Saturday, January 28, 2012

President Barack Hussein Obama: a threat or an opportunity


The genius of pairing these two seminal moments from the last week - both of which involved President Obama interacting with white female politicians from Arizona - is not mine to claim. It belongs to Brittney Cooper at The Crunk Feminist Collective. Well done Brittney!!!

But I think these two moments perfectly capture the tension that is beneath much of our political discourse today - both the threat that some people seem to wallow in (Brewer) and the opportunity that is there for the taking (Giffords). Can our country weather what Tim Wise calls "the perfect storm of white anxiety" facing us today and embodied by our first African American President?

Now, while you think about that...go read Cooper's whole article. She'll break down what that challenge means and what Gov. Brewer demonstrated about the fault lines. Here's a taste:

White privilege conditions white people not to see white rage. However, it makes them hyper-aware of Black threat. Newt Gingrich is white rage personified. And for it, he gets loads of applause. So is Jan Brewer, but usually we think of white rage in masculine terms. Gender stereotypes condition us not to see white women as being capable of this kind of dangerous emotional output. We reserve our notions of female anger for Black women. Such hidden race-gender logics allow Brewer to assert that she “felt threatened,” even though she was trying to handle the situation “with grace.” Now look back at the picture: who is threatening whom?...

And I know that if a Black woman had wagged her finger at Bush II or even Bill Clinton, we would have seen her faced down, handcuffed, with Secret Service swarming. When your race and gender grant you opportunities to be treated with dignities that others don’t have or conversely, to heap indignities on those people, that is what we call privilege. Deal with it.


  1. What a wonderful article. That photo comparison is ... stunning!

    1. As soon as I saw the juxtaposition, I wanted to slap my forehead and say "how did I miss that?"

    2. I didn't want to comment more earlier because this is also the topic of Saturday's Campus Question at BPICampus. Rudeness sells books. *sigh*

  2. Well done Brittney,indeed.

    I read the piece and viewed the clip. It's frustrating to hear that Ms. Davis was asked what she was by her peers who, clearly, are intellectual but STILL so DAMN unaware. Note Ms. Davis' presentation (and, as an aside, how Mr. Clooney, when he says twixt the lines: "folks...she's right", THEN it's understood. there's a whole piece right there, Ms. Pants) and note the first picture. How, in both cases, the minority is lessened. Like Ms. Davis doesn't know her OWN story. Or, still yet at this point in history, had PBO really been more assertive - even as he's the PRESIDENT - what the Press and the GOP candidates TO THE MAN would've done with it.

    The sociopath Gingrich, Paul, Santorum, and Mitt as well are really stirring the racial pot. In large measure because it's pretty much all they've got.

    And, the response to these indignities by Ms. Davis, look at how measured Corey Booker is, and how PBO handles it, is still how we have to do it to pusssssh the Progressive ball (as it pertains to race) forward.

    All three of these fabulous people make it look like it's fairly easy.

    I can tell you first hand that it damn sure is NOT.

    I remain frustrated but conVINCED we're moving in the right direction.

    Therein, that's why it's SOOO fortunate and important that we have who we do as a country leading us.

    1. Blackman

      You lost me on which clip you're talking about viewing relating to Ms. Davis. But you really have me intrigued. Where did I miss it?

  3. It's a link down in the article - if you're not looking for it, you'd miss it. ;-)

    1. Thanks Norbrook! I completely missed that link.

      Now Blackman's comment all makes perfect sense. You could feel the tension when Viola Davis made that remark. Then Charlize dismissed it all as being about "hotness." When Clooney spoke up - everyone got passionate about the "deep" conversation. Its the perfect example for Cooper about the dynamics of race and gender.

  4. Yes, it is. It's also sad that the only person who heard what Ms Davis was saying was Clooney.

    1. Thank ya, Norbrook.

      LOVE your blog by the bye and always look forward to your posts. You gave a two part primer just a bit ago that, for The Left, imo, is just MUST reading. Now to be a bit more specific....

      This is a common and rather classic situation that minorities can find themselves in and you and Ms. Pants are actually talking about components. Clooney IS the only one that accurately heard and, here, gender was definitely at work. But, this can and does happen to minority men, too. And, it certainly has happened to me. In essence...

      Even though the minority - in this case, Ms. Davis, who is in her mid 40's and, of course, KNOWS how her life works, took the risk, as she was asked, in essence by someone who only has to look around to know the answer to his own question - and the same is true for Ms. Theron. I mean HOW MANY women of color AT ALL has she seen doing Dior commercials? And, then, the KIND of commercials she's done where she is presented as the standard bearer and epitome of "hot" and "desireable" - and answered the question. As Ms. Pants points out, the tension ramped up. Then, and I canNOT tell you how often THIS happens, Ms. Theron says, in essence: "No, Viola. You don't know how your life works and you're makin' me feel bad and guilty". But, doesn't know enough herself to present a substantive counter-point. And, again as Ms. Pants points out, goes to her own comfort zone and, God love her, makes just an enTIREly silly statement about "hotness". And, then...

      Clooney VALIDATES Ms. Davis. THIS is what I'm talking about such that this verrrry point riiiiight here is an enTIRE piece. Though, it's, literally, as old as "America" itself.

      Here we had people living and thriving on their own for HUNDREDS, at least, of years. But, they weren't validated until Christopher Columbus "discovered" them.

      "Viola. Girl, is it REALLY that bad??" "Yeah, dude. Sydney got the first Best for bein' a non-theatening eunuch. Morgan was nominated for bein' a sociopathic, homicidal pimp and another kindly, non-threatening eunuch. Denzel won the next Best for being a homicidal sociopath. And, Hallie, who is light skinned and fine as hell(which Ms. Davis points out as opposed to being as dark and fine as hell as she is) wins the Best, in large measure, because of doin' the animalistic black woman raw sex thang - and STILL can't get good scripts. Yeah, it's that bad."

      "Hell. Now we gotta feel bad and guilty 'cause we KNOW that's true. We don't like feelin' bad and guilty." So, Ms. Theron, not wanting to feel bad and guilty, does her thing. THIS is why she says "I'm not gonna let you say that".

      But, CLOONEY says: "She's right and y'all know it. Handle it!" But, NOT before HE validates HER. About HERSELF!!!!

      GRRRRRRRRR....It AIN'T easy. These idiots think PBO is WEAK?? Look at that first picture. WATCH him handle it in the Diane Sawyer interview. He's pheNOMinal.

    2. Blackman

      I'm hearing you!

      And I'm thinking about all the conversations I've witnessed where white people try to inform black people what is/isn't if they know more about the experience than black people do.

      I think that when white people do that - they're doing much the same thing Ms. Theron was doing...not wanting to feel bad. And they try to make a point about intentions. What that totally misses and denies is the impact the words/actions have on black people. The message is that their reactions/lives don't matter unless we agree with them.

      And you so rightly point out - when a white man agrees...its taken as fact.

  5. Smartypants, this is such an interesting post for so many reasons! I watched the videos -- Viola Davis in the Oscar roundtable and Tim Wise -- and read Brittney's article. This is a wonderful, enlightening discussion.

    George Clooney is very savvy about the process of making movies and TV. To me the change happened when corporations started buying and running studios instead of the charismatic moguls who used to really care about the films they were making. The industry lost its heart and soul and became about money and profit instead.

    I think Charlize Theron was attempting to compliment Viola Davis, but indeed missed the point entirely. Viola is not a sexy bombshell actress, but she is the type of character actress that white women have made into life-long and successful careers. She's not getting that opportunity. I'm not that up on my film history, but I thought Josephine Baker was a star in the 1930's or maybe 40's. Those old moguls took a lot of risks and I have the feeling they would have recognized and made movies with gutsy, talented black women when the culture was able to accept it.

    I absolutely loved the contrast between Gabby Giffords' picture and Jan Brewer's with President Obama. When I saw Brewer's picture with President Obama what struck me, what I immediately turned to, was the President's calm, reassuring manner. Brewer always acts like a wing nut to me and not even knowing why it happened, I just felt my usual irritation with the Far Right. So many of the things that the Far Right/Tea Party have done would NEVER have been allowed when Bush/Cheney were in office, including something like this. The press would have been all over it . And yes I do think the emotional charge for the wing nuts is racial -- very much so. Tim Wise covered the reasons why many whites are having a hard time right now. It hasn't just happened with this president, it's been building up for quite a few years -- concerns about illegal immigrants, fears and resistance to using their native language to teach Hispanics or other immigrant students in schools, fears about the dollar not being the currency in the US, fears about Christianity not being the dominant religion. And now the projection of their fears are on Muslims and sharia law and other nonsense. To me these people can't deal with their feelings and keep looking for something outside of themselves to control so they will feel better.

    Ignorance and bigotry have been with us since the beginning of time. In some ways, the ideas of the Far Right have been with this country since the beginning of this country. They are out in the open loud and clear and one benefit for all of us is having discussions like this. I don't think we will get rid of bigotry, but I think we are all coming to a new awareness. As much as they long for the good old days of the early 1800's, the Far Right just can't stay stuck there. It won't work. I think in time they will have to accept the changes in some way.