Saturday, March 29, 2008

Oops, She Did It Again!

So I called my BFF Hillary Clinton the other day to see how she was doing after all the negative commentary about her little verbal slip. "Girlfriend, what on earth were you thinking! Have you lost your mind up in here?"

Oh, wait a minute, I don't really know Hillary well enough to address her as girlfriend. We're not really BFFs either (that's shorthand for best friend forever). Actually, Hillary and I have never met, but I've seen her on television. Oops, I think that I misspoke.

There has been a lot of misspeaking in the Clinton campaign. A few weeks ago, Senator Clinton released a television commercial asserting that based on her 35 years of experience, she was more qualified than Senator Obama to answer the phone at 3:00 a.m. and deal with some hypothetical foreign policy crisis. Unfortunately, at least for Sen. Clinton, subsequent research revealed that her foreign policy experience was questionable at best, and possibly nonexistent. After a little personal research, I wrote a little blog entry about what appeared to be a general consensus--Sen. Clinton didn't play a significant role in bringing peace to Northern Ireland; nor did she broker the deal that resulted in Macedonia opening its borders to refugees from Kosovo (official records confirm that the Macedonia accord regarding the Kosovo refugees was signed the day before Hillary arrived in the country).

The media enjoyed the circus constructed around Sen. Clinton's exaggerated foreign policy experience claims and next became entranced with sermons from Sen. Obama's ex-minister. Just when I thought that perhaps the campaign was finally getting back on track, dealing with the issues--the recession, unemployment, access to health care, 47 million people without health insurance, the war in Iraq, global warming, etc., etc., Sen. Clinton dropped another example of her qualifications to be commander-in-chief, citing her March 1996 landing at Tuzla Air Base in Bosnia in the midst of sniper fire. Her words, spoken at George Washington University on March 17, 2008, have been published in newspapers around the world, and played repeatedly on radio and television news stations.

“I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base.”--Senator Hillary Clinton

Based on the photo, before ducking and running for cover, Sen. Clinton and daughter Chelsea took time to accept greetings from the eight-year-old girl who was a part of the official greeting committee in March 1996, a group that also included Bosnia's acting president. Not wanting to frighten the child, Hillary also decided that she and Chelsea should abandon the flak jackets that she asserts that they wore to protect them from sniper fire while they were running with their heads down. Suffering from some memory loss, no doubt due to post traumatic stress disorder after being subjected to sniper fire, comedian Sinbad, who was a part of the group visiting US troops in Bosnia with the then First Lady back in 1996, has responded that he does not recall there being any sniper fire when the travel group landed.

Normally, I would agree with Sen. Clinton's protestations that she made many speeches and many journeys while First Lady, and that it is only human to confuse the details from a trip that she made 12 years ago. However, generally, most of us confuse the details as to when something happened, but remain clear as to whether or not something happened. For example, I'm not certain when I first became obsessed with Denzel Washington, however, I'm certain that he has never promised to leave his wife and marry me.

Sen. Clinton, girlfriend, you have not been under sniper fire during any your travels as First Lady. You made it up! You didn't misspeak; you lied.

You lied because you are desperately trying to distinguish yourself in the minds of the voters as having 35 years of critical experience, including foreign policy experience that makes you a superior choice for the Democratic Party nomination. You have invented your own pet campaign issue that makes about as much sense as the pet rock phenomenon of the 1970s. What really frightens me is that some of the public, just like the folks that spent good money for a pet rock, are succumbing to the nonsense of this non-issue. Let's have a simplified civics lesson.

Under the U.S. Constitution, both the Congress of the United States and the president have the responsibility for setting U.S. foreign policy. In general, the president shapes foreign policy with advice from the state department, the secretary of state, and a bunch of other national security officials in the executive branch . Congress approves the funding needed to carry out the foreign policy. The United States Senate has to approve by a two-thirds vote, any treaties with foreign governments that are negotiated by the president. Congress and the president don't always see eye to eye on foreign policy, but the president has the principal authority to create foreign policy. Both the Congress and the Courts defer to the president on matters of foreign policy.

If you stayed with me through Civics 101, then you are probably recognizing that unless Clinton, McCain, or Obama have previously served as president of the United States, none of them have any substantive foreign policy experience. Neither congressmen/women, nor the First Lady gets to make foreign policy decisions in our governmental structure. Condoleeza Rice has experience in the ins and outs of foreign policy, as do members of the Cabinet and the executive branch of government, but hey, Hillary, you don't. Drop the empty rhetoric about foreign policy experience and focus on the significant domestic and international issues that should be the focus of this campaign, not your imagined turn as Rambo.

The beauty of the structure of our government is that no one enters the office of president as a solo act. All those cabinet members, all those secretaries of this and that, are there for a purpose--to advise the president, to present him/her with the information to make reasoned, well-thought out foreign policy decisions, if he or she chooses. Or he can declare himself to be the Decider and make the dumbest decisions ever, but that's another post.

Footnote: What exactly is foreign policy? The generally accepted definition identifies foreign policy as a course of action or set of principles adopted by a nation's government to define its relationships with other countries or groups of countries.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Sister Girl Is In The House

I have a friend and his name is Marc. He has a knack for posing probative questions that challenge me to do some healthy self-introspection. Recently, his question was, if I could choose to change either my race or gender, which would it be? I couldn't make a choice.

Yesterday, he posted a comment to my entry on Senator Obama's speech on race in America:

Eventually, Obama is going to show some flaws, and I want to make sure we don't put him too high on a pedestal ,that we punish him for revealing himself to be human. Right now, I'm just incredibly grateful that it looks like we might have a President who's smarter than a 5th grader's teacher's teacher, as opposed to the 4th grader we have now.
I sent him an email response to his comment and he sent me a response to my email, actually, he sent two responses, but I'll share the short version first because it made me laugh (Marc is really good at making me laugh):
Now, how about blogging in this voice, sister-girl, un-hunh, hunh!
His second email was a tad more serious reiteration of the first.
I had to dash off that last email before running out the door, but what I meant was there is a personal voice here that is very compelling. Your assessment of the political scene is always unassailable, but often written almost in third person, somewhat at a remove, like a very sharp op-ed article.
I love "I like being a black woman," your very personal reporting about what it's like to navigate two worlds simultaneously.

Just as he intended, it got me thinking about who I am and who I choose to be. I admit that my first thought when I read Marc's emails was that I don't choose to write in a removed voice, it's just who I am, but then I really thought about it and realized that I do present a certain voice as my public self, almost without thinking about it. (In other words, Marc hit the nail on the head!)

I think that a lot of black folks slip personas on and off like most people change clothes. I think it stems from a need to prove that we are worthy. Most of my professional life is spent in predominantly white circles; often all white except for me. I never feel that I'm just Sheria, there is always a sense that I represent my people.

I don't think that it's black paranoia. Whenever a white person does something illegal, stupid, or cruel, it is that person who is judged. When a black person behaves badly, it is the race that is judged.

The list of white men who have stolen from their own companies and destroyed the lives of countless people have not led to any conclusion that you can't trust white men to invest your money, but the list of black men who have stolen some woman's purse on the street has led to a conclusion that all black men are violent and if you see one coming, clutch your purse tightly.

Perhaps the best example of this dual system of judging the actions of an individual as representative of the group occurred with Timothy McVeigh. He was a home grown terrorist, part of a gun-hoarding, Midwestern, all white, self-proclaimed militia, out to overthrow the government. Yet when he was caught and tried, there was no profiling of white men in their early twenties as suspected domestic terrorists. Then there was 9/11 and any person who looked remotely as if they could be Middle Eastern was a terrorist suspect. Black people have put up with this type of profiling for generations.

Today, my friend's email made me realize that I don't generally share my sister-girl personality in my professional life or on this blog. I slip into my alter ego, Sheria the lawyer, also known as former high school English teacher, who speaks and writes standard English and thinks analytically at all times. Don't get me wrong, that is a part of who I am, but there is also the woman who loves her black culture, who can't sit still when I hear Aretha sing anything, who appreciates the richness of our slang and the rhythm of our speech.

So I'm sharing some of the thoughts in the email that I sent to my friend, the one where I get personal about who I am.

I share Marc's worries about placing Obama on a pedestal. Idols always fall and then we hate them for their human fraility. I also worry that Obama will be held to a higher standard than he would be if he were racially identified based on his white heritage.

I don't think that Obama is perfect, nor do I want him to be. I think that it is his ability to be fully human, flaws and all, that attracts me to him.

I love the historic significance of Senator Obama's speech. When has any candidate for any political office ever dared actually talk about race, truthfully, especially the part about black anger and white resentment? I feel as if I've been waiting my entire life for this level of engagement about the racial divide.

I've spent a great part of my life moving back and forth between a black world and a white one, between my family life and my professional life. I suppose that it is no surprise that eventually my social and personal life merged the two worlds, but always at a cost. In my black world, there were questions about my blackness; in the white world, there were those who made it clear that they did not welcome my blackness. Many black people have the same experience, so I don't think of it as poor pitiful me.

I like being a black woman; I draw my strength from all the black women who have come before me and who surround me. Yet I also draw strength from friendships and relationships that I've had across color lines. I feel that I've learned a lot from multiple perspectives and that I'm better for it.

I think that I had so much trouble simply answering Marc's recent hypothetical about choosing to change race or gender because I honestly can't imagine myself as anyone other than a black female. After all, no other group has mastered the art of indignant head wagging to better effect.

The video has nothing to do with this post; I just love Jackie Wilson. Before Michael Jackson ever moonwalked, there was Jackie Wilson. He was a phenomenal performer.

In Order To Form A More Perfect Union

The elephant that has not only been in the room, but sitting on top of us, has finally been revealed and we are stronger for it. Senator Barack Obama, in his speech in response to the littering of the Internet with videos of his ex-pastor's sermons on race in America, talked openly about the progeny of a nation conceived in liberty and yet mired in the most heinous of institutions--slavery. Sen. Obama identified that progeny--racism, Jim Crow laws, discrimination, black anger, and white anger, and the world did not come to an end.

Finally, someone has just flat out said, "Let's talk about race." If we listen, and I mean really listen to what Sen. Obama has to say, we can move towards an understanding of America's race problem that is an essential step in healing the racial divide that weakens and undermines our nation.

I became a lawyer because I believed in the ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble to the Constitution. When I re-read those documents, which I frequently do, I am still moved at the ideology expressed therein.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

I am not naive, and I do not believe that we, as a nation, have always lived up to these ideals, but what gives me sustenance is the ideals themselves, something worth striving for, worth working to achieve. In the words of Robert Browning, "Ah, if a man's reach does not exceed his grasp,then what's a heaven for?"

Obama's speech today joins my list of inspirational documents. I hope that it is the catalyst to begin conversations at the dinner table, around the water cooler, and in our places of worship about the the ways in which we relate to one another. I hope that we engage in dialogues in which we acknowledge our biases but also recognize our commonalities; I hope that we work together to discover a healing place, grounded in respect and love for all of humankind.

To read the full text of Sen. Obama's speech, please click here. If you would like to watch and listen to him deliver the speech, please see the video below.