Tuesday, September 30, 2008

In defense of elitism

I know that a few of you may be confused at the overtly political nature of this blog--that you clicked here or you come here thinking you're going to read about race in America or mixed-race issues, and instead you get these clips about Sarah Palin sketches, discussions about the 2008 Presidential election, and nostalgia for a defunct TV drama.

I am a political junkie. But beyond my personal preferences (should I say obsessions) right now, I think that the current presidential race is a great topic for a blog called "Mixed Race America." And I don't just say that because we have our first openly mixed-race Presidential candidate (and first African American candidate of a major party) but because race and politics have gone hand in hand from the time this country was first established. So OF COURSE I should be talking about politics.

[Of course, perhaps I could be drawing out the racial implications more concretely...I think I've tried to do that, but I will ponder this more for future political posts.]

But what I really want to talk about relates to the title of this post: in defense of elitism.

Let me begin with the disclaimer that I am being deliberately provocative. Because there really isn't anything about elitism that I think needs defending. But the charge of elitism that comes up time and again against Democrats, specifically certain Democrats like John Kerry and now Barack Obama, this is what I want to tackle.

Because it's not elitism in the sense of power or money (although it might be couched in those terms). The elitism that is being leveled at Obama is one that has definite racial connotation but it has larger educational overtones. In other words, he's elite because he's smart.

So really, this post is in defense of being the smartest kid in the room (or thinking you are the smartest kid in the room).

THIS, I have some experience with.

I have often been or thought I was the smartest kid in the room. I have often aspired to be the smartest kid in the room. I am told that I am a smart person. And I do believe that I am smart.

Do I seem conceited? Elitist perhaps?

That last sentence--I believe I am smart. That was a hard sentence to write. Because there are so many messages that I get that tells me that even if I believe this, I should never say this out loud. That to do so is to brag or to demean others or to overstate the case.

Why? I am a college professor. I am SUPPOSED to be an expert in my field, even if I know that "expert" is relative to my students (truthfully, I doubt that as an assistant professor I can claim expertise compared with my colleagues who have been doing this for over twenty years). But if you have a kid in college, you want and expect that his/her professor is going to be smart, right? And we expect our doctors and dentists to be smart--to have expert knowledge in his/her field. And the same is true for our auto mechanics and plumbers and electricians--fields not typically associated with formal education but which none-the-less have intelligence and expertise embedded in their specializations.

So why don't we want the president of the United States to be smart? And not only to be smart, but to say I AM SMART. To declare, forcefully,
"Hey, you know why you should elect me to be President? Because I'm a very intelligent guy. I went to some of the best schools in this nation, and our colleges and universities are among the best in the world, and I didn't just stop at getting a BA, I was so smart that I got into law school, and not any law school HARVARD, that's right--the best university in the world (according to some, especially those of us who went to school "in Boston"), and I was so smart that I got to teach law -- that's right, I was so smart that I became a professor. And I DO have an elite education and I AM often the smartest person in the room, and damn it you WANT the smartest person in the room to be the President of the United States because we have complex and difficult issues facing us. The current financial crisis? It's complicated--it's not as simple as saying we don't want to give free hand-outs to the Wall Street folks. Because Wall Street and Main Street are intimately connected and although I use this simple rhetoric, the truth is, what happens in our nation's economy has transnational ramifications--banks are now closing in Europe and Asia's market looks like it will also take a tumble. And we haven't even started talking about foreign policy. Or the environmental and energy crises. Or education. We NEED smart people and we should DEMAND that our leaders also be smart people and that the head of state, the President of the United States of America should be 10X SMARTER THAN YOU AND SMARTER THAN ANYONE YOU KNOW and NOT the person you want to drink a beer with. Because that's not going to solve the complicated and hard problems that face us."

I'm also not saying that a single type of intelligence is going to get us out of this mess. But I know this: complex times and complicated issues call for complex and complicated cognition. Who do you think is more capable of nuance and complexity? John McCain or Barack Obama? My vote goes to the liberal elitist.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

West Wing -- my fantasy alternate reality

I was (and still am) a HUGE West Wing fan. I own the entire series on DVD and used it as a fantasy media narcotic to cope with the Bush administration.

[CJ Craig played by Allison Janney was my favorite--Janney is BRILLIANT]

In a recent New York Times editorial, Maureen Dowd contacted West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin to ask him what a conversation between Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and fictional Democratic president Jed Bartlett would look like. This is what he imagines (click here).

I can't resist copying an excerpt from this fictional exchange because it captures so much of the ANGER I have also felt over the past decade, especially the last seven years of this Republican administration:

"OBAMA The problem is we can’t appear angry. Bush called us the angry left. Did you see anyone in Denver who was angry?

BARTLET Well ... let me think. ...We went to war against the wrong country, Osama bin Laden just celebrated his seventh anniversary of not being caught either dead or alive, my family’s less safe than it was eight years ago, we’ve lost trillions of dollars, millions of jobs, thousands of lives and we lost an entire city due to bad weather. So, you know ... I’m a little angry.

OBAMA What would you do?

BARTLET GET ANGRIER! Call them liars, because that’s what they are. Sarah Palin didn’t say “thanks but no thanks” to the Bridge to Nowhere. She just said “Thanks.” You were raised by a single mother on food stamps — where does a guy with eight houses who was legacied into Annapolis get off calling you an elitist? And by the way, if you do nothing else, take that word back. Elite is a good word, it means well above average. I’d ask them what their problem is with excellence. While you’re at it, I want the word “patriot” back. McCain can say that the transcendent issue of our time is the spread of Islamic fanaticism or he can choose a running mate who doesn’t know the Bush doctrine from the Monroe Doctrine, but he can’t do both at the same time and call it patriotic. They have to lie — the truth isn’t their friend right now. Get angry. Mock them mercilessly; they’ve earned it. McCain decried agents of intolerance, then chose a running mate who had to ask if she was allowed to ban books from a public library. It’s not bad enough she thinks the planet Earth was created in six days 6,000 years ago complete with a man, a woman and a talking snake, she wants schools to teach the rest of our kids to deny geology, anthropology, archaeology and common sense too? It’s not bad enough she’s forcing her own daughter into a loveless marriage to a teenage hood, she wants the rest of us to guide our daughters in that direction too? It’s not enough that a woman shouldn’t have the right to choose, it should be the law of the land that she has to carry and deliver her rapist’s baby too? I don’t know whether or not Governor Palin has the tenacity of a pit bull, but I know for sure she’s got the qualifications of one. And you’re worried about seeming angry? You could eat their lunch, make them cry and tell their mamas about it and God himself would call it restrained. There are times when you are simply required to be impolite. There are times when condescension is called for!"

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Why do people hate Sarah Palin?

OK, maybe this title needs some more nuance. Why do liberal Democrats hate Sarah Palin? And is hate too strong a word? Should I qualify even further and say, why do liberal-progressive Democrats dislike the things Sarah Palin seems to stand for/represent?

You know what? This is one of the problems with being a liberal-progressive person who recognizes complexity. Saying "I hate Sarah Palin" is so much more pithy a phrase than, "I am not in agreemet with the political stances that Sarah Palin has taken while she has held public office in Alaska." Really, the first phrase: catchy. Second phrase: not so much.

But the truth is, I don't hate Sarah Palin. I don't know the woman, why should I hate her? I do, however, feel VERY UNCOMFORTABLE with the idea that she may become Vice President, and I'm even more disturbed by the idea that she may become President one day.

What I'm intrigued by is why she is pushing so many buttons among us liberal-progressive Democrats (especially those of us feeilng the Obama love). And I'm equally intrigued by why so many Conservative-Evangelical Republicans seem to ADORE her. Why the hate and why the love? Why does she rile emotions in us that polarize into feeling she is the downfall to Democracy or its savior?

Among responses I've seen in liberal progressive circles are:

*Tim Wise's essay on white privilege that really focuses on Sarah Palin
[I think its on the money, but I do find it interesting that Wise concentrates so much on Palin vs. John McCain, who certainly seems like he could be a posterboy for white male privilege]

*An email message that has been circulating asking folks to vote on-line through a PBS/NOW poll on whether or no Sarah Palin is qualified to be Vice President. The message reads:
PBS has a poll that asks: Is Sarah Palin qualified to be VP?

The Right is having people vote that Palin is qualified.

Let's turn this around..... You don't have to give your name or email
address in order to vote. It's very simple. Five seconds is all it takes.

Here's the link: http://www.pbs.org/now/polls/poll-435.html

*Another circulated email message asking people to make a $5 donation to Planned Parenthood in Sarah Palin's name as a protest to her anti-choice stance. The text reads:

Here's a fantastic idea. For a mere $5 you can let the McBush folks know what you think. Here's all you do (if you don't believe in Palin's platform):

Make a $5 minimum donation to Planned Parenthood in Sarah Palin's name. A Planned Parenthood donation is tax deductible, while a political donation isn't. And when you make the donation in Palin's name, they'll send her a card noting that the donation was given in her name.

Here's the link to the 'in honor of' donation link on the Planned Parenthood website

Fill in the address to let Planned Parenthood know where to send the 'in Sarah Palin's honor' card. Use the address for the McCain campaign headquarters:

McCain for President/Sarah Palin
1235 S. Clark Street, 1st Floor
Arlington, VA 22202

So what is it about Sarah Palin that inspires such strong emotions in people?

Monday, September 22, 2008

The message vs. the messenger

Last week Wednesday I asked an unanswerable question, namely why we don't call more things "racist" (aside from people--I'll get to that in a minute) or say that "such and such is part of the legacy of racism" (thanks for those who have already commented!).

Right after I wrote that I had the opportunity to see this in action. What I mean, is, I saw an instance of what it looks like when someone says quite forcefully, "This IS racist. This IS racism. This IS white supremacy."

And it was not pretty.

Let me explain. I attended an evening film screening at Southern U.--a series of 3 short films actually. The theme of all three was race; in obvious and subtle ways, all three films addressed issues of racism and discrimination and stereotypes, even while they also handled themes of romance, friendship, and career opportunities. There were two discussion facilitators, one the director of one of the short films, the other a community activist (yep, one of THOSE, an ORGANIZER!). Both were men of color and one of the men, the community activist, claimed to want a real discussion and conversation, but what followed after the very long film screening was the CA going into what I can only describe as a rant.

Let me also take a moment and tell you the demographics of the room. Because of the nature of the films being screened, it was a truly multicultural mix--I'd say over half the audience were undergraduate students of color (predominantly African American and Asian American) and the other half were white undergraduate students. There were at least one-hundred people, with a few older staff/faculty also in attendance (and perhaps a few graduate students as well). But the audience was overwhelmingly of color, and my guess is that the white students in the room were probably of the white ally/interested in race variety (although perhaps a few had been forced there by one of their professors, who knows--although that probably holds true for a few of the students of color as well).

Getting back to the rant. We were lectured at for a good twenty minutes. People began to leave as discretely as they could. Students of color were told that they were being marginalized and oppressed, and white students were told that they were racist. That by virtue of being white they were all racist, and that some of them could become anti-racist through hard work.

Let me pause and say that there was almost nothing that I disagreed with in the abstract. In other words, I agree that white people have internalized racism. But I also think that people of color have internalized racism too. And it's hard to generalize about the kinds of racism that both groups have internalized because individual people are complex so it really depends on other factors such as ethnicity, class, region, religion, and family background/peer network.

What made me distinctly uncomfortable, perhaps mostly as a teacher who works on issues of race was the strident tone and the judgment I felt coming from the CA. I mean, we had just spent an hour and a half watching these films. The flyers all said that the speakers would be facilitating discussion. What followed was the CA lecturing all of us about the evils of racism in this country--which no one disagreed with--but when he culminated by calling half the audience racist, I think that's when he really lost people. Because no one wants to hear that they are racist. It just wasn't the right message for this event. The films themselves did not have the tone which he took. They were more complex and nuanced than just "racism is bad and white people have caused marginazliation of all people of color and we need to band together to end white supermacy." And the CA's message wasn't delivered in a way that made people really listen to him and hear what he had to say. Because his message--that there is white privilege and white supremacy that has guided U.S. policies over the last few centuries, is one I think most of us would agree with. But what do we do NOW. And more importantly, how do we see these films reflecting that, and how can people do anti-racist work in coalitions across racial divides TOGETHER (because that certainly was one of the themes of the films, especially getting African American and Asian Americans to work together on issues of race/racism).

Perhaps the CA was trying to shake up the complacency of the students, especially the white students. Perhaps he meant to be provocative--to get into a debate and argument with some students about these topics, because oftentimes tension helps generate progress in certain controversial areas. Perhaps he's an old school activist from the 1970s who still uses a language of third world coalition buildling that emerged out of the late 1960s and anti-Viet Nam war organizers.

All I know is that as a pedagogical strategy for getting people to hear your message, it didn't work. In other words, the message got lost in the rhetoric of the messenger.

I'm not saying we don't call people on their B.S. But it was supposed to be a film discussion and not a lecture on racism and not a time to tell half the audience that they were part of the problem and not the solution (the brief allusion to the possibility for white people to become allies not withstanding, because he really didn't spend a lot of time on that issue and spent a lot more rhetorical energy emphasizing white racism and white supremacy). And I suspect that the fact that the white students were even there in the first place means they were open to the discussion that was going to follow.

[aside: Many of the white students continued to stay even after the rant--probably because the director's remarks and comments were more measured and interesting. When I wrote above that people left, I mean people of various ethnic and racial backgrounds beat a path out of the auditorium, and after I heard the CA take two more questions in which he chose to lecture rather than engage in dialogue/discussion, I also beat a hasty retreat because life is too short to be continually annoyed by someone who you think is doing a bad job]

I suppose this is why I've tried not to get into ranting in this blog. I mean, I've had my private moments. We all have. We say things in the privacy of our homes that we'd never (hopefully) voice in public. But as a teacher--as someone who wants to really have open discussion and dialogues about race, I found the CAs strategy to be a real failure in education.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Live from New York...

SNL's Sarah Palin-Hillary Clinton skit:

[for some reason, it keeps showing triple clips--guess NBC wants to triple their promo]

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Wednesday morning unanswerable question

So I've got a question for the blogosphere:

Why don't we call more things instances of racism?

Want more?

This is what I mean. Someone recently left a comment for me on my Hancock/Hellboy movie review post and in the comment noted that Hollywood had once again failed to note the obvious racism that was a plot pivot in the film Hancock.

[Spoiler alert: if you want to read the Hancock post and subsequent comments, click here, but I talk about the film's ending and the big "AHA!" element of the film]

And there are other moments too--for example, recently a Georgia Congressional member called Senator Obama "uppity" -- coded language used for centuries against African Americans in The South (and elsewhere). This is veiled racist language--it's intent is to disparage Obama racially.

I'm sure everyone can think of other instances of things that happen of a racist nature that aren't called out as such. And I have some ideas about why this happens--because I do think that we have to be careful in applying the term "racism" as accurately as possible. And I'm not talking about calling someone a racist. There are a lot of reasons not to do this, even if someone is blatantly being racist or saying racist things--again, I'm going to plug Jay Smooth for the third time in this blog because he really breaks down in a concise and eloquent way, why it's best to not call people a racist and instead address the racism.

[For more on definitions of racism, click here to a previous post]

But I am curious--what do you think? Why don't we say that "such and such" was an example of racism? Or used racist language? Or that this "thing" was an example of the legacy of racism in this country?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Matt Damon on Sarah Palin

I've really resisted giving a laundry list or rant about all the reasons I think that Sarah Palin is a bad V.P. pick and would be an even worse de-facto President in the *hopefully* unlikely event that McCain wins and in the sad event of his passing during his first term in office (which I would say unlikely, but the truth of the matter is, while I certainly in no way wish Senator McCain's early demise, it is not an unlikely scenario that he may die while in office given his age and his health history with cancer). The truth is, this race isn't about Sarah Palin. It's about choosing between Barack Obama and John McCain. Or more abstractly, it's between making a choice about who you think our country would be in better hands, governance wise. Who seems to be the best leader to take us solidly into the 21st century? Who has the best ideas about tackling the complex problems that face people living in the U.S. and around the globe? Who has a vision of leadership that can give back some moral authority to the U.S. as a global leader while still attending to the many domestic problems facing our country?

But really, thinking about McCain's running mate is valid because any President, regardless of age or health, runs the risk of dying in office, through natural causes of assassinations (and we know Barack Obama has received numerous death threats already). So critiquing the V.P. picks for both candidates seems to be a logical thing to do. And I think Matt Damon has some smart things to say about this. You can think of his opinions below as the "average educated" citizen's perspective (if by average you discount the millions of dollars he makes in his profession). This isn't about politics (although in some ways it's always about politics). It's about governance. And on a global scale. While I wouldn't want to see McCain in the White House in any incarnation, picking Romney or Ridge or Huckabee would at least have ensured picking someone whom you could envision as president--someone you could at least feel was capable of handling the difficult task of transitioning from Vice President into President of the biggest and most powerful nation on the planet.*

So listen to Mr. Damon. Aside from the comment about book banning at the end (which Fact Check.org has discredited--scroll down for the "book banning" section) I think he raises some good points. And one he doesn't raise that I'm most concerned about is her environmental record, ie: being someone who does NOT believe that humans are responsible for global climate change and who doesn't put certain animals on the endangered species list for fear it will interfere with oil interests.

*I put an asterisk next to this sentence because I do think that there is going to be a global fight over the top dog spot, with China being one of the nations in contention for "richest" and "most powerful." Which is even MORE reason you want to have the strongest and dare I say SMARTEST political team put together to tackle MAJOR international issues in the most innovative and creative and confident way possible.

The flakey blog

Dear readers:
I must confess that I've been really remiss in keeping up this blog. Why? The simple answer is that I am no longer on leave. Meaning, I no longer have the enormous luxury of scheduling my own time in the freest manner possible. For the last 15 months the only thing I had to do was to write and read and think and work on my book manuscript. This was actually the impetus for this blog in the first place.

[Note: if you read my very first blog entry you will wonder whether I ever finished the book manuscript on passing. The answer in a nutshell is, no. But the great thing about having a year off is that I realized that I wasn't really writing about passing, I was writing about racial ambiguity. And that the things I want to tackle are pretty big and out of my area of expertise: ie, writing about sports, new media, history--things that are outside of the traditional purview of literary criticism. Anyway, the good news is that I have really found what I want to write about and have written half of the projected book manuscript.]

Anyway, the semester is well underway at Southern U. And I find, after being out of the classroom for 15 months, that it is like riding a bike. Except imagine that you haven't been doing any physical activity in the last 15 months. You might be a little shaky getting back on the bike and riding around town as fast as you can. That's what it has been like for me, which has really thrown me for a loop. I mean, I've been teaching for a good while, if you count the first teaching forays in grad school. And I like teaching--I love it in fact. I'm a true believer, and what I mean is this: I know my tenure case will be based on the number of publications on my c.v. but I believe that my work in the classroom is just as if not more valuable than the things I write. I really value teaching and try to do the best job I can.

So it's a bit surprising to find myself doing some rookie mistakes and just more to the point of it--being out of step, out of rhythm with the cycle of the semester, teaching wise.

Because my re-entry has been a bit rocky, and because I'm also still trying to edit and write my little fingers off (since I am pre-tenure) I have let some things go by the wayside: one of them being, this blog.

But fear not! I have discovered that I like blogging. It's a strange format to write in, but I have always believed that one's research is of a personal nature, and one of my chapters in the newly envisioned book project is on blogs, so I figure one of the best ways to learn about blogs is to actually be doing it. And there's so much to write about in a blog devoted to issues of race in the U.S. (and really I'm interested in race from a global perspective as well). And then there's the upcoming elections...although really, my anxiety level is so high right now in terms of what the outcome will be. I guess you can say that this one is going to be exciting no matter what happens (but I know I'm bound to end up in tears on Tuesday night, whether they are tears of joy or rage....who knows!).

So, to be the best teacher I can be, I will be slacking off on the blogging. And if one of my students is currently reading this (since I know 1 or 2 of them have already inadvertently found their way to this site), you can at least appreciate that my mental energies are going to the classroom instead of the blogosphere.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

September 11

I'm sad. I don't really want to elaborate why. You can probably guess that it has to do with today's date. I know I didn't have to write a post today, but I wanted to just put that out there. I'm sad. I cried this morning. My heart hurts. I bet a lot of people feel this way today. And I just wanted to acknowledge that simple fact.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Being a liberal

I decided to focus this week on a few of my favorite things, as a way to stay positive and to concentrate on what I feel good about rather than devolve into complaining.

[Among the list of things I'm trying to avoid complaining or more accurately sounding whiny about is the start of the semester, which has been a rocky re-entry for me at Southern U. after 15 months out of the classroom--I'll write more about that later, but suffice it to say, I'm out of step and out of rhythm with a teaching schedule, although I must also confess that I really do love teaching--I really am a true believer in that respect.]

Anyway, after I read this Op-Ed piece by Bob Herbert in The New York Times I realized that one of my favorite things is being liberal. Although is it a thing, an ideology, or people who are liberal that I love? Not sure. But I will say that, for me, here are a few reasons I am a liberal and believe in liberal ideology and appreciate a liberal perspective in and about the world:

*To be liberal is to be open minded. Quite literally if you look in any dictionary or just do a google word definition search, you will see that the phrases associated with the world "liberal" are broad, big, free, and tolerant of change.

*As Bob Herbert noted in his piece, politically speaking, politicians who were and are liberal made huge civil rights gains for people living in the U.S. Civil rights laws, voting rights laws, environmental protection clauses (protecting both people in their environments as well as protecting the natural environment from people), gender equity and recently in terms of the states of MA and CA, gay marriage, all of these political accomplishments are a result of politicians of all types espousing a liberal ideology.

*Liberal means protecting freedom and democracy. We bandy these words about, especially during presidential elections, but one only needs to read The Economist or listen to BBC or read about the rest of the world to understand that U.S. citizens enjoy a fair amount of freedom and democracy, for all. Not just for those who can afford it, not just for those who can trace ancestry back a few generations (we are all settlers and/or colonizers, even those of us who were forced here through slavery or indentured servitude--only those who can claim indigenous status can really "claim" American sovreignty), not just for people of the right phenotype or correct sexuality or gender. Freedom isn't a finite quantity that will disappear with the first 100 users. Democracy isn't something you buy or sell. Both are available to everyone (or should be) and to believe in liberal ideology is to believe that freedom and democracy are values that should be available to all.

*To be liberal is to want people to have choices--choice of where to send your kids to school, to afford to go to college or choose not to go to college and get a job that is interesting as well as rewarding. I think too often we feel ourselves constrained to make certain choices, and perhaps when I say words like freedom and choice this should not be confused with hedonistically doing whatever it is we want to do--to live soley by a pleasure principle. What I'm trying to get at is that I consider myself a liberal in the sense that I want everyone to have the same access to opportunities--not to treat everyone as if they are the same and therefore equal, but to believe that despite our many differences in character, region, personality, life circumstances, etc...that we all should have equal opportunities and should not want to curtail those for others. This means people get to marry the consenting adult of his/her choice, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, religion, or a host of other factors. This means everyone has the opportunity to vote who qualifies (18 years old, citizen of the U.S., and in progressive states, this means that if you committed a felony but have served your time you have your full rights restored). And for me this definitely means that I can have a full range of choices available to me in terms of my reproductive cycle.

*But perhaps most of all, what I love about being liberal is that in being so open to possibility and broad-minded, I have the capacity to expand my understanding--to have my mind changed and to be able to changes the minds of others. To understand that one of the greatest challenges of being human is in the complexity that surrounds us. And that this complexity deserves as much liberal thought we can give it. Humans are messy and complicated creatures. We deserve to have big and broad and free thinking, liberal thinking, helping us to move forward in the world.

Monday, September 8, 2008

These are a few of my favorite things...

I had started to write this post that was basically a list of complaints--things I have been feeling peevish and petty about lately.

But I erased it. I'm tired of negativity--in myself and in others and in the world. So this week I'm going to try an experiment--to focus on the positives. A list of my "favorite things" for the week if you will.

First on deck:

Star Trek: The Next Generation

This show, which was the "sequel" to the original series of the 1960s, ran from 1987-1994. It started off sort've shaky but quickly developed story lines and characters that were compelling and interesting and thought provoking.

Much has been written about the original series in terms of its progresive stances--that the first televised "inter-racial kiss" occurred between Kirk & Uhura. And that the original crew was comprised of people who "represented" a variety of races (and species if you count Nimoy's Spock)--a truly diverse cast. Well, certainly progressive and diverse for the mid-1960s.

And while the cast of The Next Generation was not as diverse as the original (I mean, you'd think that over 20 years later they'd manage to find a Latino or Asian crew member for the regular cast and not just a minor recurring role), it certainly was more diverse than many other casts on network tv (and that remains true TODAY--which proves that in over a decade we're STILL not at a place where we see real diversity on television).

Still, the show made a stab at diversity. But really, it was the writing. The writing for the show was good. And so was some of the acting (I mean, Patrick Stewart is a classically trained Shakespearean actor). And lucky for me, the Sci-Fi channel shows re-runs of the show, and right now they are showing the two-part finale.

So in honor of Star Trek: The Next Generation, let me say that I hope we will boldly go where no one has gone before (you can interpret that however you like, but of course, think politically...)

Friday, September 5, 2008

Post convention thoughts

I teach in an English department. I know the power of narrative, how persuasive the right combination of words can be. And I study popular culture and am aware of the strength of certain images and symbols. Politics, to a large degree, is about rhetoric and spin: it is about persuasion.

A LOT has been written about Sarah Palin, about what she does and doesn't do for the Republican ticket, about her being a heart beat away from the presidency and what her selection says about McCain's judgment in choosing her.

I was going to do an entire post about Sarah Palin and about the RNC, and comparing the RNC to the DNC, but there are so many other bloggers and media outlets who have already done this work (I'll embed some links within my post--it's nice, because essentially these posts are ones I would have written, perhaps in a different style/format, but they tackle the topics I would have tackled).

What I want to end the week with now, and the two solid weeks of being glued, alternately, to CSPAN, CNN, and MSNBC, are a few thoughts about what I would like to see happen (I know this probably *won't* happen, but I thought I'd try to be hopeful and stay positive, because there's just TOO MUCH NEGATIVITY, and I'm tired of the sniping).

*I would like to see an end to coded racist language against the Obama family, in particular, and African Americans, in general. I'd like to see an end to coded racist language against all people, but the truth is, in my opinion, African Americans get the brunt of this more than other racial groups in the U.S. The word "uppity" should only be used, in a vernacular fashion, to refer to objects that are placed beyond someone's reach, as in "Can you please grab that book for me? It's too uppity for me to get it." The word "uppity" SHOULD NOT be applied to a U.S. Senator who is also the Democratic candidate running for President, and by the way, is the first African American representing a major political party, as in this quote by Georgia Republican Rep. Lynn Westmoreland:
"Just from what little I’ve seen of her and Mr. Obama, Sen. Obama, they're a member of an elitist-class individual that thinks that they're uppity," Westmoreland said. Asked to clarify that he used the word “uppity,” Westmoreland said, “Uppity, yeah.”

*I would like to see an end to people equating Islam with terrorism or Muslim culture/references with Islamic terrorism. Here's a choice quote from another U.S. congressman:
"Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said that Obama's middle name – Hussein – is relevant to the public discourse surrounding his candidacy, saying in March that if Obama were elected, 'Then the radical Islamists, the al Qaeda, the radical Islamists and their supporters, will be dancing in the streets in greater numbers than they did on Sept. 11 because they will declare victory in this War on Terror."

*I would like both parties held accountable for telling the truth, about themselves and about their opponents. A great website to check out is FactCheck.org, which keeps track of both parties and holds both campaigns accountable for their misleading statements or outright lies.

And while The Daily Show is probably not as unbiased as the above site, their juxtaposition of key political figures and pundits is worth noting as we move forward in the final push to November 4:

*I do think that the families and particularly the children of politicians and public figures should be off limits. At the same time, I think that political candidates should not try to make political hay out of their children.

*I think people should be more respectful in their critique of Sarah Palin. Although I find the Republican call of "sexism" a bit hard to swallow in light of the treatment that Hillary Clinton has received during the last year and a half (and really the last twelve years because she got a lot of disrespect based on gender during the Clinton administration), I do think that there's quite a bit of sexist rhetoric, especially in the blogosphere. And if people want to critique Palin, they can do so without using sexist language. Critiquing her, just like critiquing any of her male peers, is fair game--having unfair gender expectations of her, is not.

*I would like people to recognize that women, just like men, are complex creatures. And that just because you are a woman does not mean that you can speak for all women or are in favor of what, politically, we refer to as "women's rights." Same thing goes for being African American--Barack Obama does not speak on behalf of all African Americans. He does not "represent" black American. He is not running for president of the American "black diaspora." He is running to be President of the United States.

*Having said that, I wish people would start to recognize the pervasiveness of racism and racist thought in this country--or perhaps conversely, how difficult it is to recognize white privilege and white supremacist thought. Notice I didn't say "racist people"--Jay Smooth already covered this a few months back. But I've had numerous conversations with friends who have older white parents who are struggling with their internalized racism--these are older white Democrats who have never voted Republican and don't plan to vote for McCain, but they balk at voting for a black man because the picture of Barack Obama and his family is NOT the picture they have of a first family. These are not bad people--and they have raised children who are liberal and progressive minded.

But really--THIS is the reason I teach what I teach, why I focus my research on race, and why I started a blog called Mixed Race America. Race is such a pervasive part of American culture/society/history/politics. It's large and amorphous, fluid and flexible. No one is ever "right" about race, and just when you think you've figured everything out, something changes, something happens, something erupts to blow your previous theory and conceptions, of race, right out of the water.

*And really, what it all boils down to, for me, about Obama and his historic candidacy and the issue of race are two lines from a Pat Parker poem:

"For the White Person who Wants to Know How to Be My Friend"
The first thing you do is to forget that i'm Black.
Second, you must never forget that i'm Black.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Completely biased impressions of the RNC

WARNING: What follows is a completely partisan, totally biased, largely unfiltered stream-of-consciousness type observation of what I'm watching on CNN of Sarah Palin's acceptance speech in front of the Republican National Convention.

*10:42 pm EST CNN just showed secret service escorting a woman with a large tote back with raised fist out of the convention hall. Wonder what that is all about...guessing she's a protester?
[UPDATE: 9/4/08: This just in from CNN's website: "Police said two protesters were removed during Palin's speech. They said they were members of the anti-war group Code Pink. A spokesperson for the Joint Information Center said the two women were escorted by law enforcement officers from the Xcel Center for heckling. They stood and yelled off to the side of the podium during Palin's speech. They were not charged and have been "sent on their way," this spokesperson said."]

*Sarah Palin is ripping on Obama for his previous comment about people clinging to religion and guns months ago to a crowd in SF.

*What is the "Washington elite" that Sarah Palin refers to? Wouldn't that include her candidate, John McCain? The man was in Washington DC so often and not at home with his wife and children that Cindy McCain got so stressed out that she formed an addiction to pain medication [don't believe me? See Newsweek's cover story on Cindy McCain from June 30, 2008. It was actually a pretty balanced/sympathetic portrait of Cindy McCain and it made me feel sorry for her because basically she was raising her kids like a single mom, albeit a single mom who has millions at her fingertips so lets not get too carried away. Also I'd bet money that Cindy McCain has been either emotionally or physically abused (or both) by John McCain (we know that he's called her a "c---" in front of others in the 2000 campaign). The man has huge DOCUMENTED anger issues. Please, someone slip Mrs. McCain a pamphlet to a woman's shelter. Get out woman! Take the kids and GET OUT NOW.].

*10:46pm Sarah Palin is claiming to be a reformer. I wonder if that's why she hired a lobbyist while she was mayor and why she flip-flopped on that "bridge to nowhere" that she initially voted for and then didn't vote for. And seriously, what WAS the vetting process for Sarah Palin???

*I feel like a Peanuts character right now and that Sarah Palin is one of those "adults" because all I'm hearing is "wah, wah, wah, wahhh wahhhh."

*Palin's youngest daughter is totally cracking me up--she's adorable and she's holding her baby brother and was stroking his hair when she decided to smooth it down by licking her palm and then slicking back his hair with her wet-spit palm! This girl's got character.

*10:50pm What's up with the digital screen that the RNC is using behind its speakers? When Rudy Giuliani was speaking they showed, predictably, a skyline of NYC. Just now they showed the Washington monument and the reflecting pool behind Sarah Palin. Wouldn't that just reinforce a connection between her and the "elitism" of Washington DC?

*She's claiming that while drilling won't solve our energy crisis it's better than doing nothing at all. TOTALLY FAULTY LOGIC! It may, INDEED, turn out that doing "nothing at all" is much BETTER than doing something if the something turns out to have irreversible detrimental consequences for the environment. And what's up with the earlier calls that the Republicans keep shouting to "Drill it! Drill it!" Is it just me or is this a vulgar phrase, and I mean this in more ways than one. If we want energy independence then WHY AREN'T WE DEVELOPING MORE ALTERNATIVE FUELS???!!! Or more specifically, why aren't Repulicans spearheading Green issues related to energy independence???

*CNN keeps panning to the dozen people of color at the RNC--I've seen the "Viva McCain" guy at least 3 times in the last half hour. Aren't there any other brown people and/or Latinos they can focus on? Do they think that we won't recognize that when they keep showing the two-three African American men over and over again that we won't realize that they are the SAME black faces and not new black Republicans? And what's up with the Asian Americans in the crowd...I did spot Elaine Chao, guess you got to give it up for the Asian American token in the Bush cabinet.

*10:55 Sarah Palin just ripped on Obama for his support of MIRANDA laws....WTF???!!!

*Now it's the St. Louis arch behind her--I guess the RNC is trying to show "American" views to support the belief that it's "Country first." Wish I could see more of it--looks like a nice slide show from the highlights of someone's cross-country trip.

*I don't think neon green is the right color for Cindy McCain, but it does seem to be within her color palette because she tends to favor very bright, solid colors.

*I wonder if they are selling those white cowboy hats that the Texas delegation keeps waving in the air. I'd like one of those!

*Is it just me or is the crowd in the RNC of an older demographic than the one at the DNC last week? Where are the young folks? Where are the college-aged Young Republicans?

*11:01pm Now she's pumping up John McCain's "war hero/fighter" credentials. "There is only one man who's fought for you where winning means survival and losing means death." What does that mean exactly? In the Viet Nam analogy it doesn't quite work. John McCain's plane was shot down, he was tortured, and eventually he was released, but we also evacuated Viet Nam (ie: fled) and South and North were eventually united as a communist country (although you wouldn't recognize it as such anymore). So if John McCain survived, does that mean he won? But what did he win, besides his life? We lost the war, and many died...I'm just not seeing the logic in this rhetoric.

*They aren't showing him now but Levi Johnson, the boyfriend of Bristol Palin, cleans up nicely (for a contrast you should see these photos on Huffington Post). You wouldn't guess that he's the self-identified/proudly proclaimed "red neck" that he says he is on his My Space page. I haven't checked, but do you think his My Space page is still up or has the McCain camp taken it down...And can people still find him on Facebook? Has anyone tried to "friend" him lately?

*11:06 Palin just wrapped up her speech by asking people to elect a "great" man as President of the United States.

So I'm taking her advice and voting for Barack Obama in November!

[Aside: Is it just me or is the soundtrack for the RNC essentially a country-western track? Don't Republicans listen to something besides this one genre of music? Seriously, aren't there some soul fans in the GOP leadership? A little Marvin Gaye anyone? Or perhaps they don't want to run into anymore problems with singers telling them that they don't have their permission to use their songs, which both Van Halen and Jackson Browne have recently done.]

p.s. Just like last week, I can feel tears welling up in my eyes, but they are NOT tears of joy...they are tears of panic and frustration and anxiety because this election is SO IMPORTANT and I can't believe that it's going to be a nail biter because to me this seems like a NO BRAINER (sigh), but like I warned at the top of this post, this is my own completely biased take on tonight's convention coverage on CNN.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Day after Labor Day observations

Just a few random thoughts after catching up on blog reading, television viewing, New York Times skimming, and just other musings of my day yesterday:

*Comparing the people attending the RNC vs. the DNC I am struck by how white the delegates are. Granted, I didn't watch as much coverage (there wasn't as much coverage to watch given the scaled back convention) but in scanning the crowd it was difficult to make out any people of color, and there certainly did not appear to be any groups or crowds or masses of people of color. And there seemed to be an overwhelming male force in the convention hall as well.

*Is it just me or are the newscasters half-disappointed that Hurricane Gustav turned into tropical storm Gustav and the levees held and there wasn't sheer mayhem and devastation? I mean, they SAY they are glad, but then they (and maybe CNN is the most egregious offender) are quick to point out that there are even MORE hurricanes on the way, like Hannah & Ike. There is a tone of sensationalism running throughout the news coverage of the Gulf region that makes me feel icky--like I need to take a shower. Personally, I was THRILLED that it turned into a tropical storm--and even then it seems awful that people had to have their lives disrupted like this.

*I can understand people being against abortion--everyone I know is against abortion in the sense that they consider this to be a last option--something they would rather not have to choose. What completely BAFFLES me about people who espouse "family values" is the "abstinence only" education for teenagers and/or the belief that contraception is a form of abortion rather than seeing contraception as a necessary practice not only to prevent unwanted pregnancy but to guard against sexually transmitted disease. Abstinence only education DOES NOT WORK. Talking candidly with your teenage children about sex, waiting to have sex until they are ready, ways to combat feeling pressure to have sex, and using proper birth control in the event that they find they cannot wait, THIS IS SEX EDUCATION THAT MAKES SENSE. Having this message reinforced in the school where kids may feel more comfortable asking questions and talking amongst their peers rather than with their parents MAKES DOUBLE SENSE.

*Universities, colleges, and K-12 schools that begin classes BEFORE labor day makes me sad (and Southern U. is among these).

*Did I mention that the delegates at the Republican National Convention appear to be overwhelmingly white and predominantly male?

*Being pissed off at the government or at the Republican party and destroying property or taunting police does NOT seem to be the most effective way to get your message across. It actually seems to undermine your message of change. Protesting peacefully and in mass numbers against policies that seem to go against your principles, like protesting against the war and against inhumane treatment of detainees at Guantanamo, seems both moral and ethical.

*Tennis elbow (which I have) takes a LONG time to heal and resting it and icing it is good, but I'm antsy to play golf and to do other activities in which full use of my right arm and elbow would be good.

*The image of the digital flag behind Laura Bush & Cindy McCain at the RNC was HUGE. I'm glad that Republicans like to remind everyone what country they are in. I wonder if they worry that we will be confused for Canadians or Scandinavians if they do not put up an image of a big flag billowing in the wind behind the first lady?

*Kudos to CNN's Campbell Brown for hammering away at McCain's spokesperson (Tucker somebody) who kept dodging her very basic question of asking him to name one executive decision that Sarah Palin had made with respect to foreign policy (since he had just said that Sarah Palin had more foreign policy experience than Barack Obama since as governor of Alaska she was the chief commander of the Alaskan National Guard). Tucker kept repeating that she had executive military and hence foreign policy experience given the executive level commands that she gave the Alaska National Guard. Campbell Brown kept asking him to name JUST ONE decision she made with respect to the Alaska National Guard and poor Tucker just kept repeating himself without ANSWERING HER QUESTION. It made him look foolish and he sounded like a broken record.

*No matter how many times I re-read Persuasion I still fall in love with Austen's language.

*Did I already mention that in terms of a mixed-race America, the image of the delegates convened for the Republican National convention seemed very homogenous and not at all mixed (with two exceptions, I did spot an Asian American man amongst the denim clad Texas delegation (they all wore matching denim shirts and cowboy hats) and when Cindy McCain addressed the crowd they did pan to her children which included Bridget, who is South Asian.

SERIOUSLY, here's my question, and it's a very real question: Is the Republican party as white and as male as the delegates in the convention hall have me thinking they are? I mean, I understand that I am a die-hard Democrat. And I understand that I have surrounded myself with like-minded people who are also largely Democrat or at least liberal on social issues. But if I think hard about the people I know who are Republican, there are a handful of Asian Americans (like my parents friends R & J) but by and large all the people I know who are Republican are white (and I've only met one black Republican, a friend of Southern Man. Talking to him was an exercise in having an African American man tell me that racial profiling of black men by the police was completely justified because statistics prove that black men commit more crime. It was SURREAL having this conversation with him, because he is also anti-affirmative action, pro-life, and anti-immigration. I didn't know him that well, so I didn't feel it was a good thing to get in a screaming match with him).

Really, is the Republican party overwhelmingly white? I am not trying to say that this then means that all Republicans are more racist/don't care about people of color. But is it a coincidence that the people I know committed to social justice and anti-racism are largely people of color or white allies, and all of them are Democrats?

[10:12pm--This just in: Senator McCain withdraws from an interview tonight on CNN with Larry King because of Campbell Brown's questioning of his aide, Tucker Bound (see my comment above). Click here for the article and see this YouTube clip below where Tucker Bound becomes defensive and inarticulate at Campbell Brown's questions. Apparently the McCain camp is trying to "punish" CNN for how "unfair" Campbell Brown is towards Tucker Bound. Judge for yourself. Personally, I think Campbell Brown was doing her job.]

Monday, September 1, 2008

Labor Day Links

In honor of labor day, I am going to be linking to other bloggers and posts that I think are relevant to what is going on in today's world (like Gustav, the Democratic convention last week, McCain's VP bomb) and just posts I thought might be of interest to readers of this blog.

Hopefully those of you reading this in the U.S. (where Labor Day is an official holiday) are enjoying a day of lazy respite from your normal work routine. Or if you are an academic type like myself, then perhaps you have a pile of reading on your desk that you hope to get through (a re-reading of Crevecoeur, a glimpse into Deleuze & Guattari, skimming over some racial melancholia, and for pleasure, my umpteenth re-reading of Persuasion for a grad seminar).

*I often feel like Tami of What Tami Said and I are separated at birth, sisters in the blogosphere. Her post "What we deserve (A Rant, I know)" summarizes much of how I feel about PUMAs (Party United My Ass), the splinter group formed out of disaffected Hillary Clinton supporters (whose numbers, I hope dropped radically after both Hillary's speech and McCain's announcement of Sarah Palin--more on that below). She wrote this before the roll call vote, which you can see in the post she wrote following the one above.

*Tenured Radical, a wonderful writer (and fine academic) has a great post that talks about the importance of Obama's acceptance speech, and is inspiring in its analysis of Obama and what he stands for as much as the actual speech itself. And she follows this up with two posts about McCain's selection of Sarah Palin as his VP, asking "Is Sarah Palin Good for Women?" (and I know you might have a knee-jerk one-word response but take the time to read this post) and another on the conservative response to McCain's pick (click here).

*Another blog I like a lot, Poplicks, also has two posts about McCain's VP pick, Sarah Palin, with more links in their comments section to other sites dissecting the (il)logic/pandering/disastrousness of this selection. Miss AK-47 and this other post with an interesting comment thread by a PUMA member weighing in, Women: Putting the "Wild" in Wild Card, gives us a glimpse into what people (esp. liberal-progressive folks) are thinking about the choice of Sarah Palin (and yes, I'll be writing my own rant later in the week).

*Poplicks also has a post about the path of Gustav and the effect that this is having on the RNC and McCain--and speculating on the political opportunism of McCain delivering his acceptance speech in New Orleans in the wake of Gustav (sentiments that are echoed by Paul Krugman's Op-Ed in The New York Times).

*The LPGA recently issued a rule (should I add asinine?) that all players must be conversant in English to play on the tour--a ruling that seems to specifically target a single ethnic-national group: South Koreans. For more, see the Constructivist's take here, as well as my own length comment(s) and thoughts by Angry Asian Man here and here.

*Finally, for something to satisfy your appetites beyond the political, Land of the Not-So-Calm has posted a recipe for chop ch'ae, a Korean noodle dish that makes me salivate (and the photo she includes will make you salivate too). Her posting made me think that I should do some kind of recipe swap with readers/bloggers where we share tried and true meals with one another (because I'm always looking to expand my cooking repertoire).