RNF XII

8 November, 2008
Rat Fink

Random Neuron Firings

Instead of my usual list of RNFs, this will basically be one big one. It’s not a huge deal, but I must admit that it bugs me. Just a bit.

I find it exceedingly strange that people refer to Barack Obama as the “first black president.” Why does this bug me just a little? Um…because he’s not “black” – he’s biracial. Hate to break it to some folks, but brother’s white, too. And let’s face it: it’s not tragically hip to be white right now. And I’ll go one further: if you’re going to go all race-y about it, saying he’s “black” insults the brilliant woman who was his mother: a white girl from Kansas. But I digress.

I’d suggest referring to him as “a new beginning,” or “a great man,” or “just what the country needed,” or “the guy who beat my choice.” Or, if you positively must bring the color thing into it, refer to him as America’s “first biracial president.”

So here’s what kind of honks me off. Much has been made of this “historic” decision by the American people to finally recognize a person of color to lead the country. So much so that an outsider might think that dozens of African Americans were running for president every four years, but being summarily slapped down by stupid white people for not being WASPs. I mean, really. Consider this:

  • In the history of modern American politics, only two (2) African Americans have ever made a serious run for president, and, for whatever reasons, didn’t make it past the convention stage: Shirley Chisholm – a respected educator and political reformist, who received more delegate votes at the 1972 Democratic Convention than Ted Kennedy, Walter Mondale and Hubert Humphrey; and Jesse Jackson – ran in 1984 and 1988, losing the nominations both times to Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis, respectively. As to why they weren’t successful — you’d have to ask the Democratic delegates at the time.
  • Two others (that I know of) made repeated and/or serious attempts, but never made it to the convention floor: Alan Keyes in 1996, 2000 and 2008, and Al Sharpton (sorry, dude’s a wackjob), who dropped out when he realized he couldn’t beat John Kerry in 2004. And he dropped out of a lot of other races, too, upon realizing that he was a long shot’s longshot.

So back to the original issue — what makes him a “black president?” Is it that he devoted much of his career to largely African American issues? Is it that he looks more black than white? Is it that he married a black woman? I found this interesting article in the London Observer, which states it would likely surprise us to find that many of us white folks have African, Asian, or Native American heritage somewhere in our past. (In the interest of fairness, here is another view on that article.)

But no doubt about it, Barack’s mom was white.

So what’s the big deal about color, anyway? Well, unfortunately, it’s always been a big deal to someone. A Time article I read this morning about Ann Dunham (Obama’s mother) said it thusly:

Ironically, the person who mattered most in Obama’s life is the one we know the least about—maybe because being partly African in America is still seen as being simply black and color is still a preoccupation above almost all else.”

Ok, this can be taken one of two ways:

  1. Because Obama appears to be black, nobody is interested in what mattered to him. (Ludicrous, whiny.)
  2. It’s a shame that color is an issue at all, to anyone. (Realistic, pragmatic, forward-thinking.)

I’d like to think it was 2. Regardless, it kind of irks me that the very people who often chide and deride others for “making race an issue” are now the ones who are making it an issue themselves.

I have lots more thoughts about this, but I’m out of time, alas. One more performance tonight — I’m looking forward to it. We’ve got most of the bugs worked out, and the cast are all nailing it after 2 shows (ain’t that just the way?).

Fink out.

6 Comments

  1. My, my, aren’t you feeling froggy today. Touchy subject but you pulled it off deftly. I doubt I could have talked about it as well.

  2. “the guy who beat my choice.”

    lol.

    :D

  3. For the record, you overlooked Channing Phillips in 68, and in response to “for whatever reasons [they] didn’t make it past the convention stage”, if you’d like a reason, look at the name above Chisholm’s: George Wallace. While I admire your post-election idealism, racism has not quite landed in history’s dustbin.

    Now come on, it has everything to do with how he looks. he doesn’t look black to you? go to wikipedia’s wikicommons page to see the portraits of all 44 presidents (the 44th portrait is unofficial, probably from the Senate) call me crazy, there’s something … I dunno, something different about how he looks, compared to the rest of them. Now I know that judging people ‘by the color of their skin and not the content of their character’ is how this nation got in this racial mess to begin with, but it’s a little late to say, “yeah, we were doing that, but it didn’t fly. So let’s drop it, all 300 million of us. right now.”

    At any rate, here’s the great news: forms of hatred played their parts in these elections, and racism actually lost! Sadly, it lost out to an older and even more pervasive hatred in America: Misogyny. Palin was judged by her appearance- this was unfortunate. But here’s the step in the right direction: she was also judged by the content of her character- this was fortunate.

    in a testament to his political savvy, Obama never once made his race an issue in the campaign, he didn’t harp on the historical significance. that’s smart politics. clinton and palin, however, had a slightly harder time containing their excitement over their own historical significance. bad politics.

    Finally, you could craft a very persuasive argument that a country which values freedom is best served by someone who comes from a group of people who have historically been denied it, and who may therefore have a greater appreciation for it. this goes equally for blacks as it does for women and a variety of other groups.

    by the way, I’m Ross, I’m new here.

  4. Thanks for the addition, Ross (I knew there might be a couple I’d missed), and welcome!

    When I wrote this, I wondered if I might get responses like yours, which, while wonderfully written, sort of used a nuclear bomb to kill an ant.

    My only real point was that if a man’s half white, it’s not right (and maybe even opportunist) to call him black. That’s it.

    I also know that I opened the potential worm can, so I should have expected it. Suffice it to say that Obama is a smart man, and has smart people advising him — that’s a good thing. Harping on anything race-oriented would have been a stupid move, and I’m sure he knew it. (Look where it got Al Sharpton.)

    And truthfully, I’m not interested in crafting a persuasive political argument. Not only because, on many levels, I don’t believe they exist (meaning once an individual makes up his mind about a certain political stance or candidate, it’s pretty much impossible to change it**), but because that’s not what this forum is about. I leave the intelligent (and, unfortunately, mostly useless) political back-and-forth to sites devoted to more important things. 99% of the time, I’d rather talk about cute shoes, TV, Jake, and stuff that shakes no earth and challenges no regimes.

    Again – welcome to you, Ross! Thanks for your thoughts today.

    **unless you’re Joe Lieberman

    PS – If I’m an idealist, it’s totally by accident.

  5. I should have included a caveat: All I can do is kill ants with atom bombs. It allows me to create strawmen, slippery slopes, and commit a host of other fallacies. Without them, I would have very little to say.

    Thanks for the welcome!

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