The Politics of Race, American Style

As the presidential primaries roll on, I find myself increasingly contemplating the question, is the American electorate ready to elect a phenotypically black president? I want to believe that I am part of a culture that would answer, “Of course I will vote for him, if he has a sound exit strategy for Iraq, good ideas about healthcare, and a fiscal policy that makes sense to me.” Alas, you can’t always get what you want – and increasingly, we can’t seem to even get what we need.

Two stories were in the news today that raised my eyebrows, but lowered my hopes. First of all, I read that Barack Obama’s Kenyan relatives sat on plastic chairs in their village listening to the radio to see how he was doing in the primaries, “surrounded by chickens and barefoot children.” In a political climate where reports are that Fox News has already “mistakenly” pronounced Obama as Osama (Hey, that name sounds oddly familiar for some negative reason I can’t quite put my finger on….) it was noted that Obama’s grandmother, Sarah Hussein Obama (Hmmm… that sounds sort of suspicious, too…) sat in her cinderblock house waiting for news. That ought to play well in Peoria. They have emphasized and exoticized details about Obama’s family that draw attention to their foreignness and play on lingering American stereotypes of Africans. (For example, I searched for a description of Mitt Romney’s family’s chairs, or even the status of their shoes, and could find no data.)

And then there’s Tiger Woods. Yahoo Sports and others are reporting that Golf Channel anchor – let’s call her out by name – Kelly Tilghman, made the comment that “golf’s young players should lynch Tiger Woods in an alley.” How horrifying! Is it possible that she is so innocently not-racist that she has no idea why that might be a poor choice of words (to say the least)? Are we to believe that the word lynch just randomly came into her head? Or maybe they will claim that on earlier occasions she has suggested lynch mobs form for other people that annoyed her with their excellence.  I don’t know, say, the Jewish banker down the street with the nice Mercedes, or the Chinese girl in her graduating class who had 1600 on her SAT’s? Besides, isn’t “lynch in an alley” a common sports expression? As in, the Oakland Raiders were doing really well this season until the New England Patriots lynched them in an alley? I think not.

Maybe I should just go back to contemplating “Is America ready to elect a President with a vagina?” Afterall, there’s never anything depressingly misogynistic in American news, right?

One thought on “The Politics of Race, American Style

  1. I am interested in this rhetoric of change on the Democratic side, and how the personal identities of the two front-runners play into this. I read (in, I believe) a columnist discussing Obama’s candidacy, and he made the point that Obama’s skin color is a perfect signifier for just how much of a change his election to the presidency would be. What about Senator Clinton’s signifiers? For me, and perhaps for other Democrats in the country, her female signifiers compete with her Clinton signifiers. Her argument that she would be the candidate of change appears true in that it would be a change from the Bush administration, but does not appear to be true regarding change within the Democratic Party.
    The media coverage of both Democratic front-runners is shocking in its reliance on cliches and stereotypes. “Hilary cries!” “Obama is cool!”
    Glad the voters seem to be taking the issues seriously, at least for now.

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