Saturday, September 6, 2008
Running Scared - Double Talk in Identity Politics
Kwame Kilpatrick held his support of Obama hostage, and it was the talk of the blog world that he was being coy about who he'd support at the heart of the Democratic Primary Season. Eventually, he finally supported Obama, as if he was testing his electability, cultural acceptance and leadership all at the same time. It was irritating. Now it may be costly. As Obama accepted his support to ensure the "Get Out the Vote" in metro-Detroit, he uttered a few phrases of support for Kwame that will live in attack ads for the next 2 months. The implication - birds of a feather. The reality, Obama and Kwame couldn't be further from each other in many many ways. They have three unfortunate things in common. So now being black and male, and in leadership will serve as fuel for fear politics and further distance those who were already scared of black men. The correlation - Obama will do to our nation what Kwame did to Detroit.
For starters, Kwame may be a lot of things, but responsible for the status of Detroit isn't one of them. He may have added to it, he may have taken advantage of it, he may have benefited from it - but Kwame didn't create the Detroit that exists today. Suburban flight started long before Kwame took office, as the riots and the race tensions further distanced people from each other. In the center of the city we have Greek Town, Mexican Town, cultural districts - but to have a black anything scares people. Well, it scares the kind of people who stop at first glance, and don't dig any further. Detroit is a mess for many reasons, poverty and socio-economic factors far outrank race. The public school system, coupled with the death of the automotive industry, has led to a less educated workforce with more unemployment, more foreclosure and more strife than other areas. Yet, there are marvelous things happening there as well - they just don't make the headlines. Economic development, community collaboration, the arts district - they're growing. The downtown corridors are starting to look like a thriving place to be, and it took the 10 years that I was there to realize that there was life being breathed into the city, however slowly.
It is easier to link Obama to Kwame for fear, than to have some view of the situation steeped in reality. Obama is a smart man at his core, I've come to believe this based on the last 2 years of a savvy and strategic campaign. He was as clear about Kwame's liability factors as anyone. Yet the fear of Black People will be enough to help some voters link the two together. Michelle is not Carlita, and Obama is not Kwame, but that's no different than people tearing Obama down because of his race and lifting him up because of his multicultural appeal. It makes no good sense, but it makes headlines.
Meanwhile, Palin is in a political bubble, and the McCain campaign is going through every hoop imaginable to ensure no interviews, no press access, no access to her education records, no access to the non-vetting process that took place in Alaska. The more sensational dirt that comes out about Palin, the more people defend her. The more moral mayhem that the party reveals (Giuliani, McCain and Palin combined are pathetic), the more people sign on as if they'd accept this mess in any other situation. The reality is that this election is based between those For Obama,and those Against Obama. It frankly is starting no to matter who's on the other side, its ABO - anyone but Obama. And, as long as the Republican party, hate groups and the 527's supporting him can paint Obama as everything he is not - they stand a great likelihood of winning. At the core of many people, they already think the worse. The ads are just confirming what they already believer.
We've come far as a country, but we believe in double talk still. Its okay for McCain to flip flop, neither of them to live the values they'll try to place on the Supreme Court, and be void of any responsibility for the worst war investment ever - but that's because they're not Obama. If he had Palin on his ticket, everyone on this side of the sun would question his political sense, judgement and management. If McCain had Obama's fundraising, grassroots organization, campaign infrastructure or a solid family life representative of the average middle class - he'd be the second coming. Obama's educational pedigree at face value speaks to his decision to play by the rules of the game that the majority culture created. The difference, at its core - race. McCain is patriotic and loyal, Obama - well, uppity. And the Right will use code words and linkages to further divide our nation and imply what we already know many believe - he's disqualified from leadership, not due to experience, or work history, or decisions, or judgment. In the views of many Americans, Obama won't make the grade, because he's black. (1/2 black, but that's all it takes.)
Now, we sing "We are the World" and ignore the role color plays in the minds of everyday people. And we forget, that hardworking everyday people, in every shade, color and hue - they're prone to believe false advertising and sick stereotyping too. It captures the interest of bloggers because we live it, and for our ancestors, they died because of it.