for some people, and it shocks me when I read or hear about rampant racism that's alive and well. At the same time, the Obama campaign has cleverly turned race on its head and used it to its advantage. Who messed up the economy? An older white dude! Who's running against Obama? An old white dude! Change is the battle cry!

But what really concerns me about this piece is the implication that if Obama loses someone's vote, it will be because of one of those three factors, or a combination of the three. Why would Obama lose my vote at the booth? Why, of course because he's black (a black male that threatens us white people's stereotypes at that!), and because he's more successful than I am, therefore making me feel inadequate and stupid and a failure.

Obviously Obama wouldn't lose because of his position on various issues. That couldn't possibly come into play. Right?

In the introduction Carroll said, "Pundits focus on race as the pivotal issue, boiling Obama's problem down to unspoken national ambivalence about an African-American president."

I'm not sure if anyone is surprised, but MY pivotal issue is abortion, not race. And while I'm perfectly fine with Obama's race, gender and class — in fact, I admire his so-called elitism — his position on abortion unnerves me to the core. So although I haven't yet made up my mind, it seems as though Carroll has already made up his mind about me.

what really concerns me about this piece is the implication that if Obama loses someone's vote, it will be because of one of those three factors, or a combination of the three.

That makes me mad. It's like... I can't have another reason for liking or disliking a candidate? Grow up people. Those things have no more to do with how he will act leading this country than Palin's being a female will affect her. Well... they SHOULDN'T have anything to do with it, but it seems people like this guy want to make them have some effect. Grr.

I hate politics.
Of course you're not misreading this. The writer of this piece (subconsciously and circuitously) illustrates his point with the example of himself:

In the paragraph on race, he describes Obama's identity as unsettling, and presents this unsettle-ing as a challenge to his victory, as opposed to an opportunity for the country. I'm not even going to address the paragraph on gender, because it's almost offensively bad (by which I mean that it's hugely intellectually lazy), and it has a lot of the same problems as the others. But it's the paragraph on class that really takes the cake. It is the idea that Obama's "very distinction is taken as evidence that he must regard himself as better than others" that reveals the writer of this opinion to be one of those people who wants nothing more than a comfortable, functional, (and necessarily incomplete) understanding of the world that privileges him and people like him.

That's the real problem with all of this. People who only see ideas and other people as an "us vs. them" do so out of a desire to keep the privilege/power that they have (whether it's privilege or victimhood, it's's power). That's why when anyone presents a political idea that does not align with a party, a race, a gender, a class (and all the pre-conceived notions that come along with those designations)...all hell breaks loose. These people can't even imagine a person who might have a set of political opinions that draws from the talking points of both political parties, not to mention ideas that the political parties aren't even talking about. Independent thinking breaks "us vs. them" wide open, therefore shifting the balance of power. They can't understand someone who does not just blindly accept and live out the stereotypes of his/her party, race, gender, or class--to do otherwise would be to upset the balance of power.

"Race, gender, and class define American identity" is exactly right as far as this writer and these power-drunk Americans are concerned--and it is exactly the wrong way to approach the world. It's intellectually lazy to judge someone based on stereotypes, and even though most people know this, they still do it (even to themselves!) because it's easier. It's much harder to do the work and find out who people really are, but as you and I (and your readers) know, it's obviously worth it.

By writing this article, the writer has admitted his own extreme laziness and his desire to maintain his privilege. It has nothing to do with issues because in his worldview, positions on issues are dictated to people by their (stereotypical) party, race, gender, and class identities...the idea of thinking hasn't even crossed his mind.

Sorry if this is rambling and/or I repeat's hard to write and edit in this little comment box. :)
I think what the writer means is the following:
On Race - He has to walk a very fine line. He has to be "black enough" to motivate the African-American base to vote en masse, but at the same time he has to make sure not to fall into a stereotype that might turn off many in white America.
On Gender - He has to show that he's not a pig, and that is about all it will take I think. This was the weakest part of the article.
On Class - This is the one that I think is the MOST crucial. At the end of the day most people vote for the president they think will make things best for them. Many people will look at Obama as a career politician that was a lawyer before that, who is ridiculously rich, and hate him for it. McCain on the other hand doesn't have that problem since he was military (and POW).
However, I personally think Obama's biggest challenge will be to make himself well-known enough (and I mean that in terms of not knowing his name, but feeling like they know what's in his heart) that people will feel like voting for him.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?