Saturday, July 7, 2007

The Debate Where They Showed My Scars And People Clapped

A week or so ago, the Democratic presidential candidates attended a debate called the All-American Presidential Forum, a night focused on issues of race (read: black people). Now, I watched the event and blogged it live then realized NO ONE was saying anything interesting. Well, let me qualify interesting. Few were saying anything that I had not heard before and almost no one was saying it sincerely. I’ll still share the topics that were selected and present highlights from their comments.

First, a few things. I really respect the title ‘All-American Presidential Forum.’ We all know what they’re doing. Ellison, did it decades before them…but better. They’re trying to make black America something that’s American. Well, I think it’s best done understated and naturalized (since…it already is) instead of drawing out the “Alllllll” and still mentioning black America and the “greater” or the “whole” in ways that show us that the title is simply rhetoric. Just live it. They should stick with what they said about America getting sick and black America getting sicker. And be consistent with that metaphor; futures that are intertwined with disproportionate realities. When we create and use a metaphor of division, we shouldn’t be surprised when there are actually many different Americans that we now have to weave back together.

Also, I really need for race to stop meaning solely black and white issues. As awesome as it was to be the only group of color highlighted by the media years ago (was it?), I think it’s disingenuous and destructive to keep acting like America is black and white (note how I DON’T qualify that with 'in the 21st century.' It’s always been multiracial!). Obviously, I think it’s still read that way, but we cannot deny the presence of others any longer. It only hurts the black community along with each and every community that exists in our same world. This is why black and Hispanic neighborhoods and black and Asian neighborhoods are being torn apart with violence. There is no model or room for a dialogue. I think we might find this strange in the college realm since (at least, in my experience) there have been many multiracial coalitions. I simply disliked hearing questions answered with only black answers (sometimes bringing in Latinos) because it shows how limited the candidates are in their thinking, pathologizes black people as problems even more, and creates silence that will only be oppressive, especially related to Asian American communities in the realm of education and business.

PBS and Tavis Smiley hosted the event at Howard University. CNN political ticker, of course, noted that the event started ten to fifteen minutes late because of introductions by Howard Prez, Tom Joyner, Tavis Smily, and Deval Patrick. (Anyone else notice how CNN’s snarkier comments are the ones you can’t link to? Keep your eyes on ‘em.) The first question was “from the people.” The question: Is race still the main problem of the 21st century (she had quoted DuBois’ “problem of the 20th century is that of the color line)? She quickly mentioned the Supreme Court decision that struck down race as a factor in K-12 just in case anyone had lost their mind and decided to answer in the negative.

Clinton: “Race sill presents defining challenges in the U.S. and the world.” After talking about progress by, you guessed it, pointing out Obama, Richardson, and herself as signs of change. We’ll debate that last point later, Clinton (no disrespect to feminism, it's just that a vote for her is a vote for a monarchy just like w/ lil’ Bush). Then, Clinton picked up on the cue from the question and said anyone who doesn’t think race is a factor is not looking in front of their face. Shrewd since we’ve got seven answers to go. After that, she did what will be the worst and most central aspect of the debate. She panders to our community by showing off our scars. Our own bruises! And we clap! Is this really what it means to be a liberal in our society? To admit that blacks are injured? Lord, help us all. When Clinton calls on me to be a “foot soldier in that revolution” because “the march is not finished.” Well, that’s when I know she spent the day youtubing what she thought was rhetoric she could imitate; instead, it’s the only access to truth we have: hope. Unfortunately for Clinton, even hope still needs to be authentic. However, the audience loves her.

In this debate, I became very appreciative of sincerity. Unfortunately, Biden is a sincere jerk. He does not understand how to talk about our community without pathologizing. Please watch some of the sections, if only for the audiences’ facial expressions when he speaks. Classic. He gave a great answer here, though, about how Democratic senators did not do enough to stop Alito and Roberts from becoming justices leading to the Seattle decision that ruled against race as a factor in K-12. He’s one of the few who address specifics throughout.

Richardson’s answer was true to his performance. Previously, Richardson had shown his spunk and authenticity by saying his choice not to condemn Gonzalez as fast as his Democratic counterparts was solely because Gonzales was Latino. That could knock a tier one candidate back to the drawing board! Pretty sad state of things, huh? Racial solidarity gets you canned and ol’ boys network gets you a job (and apparently, a get out of jail free pass? Scoot your way pass go and DO collect 200 bucks). Anyway, his answer dealt with race being a reality for him instead of a talking point. Addressing my central concern in the first answer? Maybe, I need to check out his campaign site.

Edwards: “This is one of the great HBCUs that we ALL should be proud of” *SMILE*. Edwards goes off on his two Americas rant that I’m so wary of. This is his trend the whole night: talking about being excited for this debate since he’s, you know, perfect for it…during the debate.

WOAH! Reality check moment: “By the way, also making sure that every single American, including people of color, are allowed to vote and that their vote is counted in the election and we know their voice is heard in the election.” – Edwards

How sad it it that in 2007 this is still so relevant? After becoming a whole person (instead of 3/5) in 1865, obtaining voting “rights” in 1870, passing a federal law to finally make them meaningful in 1965, that in 2007 our voting rights are still imaginary and another false promise. Not that I’m showing off my scars! I just needed to write that down, acknowledge it, strategize about how we can dismantle it, and live. Sadly, stalling after step two…

Obama mentions that if it hadn’t been for the Brown V. Board team that used Howard as their base and resource pool, he would not be standing on the stage. He says you have to have political will to take these issues on.

A look at what’s going around: people are GRILLING Obama. Sharpton looks like he’s about to send lasers out of his eyes. It’s intense. These young black men that car washed their way to the debate (and were acknowledged earlier) are furiously writing things down as Obama speaks. Great call, cameraman. Great call. Looking back, Obama actually started off solidly. Clinton and Obama share the biggest applause so far.

After every debate I really might be thinking, ‘if only Kucinich was a little taller.’ This guy’s got it together. He credits Obama for a great answer, shows his homespun character by saying “the executive and judicial branch say to pull yourselves up by your bootstraps when they stole the boots.” FYI, he does not use Clinton’s “homegirl” act. Yes, it’s true. But is it any better than Bill’s “I’ve got a dirty secret. I know about you folk. I play saxophone” tone and look? Alright alright, I digress. Kucinich immediately mentions a bill by Jesse Jackson, Jr. that would make equal education a constitutional right. Then, champions universal pre-kindergarten. Then, says to eliminate No Child Left Behind. Then, points to the success of arts education that’s getting cut left and right. To the skeptic who asks where the funding will come from, Kucinich still has enough time to mention cutting the war funding and supporting equal opportunity for our children instead. He joins Clinton and Obama in the loudest applause category. This group won’t change for the rest of the night.

Last and…maybe least, Gravel. He attacks the “war on drugs” right out of the gate. He gets pretty fiery making prohibition references and saying it’s a public health issue not a criminal one. Awesome. Then…"if there’s one group of people in this country that needs to face up to that problem and…we need to face up to it, it’s the African-American community." Huh?!

RED ALERT! So Gravel continues to be this awkward later. Never make a “we” without including “me.” Just don’t do it. I don’t care if you could argue that his grammar meant America collectively. I don’t think his thoughts did. And he’s never getting my vote. Ever. Sorry.

On the issue of language, Edwards is also VERY awkward. He says “slavely” for slavery and pulls the "replacing African-American with black" stutter a lot along with saying “Bafrican-Americans” once. I know. I know. But if you give me a debate (that ended up being) about my people, I will critique your performance.

Oh...Chris Dodd. Missed you there, didn’t I? Don’t I always... *awkward pause* Anyways...Oh, wow. This dude is serious. He really wants to be President. Voice raised, eyebrow cocked, and he has the arm rocking. He even slaps his microphone. Wait, on review...karate chops. Not only did Chris Dodd point at my scar, he RIPPED off the band-aid, yelled something I couldn’t understand about Neosporin, and then didn’t even give me directions to Walgreens as he ZOOMED off in his limo.

That was the introduction and the first question. I definitely cannot do the rest in one entry so expect to see further installments in the coming week.

In the meantime, actually watch the debate so you can see the ridiculousness of it all. In many ways, these are the best answers from all of them. Yea, I know. Tell me about it.

So America, about that third party?
Not you, Nader.
Not you, Bloomberg or Lieberman.

So America, about that progressive party?

wait for it
wait for it

and *sigh*


Camille said...

So, I don't know too much about Bill Richardson, but I do know that I've never seen him looking so brown. I know there's a heat wave going on over in New Mexico...

John Edwards shtick about the Two Americas is supposed to hinge on the fact that they are unequal..but he says that "they are out there thriving." No, one is thriving. That's the point.

Edwards also said at the beginning that he was glad that he could finally talk about race. Well, I doubt that race was a forbidden topic in any other debate, it just wouldn't have made you popular to talk about race in most of the forums where no one wants to hear it.

And, it's funny that I don't remember Chris Dodd ever doing anything about this racial justice he says so passionately he stands for.

Anonymous said...

your [bill] clinton comment reminds me of Sherman Alexie's story about meeting Bill Clinton on a PBS panel discussion on race.

early on the show, Clinton turns to Alexie, and says, "Sherman, you know my grandmother was Cherokee"(not that he is part Cherokee, but his grandmother was)

later on, jim leher[however you spell his name] asks alexie, "sherman, how much do you feel that our political leaders involve Native Americans in national discussions on race?"

alexie answers, "Usually only to tell me that their grandmothers are Cherokee"

XambedkarX said...

Check on Richardson if you want, but you won't really like what you see. My friend from New Mexico thinks he is among the most corrupt and sleazy politicians in state history, and that is really saying something out West. He has repeatedly bowed to business and let's not talk about the state of New Mexico's Native American community and how little Richardson has done about that.

While I appreciate Richardson talking about race like it was real instead of something he read about in high school, there's no good excuse for lending a hand to Alberto Gonzalez, and I know you know that, Josh.

These people are all scum except for Kucinich, who is about as electable right now as Pol Pot.

I still like Michael Moore's idea of getting Oprah to run, maybe we should look into that.

Anonymous said...

Xam, if Oprah runs, I'm applying for citizenship in Canada.