Friday, November 21, 2008

on glass ceilings, high public offices, and internal drive & will

i've been perusing a lot of the local blogs lately, fixated on the discussion that has ensued following Obama's election as the next president of our united states. no, not the political discussions surrounding policy predictions or whatnot; rather, the fact that we now have our first black president. in particular, i'm interested in the language found in these discussions — the talk centered around the meme of "finally... finally my (black) child can strive to actually become president someday."

i've gone round and round about this with close personal friends of mine lately, and it seems like i should start here by making one thing clear - i am not questioning that children may need "proof in the pudding" when it comes to striving for something they want to become later in life. however, what i am taking issue with is the language that seems to be used across-the-board when it comes to this.

allow me to post something from a recent issue of the Quad City Times. It's a quote of a user's post, within a larger article written by friend Melissa Coulter. here it is:

“My guess is that part of the reaction (of African Americans) has to do with seeing that whites actually accept and support a black man as leader in large numbers,” Anne-Marie Hislop wrote. “Why would a black mom have told her son he could do anything when there are plenty of things he was blocked from doing (just as it is still a lie to say that ‘anyone can grow up to be president’ — not women, not yet, not Muslims, Jews, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asian Americans). Again, we are making progress, but ...”

i have a fundamental disagreement with this type of language and outlook. the questions Hislop (and others making this argument) raises about the black mom and her son, and the supposed act of "lying" when saying anyone can grow up to be president seem to validate two things points here - one being Hislop's point (and my own, and others as well), and one being the one this post is about.

first, yes... there are a lot of situations where people of certain non-white, non-straight, non-whatever demographics begin to lose hope, because of the way "things still look" right now, in 2008. social institutions and public offices are disproportionately skewed one way or another, and for whatever fucked up reasoning, some people just don't want everyone to have equal rights when it comes to marriage. i can completely see how that can be disconcerting to some folks, causing a loss of hope, will, and inner drive. but the second point - the one i personally want to make - comes from Hislop's questions too. it seems to show a flaw in our collective view of what's going on, and also stretches a simple flaw in logic into a really insulting world view. that's an awfully unclear sentence, so allow me to elaborate...

as i said, i'm not taking issue with the difficulty of people from these demographics to make very high public office positions, because i don't dismiss the undercurrent of nuanced racism in our country. i am taking issue with the language used by some people - that it is a "lie" to tell a child they can't be or do something simply because that thing hasn't been done before. was it a "lie" for Barack Obama or his family to think he could be the first black president, simply because there had not been one before? No. He's going to be President in january. either i am completely missing anne's point (but the responses i've read since making my point on The Times' site leads me to believe otherwise), or she is making a very bad error in simple logic. not to beat a dead horse. but here's an example in the flaw these folks seem to ardently stand by:

say it's 1977, and you have a little boy that is into baseball, and the season has just begun. you're watching his favorite team on television, and a player hits two home runs in one game. your child is in awe, and he starts saying "when i grow up, i want to be a big league player that hits THREE homeruns in a game." (and, while we're talking hypotheticals, let's give me a break on my analogy here, since i'm quite sure that someone like babe ruth or lou gehrig has already hit three in a game, so... say you and your child didn't know that). now then, you tell your child "i can't lie to you, dear... hitting three homeruns in a game is impossible. no one's that good yet." then, at the end of the season, reggie jackson hits three homers in one game of the world series (and even in back-to-back-to-back at bats).

it's not a "lie" to tell anyone their dream can come true - whether it be hitting three homeruns or becoming president - just because it hasn't been done before. that type of thinking/writing is faulty. but the crux of the matter here is, that logic sells the will and drive of us collectively short. it says "well, you can't be 'the first' in anything," you have to wait until someone else becomes X, then and only then you can strive for X." what the hell is that? stating that by and large, black folks, gay & lesbian folks, or whoever else live this way is awfully insulting. did Jackie Robinson not persevere and rise above, saying "F this, this is America, and I belong." (my words, of course)? Did Rosa Parks not have immense character, taking initiative on her own to change our country? i truly do not understand the implied laziness towards certain demographics that i see coming from folks as liberal as i, nor do i understand why they can't understand my point of view on this, and that's why i wanted to post something on the subject.

for one final point on the matter, please check out a good segment that aired on The Daily Show a week or so back. It's titled "black Liberal Guilt" and features comedian/commentator Larry Wilmore. there are a few rim-shot jokes in the beginning, and sure, it's a trumped-up portrayal of the white liberal stereotype, but the latter part ties in with what i'm writing about:


Chao said...

Longest. Post. Ever.

Matt said...

"that's what she said."

Dave Barrett said...

If parents of black children are now encouraging their children to dream that they too could become president someday that is certainly a wonderful thing. However I can understand and sympathize with any parent who fears that their child may be putting herself/himself in danger (of being disappointed or worse) by having such dreams.

Matt said...

thanks for responding to my email, dave.

yeah, that additional "proof in the pudding" that finally, absolutely, verifies things to kids is obviously good. and i also understand the fear of disappointing your child/ren by pushing them to achieve extremely lofty goals.

the issue i have with the folks in the Times' discussion is – as a parent – where you go from there, or where you go with that apprehension. Do you take the debbie downer route and say "you know hon, there has never been a female president, and America must still have a long way to go, so... be prepared for some disappointment" or do you say "who cares about what anyone says to you ever in your life - be yourself, strive for your goals, and no matter what happens, you'll either get to the top of the mountain, or feel extremely proud because you gave it your all." it boggled my mind that the folks in the Times discussion seems to be saying the former and not the latter is the more legitimate approach.