Sunday, May 11, 2008

What's In A Name?

My friend, BT, began sending emails to a small group of us, who are addicted to the presidential nomination race, several weeks ago. Everyone now emails everyone with personal observations, news story links, and primary humor.

I received this email from AT, another member of the group today:
you know, I've changed my mind about Barack. I now no longer support him for president because I am very concerned that the people of West Virginia will be uncomfortable: Click here to read the LA Times news article.
Naturally, I went to the LA Times story to check out what dire words could be responsible for such a change of heart. To my horror, the story was exactly as AT stated and I immediately began to share his concern about the people of West Virginia.

According to the news story,
Obama may have emerged from his double-digit victory over Hillary Rodham Clinton in North Carolina and his razor-thin loss in Indiana on Tuesday with a virtual lock on the Democratic nomination. But, his performance did little to reassure political leaders here [West Virginia] concerned by his sagging numbers among once-loyal white Democrats, who have steadily abandoned their party over the last several presidential elections.

I was particularly taken by the concern expressed by lawyer Clyde M. See Jr., a former Democratic speaker of the West Virginia House of Delegates and two-time gubernatorial candidate. He considers Senator Obama to be a "fine speaker," but worries that, "There's a lot of bigotry in the country, not just West Virginia."

I've never been to West Virginia but I have known a few people from various parts of West Virginia. I even had a romantic relationship with a man from West Virginia. Of course, he dumped me and I've been sort of ticked off about it ever since but I don't hold the entire state of West Virginia responsible. (Steve W. if you're reading this, I am so over you.)

I began to wonder if perhaps the LA Times reporter was getting a bit over excited about race relations in West Virginia. Over the years, there have been multiple occasions when people have shared their sympathy over my unfortunate status of being black and southern. They always seem a bit surprised when I reassure them that I love living in the south. Most of these people are well-meaning non-southerners who assume that no black person in her right mind would willingly choose to live in the south. There are days when I feel as if I may be a brick shy of a load, but mostly I'm in my right mind.

Then my mind began to wander as I tried to figure out if West Virginia was really a part of the south. Originally a part of Virginia, West Virginia bears the distinction of being the only state created by seceding from a confederate state. West Virginia was admitted to the Union as a separate entity from Virginia on June 20, 1863. People that I know from West Virginia don't always agree as to whether it's a part of the south. However, as most of those people have more of a drawl than I do, I'm calling them southerners whether they like it or not.

As I was pursuing this line of thought, I realized that I had not finished reading the LA Times article. and I set about doing so. As I continued to read, I realized that the reporter had chosen to focus on a particular W. Va. area, Hardy County, with a population that is 97% white. (Per the 2000 census, the state of W. Va. is 96% white.)

According to the LA Times, Hardy County is "as conflicted as any rural and working-class Democratic bastion as it struggles to adjust to the likely prospect of the party nominating its first African American presidential candidate."

I couldn't help but wonder if the white people that I know, some of whom I count as close personal friends, knew that they were conflicted about voting for Barack Obama. I should point out that all the white people that I know didn't vote for Obama, but neither did all the black people that I know. However, a lot of white people in North Carolina voted for Obama in the primary, enough to give him nearly a 15 point lead over Senator Clinton. Maybe they didn't know that they were conflicted.

I was starting to get really confused and worried about the conflicted folks in West Virginia, and I began to think that perhaps I should follow AT's lead and stop supporting Senator Obama.

As I wrestled with my unsettled feelings, I continued to read the news story that had gotten me so worked up regarding my conflicted neighbors in West Virginia, and I came across the comments made by a Mr. Vetter, 64, a farmer and lifelong Democrat who regrets voting for Bush in 2000.

"I've got 50-some guns, and I wasn't crazy about Obama's talk about small towns," said Sam Vetter,... "Besides," he added, "Obama just doesn't sound right for an American president."

As Vetter's words sunk in, I had what Oprah calls an "A-ha moment," a moment of life changing insight that provides you with the solution to what troubles your mind. I didn't have to stop supporting Barack Hussein Obama, all I had to do was persuade him to change his name! Vetter said it, "Obama just doesn't sound right for an American president!" That's why the people of W. Va. are so conflicted, Obama's name is just all wrong for an American president.

I immediately began to think of some possibilities and I think that I've hit on one. I need to write the current owner and ask if he minds if Senator Obama borrows his name. It's a solid name, an American name. After all, the holder of this name has had a long political career. As soon as I get all the legal obstacles cleared, I'm going to have a long talk with Senator Obama to persuade him that he needs to change his name to Newt Gingrich.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

It's Been A Long Time Coming

I respect that everyone does not support Senator Obama for president but that doesn’t detract from the the high that I’m on. There is no long entry today and I have no big comments to make. I’ve just had this song in my head all day, so of course I went to YouTube and found it. The singer is Sam Cooke; the song is A Change Is Gonna Come. It’s a bit mournful but yet so optimistic. It’s the optimism that I love.

A dear friend sent me the lyrics in an email this morning and I’m posting them here for my friends who can’t hear the music except in their hearts; you know who you are.

I was born by the river in a little tent

And just like the river, I’ve been running ever since

It’s been a long time coming

But I know a change is gonna come

It’s been too hard living, but I’m afraid to die

I don’t know what’s up there beyond the sky

It’s been a long time coming

But I know a change is gonna come

I go to the movie, and I go downtown

Somebody keep telling me “Don’t hang around”

It’s been a long time coming

But I know a change is gonna come

Then I go to my brother and I say, “Brother, help me please”

But he winds up knocking me back down on my knees

There’ve been times that I’ve thought I couldn’t last for long

But now I think I’m able to carry on

It’s been a long time coming

But I know a change is gonna come.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Me and Obama

My home state, North Carolina, has its primary on Tuesday, May 6. Like other states, NC has early voting and for the first time this year, folks that weren't registered to vote, could register and vote at the same time.

I considered taking advantage of early voting to save the lines that I hope will be wrapped around the polls on Tuesday. I changed my mind because I realized that I wanted the excitement of going to my polling place and casting my vote on Tuesday.

By now, you know that my vote will be for Barack Obama. Regardless of what some of the media reports, I will not cast my vote for Obama because he's black. Certainly I am pleased that a person of color is a serious contender for the highest office in this country. Quite frankly, I didn't have a lot of hope of such an event occurring during my lifetime.

My use of "person of color" in referencing Senator Obama is very deliberate. He is no more black than he is white. I say this not to disparage Obama's accomplishments thus far, but to acknowledge the truth and the inherent irony in that truth. For all practical purposes, Obama's experiences in this country have been those of a black man, because in the United States, we continue to make much ado about race. In particular, we cling to concepts of race, developed during slavery and further defined during Jim Crow, that result in a child produced of a white parent and a black parent always being identified as black. A good friend of mine once said that he found it disturbing that it took two white people to make a white person, but only one black person to make a black person.

I find it curious that it rarely occurs to most people to question this system of classification. It makes no logical sense and it has little basis in science. I once left a comment on a blog stating that race is primarily a social construct. The blogger sent me an email asking me what I meant.

I wasn't offended but I was surprised. The blogger was a person with a great many credentials, a writer about public education issues on a national scale. I was surprised that he was unfamiliar with a widely expressed view of the scientific community that race is not a biological or scientifically based system of classification, but a system of social classification similar to class. (Note, there has not been a total dismissal in science of the concept of race. Groups of people share cultural and physical characteristics. Many scientists attribute these differences to geographical locations and human migration patterns. It's a fascinating area of study.) The big difference, is that to varying extents, class is mutable; it can be changed. Race is an immutable characteristic. Senator Obama can't decide to identify himself as white, although that classification is just as accurate as black. (Immutable based on societal norms.)

The rigidity of the classification has expanded and the black community has adopted the standards for race imposed by the dominant white culture as our own. When golfer Tiger Woods tried to define his identity in terms of all of his lines of heritage, including those of his Asian mother, many African-Americans condemned what they perceived to be a denial of his black heritage. I think that Mr. Woods was simply trying to say that he was the sum of all of his ethnic and cultural heritages.

The U.S. census now permits people to identify themselves as multi-racial. I'm not certain that this is a major improvement. It still accepts the basic premise that race actually means something, that there are differences among people based on race. The problem with race as the litmus standard for classifying people is that most of us rely on external characteristics such as skin color to make racial classifications. Human beings are much more complex. There are physiological characteristics linked to different areas of geographic origin. However, science has determined that although there are shared characteristics among large groups with a shared ancestry, these characteristics aren't absolute, nor are they shared only within the specific group.
The straightforward biological fact of human variation is that there are no traits that are inherently, inevitably associated with one another....Indeed, despite the obvious physical differences between people from different areas, the vast majority of human genetic variation occurs within populations, not between them, with only some 6 percent accounted for by race...
So when I cast my vote on Tuesday, it won't be because Senator Obama and I share a significant amount of melanin in our skin. I will vote for him because he gives me hope that this country can do better by its uninsured, those living in poverty, the homeless, the unemployed, its disabled veterans, and all of those in need. It's because I think that his domestic agenda offers a solid list of plans to address all of these issues. It's because I think that his foreign policy will help this country regain its place as a power for right not might. It's because I don't think that the measure of a man or woman's patriotism lies in placing his or her hand over her heart but in a commitment to working to make this country hold to its ideals of a government for the people, and by the people.

The icing on the cake is the sweet irony that Barack Obama is the physical manifestation of the joining together of black and white in a nation that has been far too long divided.

I found the video on YouTube. It features images from Obama's campaign backed by the Pointer Sisters singing "Yes We Can, Can." It's a definite dance around the room beat!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Past, Present, and Remembrance

Yesterday while trying to catch up on my journal reading, a recent entry in Carly's journal caught my eye. She wrote about heritage, about the long road to the very real possibility that a black person could become the next president of these United States. She wrote about the history of black people in this country and her belief that she was casting her vote for Obama for all of those generation who preceded her, who fought, struggled, and often died to achieve the present in which we live.

One of her readers left Carly a well-intentioned comment that reads:
Who you vote for is your choice but vote for the future and not the past. I'm not sure which Democrat should be in office but I know that whoever it is will not change the past but will impact the future. Look forward with hope for change for this country certainly needs it. Hugs

I didn't take offense at the comment and neither did Carly. I know because she left her own comment that reads in part:

"I think my vote is for the future as well as the past. If you don't know your past you sure can't see your future."

Her words stuck a responsive chord in me. I share Carly's feelings of pride and hope and connection to my ancestors who are not here to see this new day in America. The past cannot be undone, but neither can it be ignored or forgotten. The blood shed, the tears cried, and the sacrifices made by those who came before me are not abstractions to be dismissed as no longer of significance. The past informs the present.

The commenter is right, the past cannot be changed but it can be repeated, played out over and over again unless we remember it truthfully and learn from it. On my first visit to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. I was struck by the importance of remembering, of recognizing the horrors of the past as a way of honoring those who suffered and memorializing that such horror must never happen again. However, in the flawed world that we live in, such horrors continue--Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur, the list is long and seemingly never ending. Yet we must continue to struggle to remember, if we are to break the cycle of inhumanity to others whom we perceive as not us, as a "they" who is less than human, and fair game for destruction.

So I too will think of my African forefathers and mothers as I cast my vote for Barack Obama. But I also take pride that for the first time, a woman may be elected to the presidency. A piece of history that many of us choose to ignore or forget is the struggle that previous generations of women endured to achieve the relative equality that women now enjoy. The amendment giving women the right to vote nationally wasn't ratified until 1920, less than one hundred years ago. Strong women, brave women defied the conventions of their time to fight for a right that we now take for granted.

In 1913, a women's suffrage parade was attacked by a mob and many of the protesters were injured. The police stood by and did nothing to intervene and no one was ever arrested for attacking the protesting women. Alice Paul, a leader of the suffragette movement, was imprisoned for her audacity in advocating for women having the right to vote. Kept in isolation for two weeks, she was fed nothing but bread and water in an attempt to break her spirit. In response, Alice went on a hunger strike; other imprisoned suffragettes followed suit. Can you imagine having the men in your family, your husband, brother, son, turn against you, physically chastise you, for daring to participate in the suffragette movement, for having the audacity to believe that women were entitled to full citizenship and participation in the governing of this country?

Remembrance isn't living in the past; it is honoring those who sacrificed so much to make our present. We can have no future if we allow ourselves to forget the past.