I read "The Help" a few weeks ago and just re-watched Oprah Winfrey's "Masterclass" yesterday with young staff members. I wanted to make sure they understood what the '50s were in this country. What the institutional reality of apartheid here was, and certainly not just in the South. Then other friends in their 40s shared stories about the crumbling institutions but unchanged beliefs we faced in the '70s and '80s. I then tasked my young team with calling grandparents and asking pointed questions, requesting explicit anecdotes, sharing that with us next week. I wanted them to be able to contextualize this presidency and the white hot disbelief it triggers.
Now, in the '10s...I see still what I've sent them to learn. The casual and unchallenged belief so many hold that even as a poor, under-educated and/or unaccomplished person, without far-reaching goals or a game-changing past...the steely belief that they are "better than." I see, and shake my head at, the incredulity, the often foaming rage, the refusal to explore a bitter, unfortunate, distorted core, when challenged on their behavior. Their knee-jerk refusal to accept why they feel such anger and such superiority. The avoidance of all of that history, all of that internalized training. Of all of that institutional protection from inferiority or lack of motivation that they don't acknowledge or may not even have been made aware of.
Whenever the spin, the distortions, the assumptions, the hair on fire, the distractions...the attempts at marginalization begin, I don't always hear "health care," "debt ceiling," "endless war." Sometimes, all I hear is this:
If you cannot see the video, it is a distraught caller to an Australian radio show after the November 2008 election.
To everyone who reads this and begins the all-American game show of "That's/I'm/She's/He's/We're Not Racist," what I describe above is not racism. It is institutional privilege and the unfortunate, unexamined entitlement and sense of superiority that it begets. In our country, privilege was racially coded and is, therefore, inextricable from race. But, as ever, all discussions that involve race do not by default include a charge of racism. If you don't respect the distinction between discussions of privilege and discussions of racism...in fact, if you believe you "really know" what I mean" or that you, indeed, know better than I do what I really mean, then that is the precise behavior I ask you to examine with this post.
In that same sense, I ask everyone on the "Obambi" train to examine their unending litany of diaries that purportedly explain what the President really thinks or believes, what "surprises" his silly, naive, banjo-strumming self, etc. NOTE: I have written "banjo-strumming" to illustrate that which you conjure up when you blow so relentlessly on the whistle. We all see the banjo. Some of us roll our eyes and think, here we go again. Others see that banjo and think, oh, thank goodness, I was getting stressed about this whole shift in equality, and now I'm going to hear some lovely music that will remind me of the good old days...
When you are dramatically less educated, dramatically less accomplished - and this is the President of the U.S. I am discussing, so only a few dozen people in modern history are even remotely as accomplished, when you are clearly less eloquent, less practical, less politically astute or successful, etc., than someone, and that person has overcome hurdles you have never witnessed, experienced, fathomed or, possibly, even heard of, and they have soared past you to unimaginable heights, and yet you, without deeper exploration of what could trigger such a false state, awaken each day to a renewed and deep-seated belief that you are smarter and more clear-sighted and more strategic and more "big picture" than that person, a belief that you then broadcast relentlessly and without any demonstrated foundation, consider the possibility that President Barack Obama is not the deluded character in this play.
In the event it has been a while since the President's accomplishments have been reviewed and reflected upon, let's revisit below, with a final thought-for-the-day at the end. I have removed his name, just so we can all read the list objectively.
2008 to present President of the United States of America
2009 Recipient, Nobel Peace Prize
2005-2008 U.S. Senator, State of Illinois
2007 Time Magazine: One of the "100 Most Influential People in the World"
2006 The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, Crown Publishers (NY Times Best-Seller)
2005 Time Magazine: One of the "100 Most Influential People in the World"
1997-2004 State Senator, State of Illinois
1995 Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, Times Books (NY Times best-seller, reprint 2004)
1993 to 2002 Associate Attorney, Davis, Miner & Barnhill, Chicago, IL
1992 to 2004 Lecturer/Senior Lecturer, University of Chicago Law School
1991 J.D., Magna Cum Laude, Harvard Law School,
1990 President, Harvard Law Review (first African-American)
1983 B.A., Political Science, Columbia University
This is why privilege, and its ensuing senses of entitlement ("I want what I want when I want it") and superiority ("Obambi", etc.) must be examined. Re-read that partial resume above. Now process that you think YOU are smarter, more politically savvy, more experienced, more astute than this person. Roll it around in your mouth like a rich red wine. Ask yourself...would I receive these credentials differently...would I analyze this background with more respect...if this were a 50-year-old White man I had never met?
At this point, the distractions may start flying in. If your mind cannot directly process and answer that question without finding ways to immediately invalidate the question itself (e.g., "I'm not a racist!"; "But he's NOT White, and I DO know him! And I'm not racist!"), gently, remember again that every discussion that involves the topic of race does not de facto indicate a charge of being racist.
Think of the respect you still have for Anthony Weiner. Yes, he sexually harassed and degraded women, disgraced his Congressional title, disrespected his pregnant, powerful wife and lied repeatedly about all of it. Do you still praise his work as a politician? Re-read the resume above and realize the President has managed to do all of this while maintaining a loving relationship with his wife and kids. Ask yourself...why do I still respect former Rep. Weiner, yet I have not found a way to respect President Obama? Listen to the instant intrusion of the noise. Sip that wine and stay still. Realize that it is one thing to acknowledge someone's accomplishments. It is another to actually respect them.
So many say or think that people of color support President Obama simply because he is Black. You misunderstand our history. (How is that possible, to still not know what we have lived through, seen, been held accountable for, been held back by, been informed by, pushed victoriously forward through? Sincerely, how is it possible to be so ignorant yet consider oneself so much more enlightened?) Please extend your sentence from this day forward: Consider that many of us, of all races, respect him because he is Black and has done all of these things.
We know how hard it is to convince your teacher you actually wrote your "excellent" essay. How hard it is to get a resume with a "funny sounding name" on it past a local business owner. We went to college, and we remember the "Pimps and Hos" parties our "liberal" dormmates threw, happily parading their costumes before us for approval, since surely we would know? We work in corporate America, in medicine or in the law...it doesn't matter really. We know the shock when clients see us, the polite request from receptionists that we wait to tidy until everyone leaves, despite being dressed in business clothing. We have been handed keys to fetch cars outside of every gala we've attended, despite wearing tuxedos with shimmery gold cuff links and having wives in organza and linen on our arms. We have been asked more than once by our White boyfriends' neighbors and mothers if we are the maid, and what day we might be free to take on a new apartment. We have been asked to leave hotel bars while waiting for clients because we must be call girls or we would not be dressed in such expensive clothing on their premises, room key be damned. We have been strip-searched at the airport for having too many stamps in our passport, despite the international contracts in our case. We know the work, the strength of character, the moral fortitude, the forgiveness, the brilliance, the relentlessness... WE KNOW WHAT IT TOOK TO DO EVERYTHING ON THAT LIST.
That list, that resume, is nearly statistically impossible for a rich, straight, Christian White man in our country to achieve, where all systems say "Go!" Now re-read those childhood circumstances in the first paragraph, and understand that Barack Hussein Obama achieved it.
And so, please ask yourself this one last question. Take this one last, small sip:
Despite having achieved exactly none of the things President Obama has achieved on that list (statement of probability based on statistics)...do you believe that HE is the one who is falsely being admired and lifted up? Is it, in fact, HE who has not really done anything to merit the respect and admiration he enjoys? Whereas you...YOU are absolutely worthy of the importance and stature and credibility you have claimed for yourself, yes?
People who support the demonstrated, quantifiable, statistically impossible excellence, achievement and nature of this American hero, you call "Obamabots," don't you? You chuckle at them and sincerely consider them delusional or deluded! (That "hero" term is filling your head with noise again, isn't it? Please read on.) Whereas the people who rec and tip YOU, they clearly are among the prescient, right? They have a REAL understanding of who knows best! They are following the more obvious and enlightened and WORTHY leader, correct?
You, my friend, are Ignacius J. Reilly boldly proclaiming:
You may consider yourself fortunate, I shall give you a small taste of the intricacy and complexity of my worldview.
With a nod to both Toole and Swift, it, therefore, is my pleasure and my mandate to close this nearly Ovidian-length rant with my favorite quote. I will, in fact, replace my sig line immediately upon clicking "publish":
When a true genius appears, you can know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in a confederacy against him.
If the resume above doesn't convince you our President is a genius, this quote seals the deal for, happily, enough of us to keep the pollsters busy.
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