April 29, 2008

Primary Paradox

A vast amount of energy that goes into what we call the Negro problem is produced by the white man's profound desire not to be judged by those who are not white, not to be seen as he is, and at the same time a vast amount of the white anguish is rooted in the white man's equally profound need to be seen as he is, to be released from the tyranny of his mirror. -James Baldwin

The civil rights movement has been advocating for decades that the colour of a person's skin should not be the mitigating factor in judging their character or moral worth. They have argued that race or creed has no place in making distinctions between the value of one person over another; that all persons are equal and that skin colour should be seen at most as a secondary characteristic.

And yet this is not the construct of the language or paradigm of the Presidential primaries. Rather, we are presented with narrow binary understandings, not only political ( Democrat/Republican) but also racial ( Black/White), and gender (Man/Woman). The great paradox is that Barack Obama is constantly typecast as the potential "First Black President", that by definition limits the framework of what he is in fact trying to accomplish with his politic. In other words, Barack cannot overcome his "Blackness", the ultimate aim of the civil rights movement, in a paradigm that first and foremost identifies him as a Black Man.

We ought to be evaluating Mr Obama and Mrs Clinton ("The First Female President") on their policies and action plans, but instead we have been subject to endless schoolyard jabs that only serve to fuel deeper cynicism and malcontent in the electorate. Participation will be very key to the eventual outcome of the November election, and both candidates may be seeding a crop they will regret if they maintain their current rhetoric and do not try to redefine the debate.

Of course, in a nation still very much wresting with race the presentation of Mr Obama's perceived "differences" (name, colour, religion, lack of lapel pin, etc.) are a sadly effective way to deflate his candidacy amongst some. Meanwhile, I am still trying to figure out how and why Mrs Clinton became the beloved champion of the working class. A classic product of the East Coast (Wellesley College, Yale Law School), she is a millionaire who many fear is really a Closet Conservative.

Enter the lightning rod Reverend Wright speaking the truth about race relations in America. Many nod in approval and understanding, others shift uncomfortably in their seats, looking at their feet. In the gap between lies hope and reconciliation but no one is paying any attention because the angry sound bites and images are far more compelling and, hey, didn't that Hannah Montana girl pose nude?

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