Sunday, August 24, 2008

This is what you get when you learn about sex and race on the streets

Ok, I have been reading a lot lately on race and I've been meaning to weigh in. Most of this discussion has been prompted by the nearing of the Democratic convention and the media's sudden realization that they have no idea how to approch this election. First a few thoughts on that. A black man is really going to get the Democratic nomination and as a collective, the journalistic crowd seems to be tongue-tied on the subject of race. Up to now, the media has been able to beat the Billary horse lifeless, but what are they going to do when America literally and figuratively stands at the crossroads? It doesn't quite feel like black vs. white. It feels more like young vs. old. Is America ready to put the era of rule by old, rich white guys to rest? Clearly the media doesn't know.

Now the thing that really amazes me is that Obama's race is never accurately portrayed. According to the media, Obama is a black man. And I will give them some slack; he is self-identified. But clearly, a man of mixed-race, raised by a white mother, white grandparents, who lived in white neighborhoods and attended primarily white schools cannot be viewed as the average black man in America. It's probably more amazing that he is running for president instead of running for his therapy appointment. By his own admission, he lived his youth on the outside and when allowed the choice he chose to live on the inside.

Another thing. Obama is my age. Ok, a year and a half older, but let's not split hairs. I'm young. Ok, I tell myself I'm young, but things are starting to break down on me in defiance of my denial. My grandmother is 90 and she says she still feels twenty-something inside. But she is old, and Obama is old enough. He is all the things I demand of a potential leader. Blazing smart, quick on his feet, and an excellent communicator. He can out-think me. He has a talent for politics and a knack for connecting with people. He's ready. My generation is ready.

Oh there are those of my generation...even among my friends....who think that it was time for a woman, not a black man. They are pissed at how easily Hillary was defeated and dismissed. Somewhere in this rigid sisterhood, one of our own was handed an opportunity and mismanaged it. The "NObama" crowd always seems to let that fact slip. They blame the media. They blame Obama. They blame Chris Matthews. They blame anyone standing within a hundred-mile radius, and trust me, they know how to hold a grudge.

I saw a picture of Obama as a toddler the other day. What struck me was how familiar it all seemed. You could have photoshopped Barack out of that picture and inserted me and no one would have been the wiser. And that got me to experience growing up and entering the world can't be all that different from Obama's. We are the same age. We both grew in white America. Only major difference sees to be that my grandparents didn't have any black friends.

But which should take precedence now? Race or gender?

Ok, let's back up. When I was young, the women's lib movement and the civil right's movement emerged concurrently. Women's lib was laughed at by my grandparents, ignored by my parents, and seemed like the greatest thing on the planet to me. A generation of little girls were told by television (think the Mary Tyler Moore show) that we could be anything we wanted. We were told by our teachers. We were told, well some of us anyway, by our progressive parents. We believed. We got our educations. We worked hard. Sure we were disappointed when the Equal Rights Amendment failed, but convinced ourself that we didn't really need the protections that it provided. (We might want to rethink that one considering that women still only make 3/4 of what men make for the same jobs.) In any event, we began climbing the ladder. We did it without any road map. Collectively, we struggled along and only a few have really made it.

The glass ceiling is real.

That is to say that our failures are not entirely of our own making. Anyone on the outside knows that there is still an old boy's network, it's just weaker than in the old days. Women have made incredible progress in the 30-odd years that women's "liberation" experiment has been running, but equality eludes us.

Can we honestly say that blacks have made the same progress? I don't think so. It seems to me that we hear a lot, both within and outside of the black community that blacks themselves are to blame. But make no doubt, the same criticisms that are often made of the black community can also be made of women. As a group, we doubt our abilities. We wonder if we are ready. We think maybe there is a reason that men traditionally have been in charge. Some of us....enough of us to matter....have bought into the idea that we aren't as good. It is really difficult to completely eradicate a mindset of inferiority and discrimination. But women are different than blacks, and I'll tell you why.

When black people went home from work, they went to different neighborhoods. The old boys network never had to deal with black men in the grocery stores, at the golf club, or at the family picnic. When women went home, they went home to members of the old boys network. And they didn't let up. The campaign continued across the dinner table and probably entered the bedroom. I think real progress was made when white men began to realize that their daughters were going to enter the work force in numbers. Did they really want them to encounter the overt discrimination that was the status quo? Fathers really do have a soft spot in their hearts for their daughters and I think this sentiment drove a lot of the changes that benefited women of my generation. The black community wasn't quite the same as Daddy's little girl.

The acceptance of women into society, government, the workforce...just about everywhere...came at much lower a cost than it did for people of color, particularly blacks. That is why, to my mind and given my experiences, the greater social baggage is laid to rest by the political choice America made in the primaries. IMO, the greater good is served by electing a black president than a female president. It is time for the end of white rule in America.

And before you get all pissy with me, I don't think you should vote for a president based on race or gender. I think you should vote for a president based on policy, based on intelligence and temperament, and based on experience. Luckily, both the black and the female candidates were qualified.

Is it possible that I blame women more for our current condition than I should? Should I be as hard on the black community? Well, honestly, I don't know. I'll have to chew on that a while.

But I grew up in an environment where I was encouraged at every point in my development. I was given opportunities. Fantastic opportunities. And I grew up knowing, even in my rather progressive household, that black people were different. It wasn't overt. It wasn't even purposeful. My parents just had no idea what to tell us about race. My parents never used epithets to describe any group. Never once. Oh, their parents did. But in the end, race was easy to ignore in much the same way that parents can, as mine did, ignore sexism. Neither of my parents ever bothered to prepare me for sexism in the workplace. Did they think, in some fairy tale version of reality, that the world would miraculously change and we would have all those opportunities they claimed awaited us? Or did they just not know because women hadn't arrived in the workpace yet? In any event, what I learned about making my way in this world as a woman, I learned on-the-job.

In much the same way, I learned about racism when I began to befriend people who experienced racism. I didn't shy away from talking with my friends about our specific 'isms. I shared my experiences. They've shared their's. And I really began to listen and understand. Obama and I grew up in the same white America. He assumed he felt so uneasy because he was different. Women feel the same way. We didn't want it to be that way, we just didn't have any idea what to do. Somehow, we have struggled along individually. And now, just maybe, we are ready to move forward together.

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