“You must have an overdeveloped sense of guilt,” I remember a guy telling me over coffee in college. “I can see why you’d be a feminist and everything, but I don’t understand why you care so much about racism. It doesn’t affect you.”
But it did, I insisted. Even if I couldn’t explain exactly why, I believed in bumper sticker slogans like “no one is free when others are oppressed,” and the simple message of the poetic parable, “First they came...” Moreover, I passionately loved every possibility that the broad strokes of the Constitution painted, a document that made me cry when I read it aloud (I preferred this to, say, auto bingo on road trips). My work-study job was as a student coordinator for a campus organization that saw issues of race, gender, class and sexuality as inextricably linked.
In my personal undergraduate studies of American history and literature, I saw those issues as inextricably linked as well. And after learning as much of the history of non-European races in the U.S. as I could absorb over my first three years of college, I spent my last year considering my own ethnicity in an undergraduate thesis about white identity in America.
I came to believe that one of the roots of racism was the very fact that the dominant, white, Protestant culture didn’t see itself as “ethnic,” despite the fact that, barring Native Americans, most of us came from someplace else. Or lots of places. If you don’t comprehend, let alone appreciate, the diversity within your own bloodline, it’s that much easier to write off the characteristics of the people you perceive as different from you.
You need only read the history of how our railways were built to see, in a less black and white way, how effectively our differences have been exploited for generations, just as you need only listen to American music to see how those differences have enriched us. I came to think of identity as a wheel inside of me – sometimes my female-ness informed my responses and actions in the world, sometimes my white Ohioan-ness, my age, my Golden Rule-obsessed upbringing, or my confusing socio-economic class. But they were all spokes connected to the same center.
So obviously, I read Barack Obama’s speech yesterday, and cried. I am glad he is willing to appeal to our better nature, trust in our intelligence and speak to us frankly in his own words. His interpretation of the Constitution and his vision for America are inspiring. I’m thrilled that he’s promoting unity by embracing the complexity of our population’s make-up instead of trying to melting pot us into soylent green. And I’m glad he smote some of his supporters by reminding them not to distort the readily distortable, because honestly, too many of his supporters have acted intensely overbearing, smug and sexist in his name.
For all that people criticize Hillary for her past and the people around her, they don’t give her due respect for the major thing she has to offer – an epic passion for policy. She and her husband have held idea retreats for wonks for years and years, and no matter how cautious or caustic her campaign might be, that wonkiness ought to have brought her more respect. Truthfully, I have not found her campaign that offensive after seeing past tactics like swiftboating and push polling. (And boy I am glad that the video of Obama’s minister is up for discussion now and not rolling 24 hours a day for the first time in late October.)
But in the wake of this, the broadcast news coverage has been terrible, as it has been of this whole Democratic Primary. What do they do with a stark, candid speech that should serve to elevate the level of discussion about race in America? The same thing they’ve been doing throughout this process – talking about odds and image instead of anything of substance. Even 60 Minutes let me down. I say elect Obama president and let Hillary’s wonks wrestle the airwaves away from the moronic armchair quarterbacks on television (unless they’re working in his administration) so that we can start using our great tools of communication more effectively for once. We’d all be better off.