Digging Deeper: Race, Sex, and the Obamas - Printable Version
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Digging Deeper: Race, Sex, and the Obamas - walterrhett - 02-29-2012 12:15 PM
Read the full article on the blog.
You never heard of the O. J. Simpson syndrome? Maybe the literary tradition of the tragic mulatto is familiar? Have you seen the late night or Black History Month reruns of the movie classic, Imitation of Life? Or perhaps you have read Richard Wright's powerful novel, Native Son?
What all of these ideas, experiences, and creative works have in common is race and sex. They mark the attitudes and norms of different points and plateaus in our national dialogue about the meaning and acceptability, and the failures, when race and sex share a common social ground.
Up until fifty years ago, the thinking and tragedies of race and sex all ran in one direction. Culturally it was assumed the mix of race and sex resulted in toxic failures and always involved white males with black females. From slavery, this tradition produced what was called “the yard child,” a child who lived among the enslaved who had been parented by a white slaveholder. This tradition enters Presidential politics with Thomas Jefferson, and was later vigorously denied by both the historians and descendants of Jefferson, who concocted all sorts of alternatives to Jefferson parenting children by Sally Hemmings (the DNA virtually proves he did), she herself the daughter born of a relationship between holder and slave.
Thus, the tradition of the tragic mulatto emerged, generally a woman of refinement, grace and manners, thoughtful, caring, light-skinned to the point of easily passing for white, but denied opportunity because she was legally black. The implied loophole was that discrimination and oppression were acceptable to darker-featured blacks, but those whose who resembled whites should be given a pass. A foot in both worlds, today called multiracial, was historically seen as tragic, a source of alienation and rejection—and highlighted and projected unequal treatment for a woman, as a lover, mistress, wife, or worker, albeit slave or free. In the movies, Imitation of Life and later Queen (with Halle Berry) brought tears, with no change or challenge to the norm.
Harlem's former Congress Representative, the legendary Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. spoke in his autobiography of his grandfather accepting and raising the child of the man who had whipped him in slavery, and marrying the woman who had sired the child. His family history had a deep impact on his faith and politics and his impatience with injustice.
But Richard Wright, the Mississippi-born writer, saw the problem from a profoundly different viewpoint. His socially marginal literary character, Bigger Thomas, unskilled, impulsive, poor, kills and cuts off the head of a young white woman, stuffing her body in a furnace in one of the most provocative and unsentimental scenes in American literature. It foreshadowed the O.J. Simpson syndrome.
The broad idea of the O.J. Simpson syndrome is that interracial love leads to personal destruction and bad societal ends. It is countered by the cult of white womanhood, especially strong in the civil rights era, when a rallying cry against equal opportunity pointedly asked: would you want your daughter to marry one [a black]? White women were not to abandon their own kind. To do so invited peril.
What has this to do with Presidential politics in 2012? Aren't we past these outmoded considerations? Besides, the Obamas constitute a strong black family unit. I may be overreaching, but I see a cultural embed in Newt's wife standing next to him. I see a subtext in the ferocity of political attacks which are visceral and invasive against women and their bodies. I see in very ugly and scatological tweets aimed at Michele Obama and even her children. I see an impotence that is hate. I see it in the way that has made the greatest family unit ever to occupy the White House into a sexless, invisible couple, when all their forms of love, from agape to eros, are so transparent that we watch astounded by this relationship which is as solid as a rock and ridiculously, obviously hot.
Clearly their love is real. Clearly they enjoy its rough and silken edges. They remind me of the way eagles lock talons in free fall, establishing the shared risk of death in establishing their complete trust for life. Michele Obama's 25 push-ups on Ellen stood alone in the redefinition of women's roles, especially for the First Lady. Michele doesn't have even an ounce of history's tragic character in her fiber. Barack's single soulful note of Al Green's tune became an overnight ring tone, and we all know why. This couple has bona fides.
I surmise the GOP is reacting in silent outrage and there is a broad cultural reflex in which even the discussion—never the admission!—of the Obamas' chemistry is off limits because it pales every other Presidential partnership. I argue this outrage is expressed in part as a gender attack against women at large, whose support of Barack mocks the inadequacies of men beyond sex and race but comes to rest at the nexus of these old taboos. I argue that not only are they blaming Barack but they are taking their collective ire out on women. The recent remarks of Fox's News Liz Trotta concerning rape in the US military service revealed this when she projected rape as a natural social consequence of men and women working together (asking, “What do they expect?”) and then complained the new roles for women were “coming strictly from the feminists,” thereby negating and dehumanizing every woman who volunteered and trained to serve, even as she (Trotta) went on blame women as victims as she complained about the costs of supporting women in the military services who are “being raped too much.”
[caption id="attachment_7901" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Billboard in Accra, Ghana for the President's Visit, 2009. (Wayan Vota.)"][/caption]
RE: Digging Deeper: Race, Sex, and the Obamas - jaxx - 02-29-2012 12:43 PM
That was a wonderful article Walter. Thank you so much.
RE: Digging Deeper: Race, Sex, and the Obamas - wdickson - 03-01-2012 09:15 AM
Your analysis of the racism and sexism apparent in the Republican Party raise another spector for all American voters, especially women, to be wary of. Willard Mittford Romney is a Mormon Bishop. I know from my own personal experience that an integral part of living life with a Mormon faith involves subjecting women in the family. Women are expected to run the house and raise the children. In other words the women are kept "pregnant and in the kitchen." Following this integral part of LDS Mormon theology, we have to ask what kind of American President would Willard make? Would we expect him to be egalitarian when it comes to the women's equality movement in this country? And as a member of a church hierarchy that excluded African Americans from its membership and priesthood ranks until very recently, to be empathetic with the inequality of the American negro at this juncture in our history? I don't think so.
Wallace Gordon Dickson
RE: Digging Deeper: Race, Sex, and the Obamas - commchf - 03-01-2012 02:16 PM
Very keen insight Walter. You bring a unique and fresh perspective to an issue I find bizarre. How can anyone hate Michele Obama?
RE: Digging Deeper: Race, Sex, and the Obamas - pappy - 03-01-2012 02:19 PM
(03-01-2012 02:16 PM)commchf Wrote: Very keen insight Walter. You bring a unique and fresh perspective to an issue I find bizarre. How can anyone hate Michele Obama?
How could anyone cheer the assassination of a President, yet that is what many did in 1963. There will always be hate and hateful people.