Monday, January 28, 2008

It's Not Always About Choosing

With both a woman and a black man both running for President and being the frontrunners for the first time ever, an incessant amount of discussion, blogging, news reporting and commentating has been going the point where I'm tired of hearing about the whole thing. Of course, it's not going to stop--it's only going to get worse. But one thing that really bothers me, perhaps the most, is this idea of choosing identities...and not just in the context of the election.

For one thing, take the fact that Oprah is endorsing Obama. Okay, everyone has to make this about Oprah choosing race over sex. Well, as I commented on AOL once to that argument, Oprah doesn't care about black Americans. I mean, she'll go build a school in Africa, but she'll also disparage black Americans in the process. I do suspect that race is part of the reason why she endorses Obama, but I also think it's the kind of black person he is. She wouldn't endorse just any black person because Oprah herself is not just any black person. Oprah is the kind of black person black people hate, and, indeed, most black people really can't stand Oprah.

In case you don't get it, it's the fact that she did go build a school in Africa and talks about helping blacks in Africa when there are all kinds of blacks in the US who could easily benefit from her assistance. It's the fact that she has a nearly all white [female] audience...because of the fact that her show has topics, guests and features books that basically cater to white women. So, no, we don't get the sense that she cares about or identifies with black Americans. Unfortunately, white people, being white people, can't see this and they yell "racism" towards whites and ignore that if she supported Clinton--as many seem to want her to do, or, at least, want her to have Clinton on her show--she would be doing...what? Would she being doing, in their eyes, the same thing, only this time choosing sex over race? I mean, could the woman possibly win for losing? Yet, some white people have the nerve to be angry with her over this or somehow think she's automatically supposed to side with sex.

Let's get this straight--the "normal" (read: not famous or rich) black people who support Obama overwhelmingly do so simply or predominantly because he's black. This is not Oprah's game. She has never supported a black candidate before, as far as I know and even by her own comments. She's supporting him because he's a "good black," or as I like to call him Goodblack Obama (pronounced much like "Barack," i.e. goodBLACK)...and I believe also because, like so many non-black people, she is, in my opinion, putting something new and "hope"--and for non-blacks their desire to prove they're not racist and neither is this nation any longer--above looking at political experience/longevity and who actually can beat a Republican. To me, the more I hear about Clinton and Obama going at each other, the less appealing either of them look...and the less "new" Obama looks than anybody else who has ever run for President. But, you know...the undertone of his being a change agent and taking things in a different direction relates a lot more to his race than anybody wants to admit. Suddenly, white is the face of evil and stagnation, even if it's feminine.

Even so, how would Oprah or my endorsing one or the other automatically translate into our choosing either our race or sex? First of all, Clinton nor Obama are Oprah or me. So choosing them isn't choosing my anything. Other blacks might identify with Obama solely based on race, but I don't. And I haven't planned on voting for Clinton simply because she's a woman. I just don't care that she's a woman. Honestly, if there were a white man running who had the best chance of beating a Republican into the White House, that's who I'd be supporting instead. There's not one running. And there's not a black female running--if there were, that way maybe Oprah and I could keep the public from sawing us in half, because her supporting Obama then wouldn't have to be about choosing race or sex and my supporting Clinton wouldn't be about that to everybody. The way things stand, if you're a black female you can't help but make the "wrong" choice to somebody, even if you're not making the choice they think/say you are.

And then there was this piece I read today. Now somebody's got to bring the sexual orientation angle into it! I mean, please! So what, now because I don't support Obama I've chosen sexual orientation over race? What...the...hell???? First of all, there is no way to make that choice, because none of these candidates truly care about gays or gay rights. So, much like with the example of the non-existent black female Presidential candidate, there is not the option of a solid candidate who represents us fully. You have no choice but to pick someone who doesn't care about that, regardless of race, sex or anything else. Just because other candidates might not have made that explicit, as Monroe claims Obama's a silly distinction.

Second, there are so many other issues of importance than to make voting and endorsing all about one, even if that one issue is incredibly important to you. We all have to make choices when it comes down to voting in terms of having issues that don't neatly fit with a candidate's issues. Nobody is strictly partisan. I have many conservative beliefs, and yet I buck all those to vote Democratic--why? My liberal slants matter more to me, personally. I can live just fine without abortion being illegal or the right to shoot a gun at someone who invades my property, but I can't say the same about no affirmative action and high rates of unemployment.

And queers have to know that conservatives will do a lot more damage to the queer agenda in office than any Democrat--whether that person is Obama or not. And yet, much like 2004, a lot of queers will not see the forest for the trees and will refuse to vote...but will have the nerve to whine and whine and whine if a Republican gets back in office. Seeing the forest for the trees, though I can't say that I like or agree with any of the Democratic candidates, is the main reason I vote Democrat. I didn't like John Kerry, and I voted for him. If Obama somehow beats Clinton out...hey, I don't want him to be President, but I will vote for him because he's better than having McCain or Romney in office. All these minority groups who can't think beyond themselves or one issue shoot themselves in the foot ultimately.

Third, when will the dumb parallels between Asians and blacks and gays and blacks stop? I mean, sometimes the parallels make sense. But I don't think that because Obama is mixed and there used to be a law against interracial marriage that he somehow magically is supposed to get and support gay people. I get so tired of these dumb, overly-simplistic arguments. First of all, people act like mixed kids are, what, supposed to be ever-so-grateful to the Supreme Court? What do non-mixed people know about it? Many mixed kids, at some point in their lives, wanted to just be one race, and many more mixed people than that generally tend to identify themselves as one race only, as does society. It's not like we don't love our parents, but at the same time--more races more problems is a motto many mixed kids really could run around using. The major problem with a lot of these analogies is that the person raising them usually doesn't know much of anything about one part of the analogy, only seeing what's positive about it but never having to live the negatives of it. It's like white [gay] people with Brown vs Board of Education.

Second, I don't understand people's mentality on thinking being in the same/similar boat as someone else means you automatically understand or support them. Besides, Obama technically is not in gay people's boat. He was the beneficiary of an interracial marriage--he didn't engage in one, per se. As I've explained my theory several times before, it usually tends to mean the opposite because we create so many hierarchies based on differences and being treated differently ourselves. I wouldn't automatically attribute any opposition Obama has to gays to his being black, as approximately half the white population has a problem with homosexuality, as well, and so do many Asians and Latinos--facts that white gay racists conveniently like to forget or ignore.

And you can argue that being a racial minority should somehow breed more sympathy for gays on his part. It's just that, from my perspective, since being gay isn't exactly like being black, it's easy for a black person to take what's different about being gay--i.e. the sexual act--and say that makes something gross or unacceptable about it that isn't there with blackness or interracial relationships. The fact that it's similar to arguments made about blacks and interracial marriages in the past doesn't matter--it's still a different type of people wanting something that is different in some way from what these people wanted in the past. I'm definitely not saying it's right, but I'm not bothered if he can't relate to me as a queer person because I recognize that's it's not as similar as so many people would like to think. After all, white gay people don't understand blacks, and I don't understand white women, but we all had/have our struggles for equality. The bottom line--the fact that rights are involved and being treated badly based on differences--is similar, but that's about it.

And then, not dealing with politics--being multiracial is often, to other people and sometimes to the multiracial individual, about choosing one identity over another. And being a queer minority is often, to white gays, about choosing race or sexual orientation. And, last year, when I was involved with a Women's organization on campus, they framed the lack of black, Asian and Latina female membership in terms of choosing race over sex. As one black woman angrily pointed out to me, the black women were not "choosing" race over sex. If they wanted to be involved with the Women's organization, they would be. They hadn't even thought about the sex aspect, and this is often true with black women.

We don't arrive on campus saying, "hmmm, do I want to join the Women's org or the Black org? I pick the Black org!" It's not like we can't be involved in both. Many black women will arrive on campus and automatically not even think about the Women's org. While the white women are sitting around acting like this is a big problem or wondering what they've done alienating, the black women are off happy as can be at the Black org event. And if the Women's org has an event that's interesting, the black women will go--not because it's about women, but because it's interesting and personally relevant.

Another reason why it's not a choice--and this is true with sexual orientation and multiracial identity, as well--is that we already have an idea that we're not truly welcome in these spaces. In that sense, we haven't really even been given a choice, i.e. it's the black female President again. Face it, the best chance for a black woman to fit in somewhere is a black space; a queer black person, a queer black space; and a mixed person, a mixed space. Out of these three groups, mixed people probably do more "choosing" than anybody, but they probably wouldn't if people weren't asking them to so frequently. For these other people, why everything has to be a grand, indirect statement of choosing identities is beyond me.