Saturday, May 10, 2008

Deconstructing Hillary NC "Jewel" ad

I don't watch Senator Clinton's ads as a rule. I certainly wouldn't get a chance to see those constructed for North Carolina viewers were it not for today's easy access to YouTube.

I did get a chance to take a look at one of her newer ads, featuring an elderly black woman named Jewel Hodges, which was added to Clinton's web pages on April 14th.

The script:

Jewel Hodges: Now, why did I decide to vote for her? She didn't know it, but I have followed her all of these years and I prayed with her when she didn't know I was praying, but the spirit was there. And she had to climb up the rough side of the mountain in life. I saw her take her faith, courage, strength, dignity, and climb that mountain with determination and with the God given strength she got to the top polished like gold. And America, our country, is down at the foot of the mountain and we need someone that is ready, willing, and able to bring America back up to be polished like gold. Hillary Clinton: I'm Hillary Clinton and I approved this message.

Interesting to me that Mrs. Hodges is from Bastrop Texas:

Hodges, though voting for Clinton had nothing bad to say about Obama:

Though she doesn't plan to vote for Sen. Barack Obama, Hodges is equally proud to see an African-American in the presidential race.

"I take a pride and joy that he's receiving that kind of reception, but again, I know what price was paid for him to even be received," Hodges said.

What is disturbing to me about the ad is the stiff awkward but paternalistically (not maternally) smiling Clinton who at the end bends down to awkwardly "hug" the elderly, and much shorter Hodges. See also the beaming faces of white audience members sharing such a "touching" moment.

Importing elderly AA women from TX into the NC race, to attempt to gain the votes of NC's large black electorate is a nifty campaign strategy, from the Clinton perspective.

I showed this ad to some of my Women's Studies majors; several of whom are also majoring in Black Studies.

The first thing they honed in on was the head wrap. Not the Afro-centric gelee head wrap worn by many of today's AA's proud of their African roots; this is the head-covering traditionally portrayed for evoking "Mammy", or "Auntie", used in Hollywood films, on pancake boxes (Aunt Jemima) and cookie jars.

We had just finished a class discussion the week before on media images of black women - in the past and in contemporary images as well, many of these images which evokeg fond memories for white Americans have been raised on "Gone With the Wind" and Butterfly McQueen:
Mammy & the New Black Female Representation

This critique covered both white Hollywood, and today's Hollywood that now has AA filmmakers who use the same memes.

There has been much discussion here in the last two days on "code". Codes being used to paint Senator Obama as "boy", or "elitist" (read uppity black n****r). But there has been little discussion of how Senator Clinton's campaign plans to retain some of the black female vote, without alienating white support in the South.

Here is their answer, including allusions to the "mountaintop" (read Martin Luther King) and a "wise old black woman" whose words can be trusted, cherished and not threaten anyone.

The name of the ad is simply "Jewel". Not "Mrs. Hodges". I was never allowed to call older people by their first names as a child. My mother taught me that we had been robbed of our respect in slavery days and afterwards, by never being called "Mister" or "Missus". We were "girl" or "boy" and even young white children could address the help by their first names. So she is "Jewel". If really old, and well-behaved (read not militant) we were "Auntie" or "Uncle". If female and employed to raise the young of the elite, we were simply "Mammy".

Wouldn't it just be wonderful if we could go back to the past when black women knew their place and weren't "uppity" and "unpatriotic" like Michelle Obama?


I don't know Mrs. Hodges. She is probably a wonderful woman. She has a right to vote for Senator Clinton, or for whomever she chooses. But this diary is really not about her at all. It's about the message of this ad.

It disturbed me, and disturbed my students. Would like to hear your thoughts.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Bronx Students Discuss Senator Obama's Speech on Race

I wish that everyone in the United States would take time out to look at this video.

this is the dialogue that has begun. Kudo's to their teacher, and to the young people you see here.

Yes, we can.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Strange Fruit Revisited

Southern trees bear a strange fruit, blood on the leaves, blood at the root, black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze, strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees...

"Strange Fruit" began as a poem written by Abel Meeropol, a Jewish schoolteacher from the Bronx, about the lynching of two black men. He published under the pen name Lewis Allan (the names of his two children who died in infancy).

Meeropol wrote "Strange Fruit" to express his horror at lynchings after seeing Lawrence Beitler's photograph of the lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith in Marion, Indiana. He published the poem in 1937 in The New York Teacher, a union magazine. Though Meeropol/Allan had often asked others (notably Earl Robinson) to set his poems to music, he set Strange Fruit to music himself. The song gained a certain success as a protest song in and around New York. Meeropol, his wife, and black vocalist Laura Duncan performed it at Madison Square Garden

Strange Fruit

As I listen to the song today, I’m thinking also of a different Strange Fruit, the novel by Lillian Smith, which was published in 1944, and then staged on Broadway in 1945. It was produced and directed by Jose Ferrer, and starred Jane White, (daughter of civil rights leader and founder of the NAACP Walter White) Robert Earl Jones (father of James Earl Jones Jr.) and George B. Oliver, my father.

In hindsight, the controversy that greeted the publication of Lillian Smith's Strange Fruit in 1944 seems unusually heated today. This novel of interracial love was denounced in many places for its "obscenity," although sex is barely mentioned.

Massachusetts banned it for a short time; so did the U.S. Post Office. But the book has had many admirers in the years since its publication. It was a commercial success—a best-seller, a Broadway play briefly—and it remains in print in many languages. From her home atop Old Screamer Mountain near Clayton, Georgia, Smith knew that many of her neighbors had bought the book, but in public they snubbed her.

Lillian Smith

As the discussions flow about Barack Obama’s bi-racialism I think of the ugly word “miscegenation” and its meanings in my own life.

Similar to Barack Obama, my father, George Oliver, was born to a white mother from Kansas and a black father, born in Tennessee. But the world he was born into in 1919 was a different America than the one we live in today. Where Barack’s parents could wed legally and with no difficulty, my grandparents could not find anyone willing to marry them in 1915 in Topeka KS, and left the state to be married in Wisconsin, settling later on the south side of Chicago, where my father was born. My grandmother’s family disowned her when she married my granddad; she was scratched out of the family bible, and only one of her 10 brothers and sisters even wrote her letters. So my father never had Barack’s exposure to a loving white grandmother.

Different from Obama’s story, my father had two parents, who loved him, cherished him and attempted to give him the best they could provide within their means. My grandmother worked for the Singer Sewing Machine company, my grandfather as a chauffer, and in later years worked for the post office. My grandmother, in order to conceal her marriage to a black man (for she knew if her employers found out she would be fired), arranged a scheme whereby my father could visit her at work. My grandfather, in chauffeur’s cap would drop my dad off, with his son seated in the back, a little Lord Fauntleroy, with blue eyes and shiny curls. He would pull up to the curb, doff his cap and open the door for his son, escorting him to see his mother. My father was warned never to indicate by any action, in this public sphere, that his father was anything more than a servant.

George B Oliver

My father at age 2

This hypocritical world – forbidding and rejecting the union of blacks and whites seems somehow far away to this generation. I say hypocritical because there are few African-Americans who do not have Euro-American ancestry, and they didn’t get it through osmosis. African-Americans could lay claim to a "Made in the USA" label. Today we openly discuss concepts like “bi-racial” and somehow the tale of the “tragic mulatto” and love across racial lines has no place in our discourse. But it is not so very long ago and far away.

Let us examine the case of Loving versus VA, resolved by the Supreme Court in 1967
The Lovings then took their case to the Supreme Court of Virginia, which invalidated the original sentence but upheld the state's Racial Integrity Act. Finally, the Lovings turned to the U.S Supreme Court. The court, which had previously avoided taking. In 1967, 84 years after Pace v. Alabama in 1883, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Loving v. Virginia that:

Marriage is one of the 'basic civil rights of man,' fundamental to our very existence and survival.... To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not to marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.

The Supreme Court condemned Virginia's anti-miscegenation law as "designed to maintain White supremacy".

In 1967, 17 Southern states (all the former slave states plus Oklahoma) still enforced laws prohibiting marriage between whites and non-whites. Maryland repealed its law in response to the start of the proceedings at the Supreme Court. After the ruling of the Supreme Court, the remaining laws were no longer in effect. Nonetheless, it took South Carolina until 1998 and Alabama until 2000 to officially remove defunct anti-miscegenation laws from their law books. In the respective referendums, 62% of voters in South Carolina and 59% of voters in Alabama voted to remove these laws
Anti-miscegenation laws

Barack Obama’s mother would not have been allowed to marry his father in 17 states of this country when he was born in 1961.

Obama came to Chicago, to the South Side to root himself in the black community. These were the same streets where my father grew to maturity; tall, slim, (almost scrawny) he had to learn how to fight. His fair skin and blue eyes branded him as a child of two worlds, and made him a target for taunts from both whites and blacks. This caused my father to become militantly black, choosing sides; no matter his white mother. But the endless battles hurt nonetheless. My grandmother understood my father’s struggles but was pained by them. She left her white Baptist church and became a Bahá'í; the only religion at that time that promoted and accepted inter-racial marriage.

No one on either side of my dad's family had ever been to college. He won a scholarship, not to Harvard, but to a Negro college in West Virginia, based on his tennis prowess (he held the national Negro tennis championship title at one point) and it was at West Virginia State he met my mother, wooed her and later married her. While at WVA State he earned a license to fly planes, and learned acting in the campus drama society. When WWII broke out, he became a Tuskegee Airman, part of the first group of trainees in an experimental program that almost didn’t make it off the ground. But for the assistance of Eleanor Roosevelt, the famed Tuskegee pilots may have stayed grounded

When Eleanor Roosevelt visited Tuskegee Army Air Field in 1941, she insisted on taking a ride in an airplane with a black pilot at the controls. ER's pilot was Charles Anderson. ER then insisted that her flight with Anderson be photographed and the film developed immediately so that she could take the photographs back to Washington when she left the field. ER used this photograph as part of her campaign to convince FDR to activate the participation of the Tuskegee Airmen in North Africa and in the European Theater.
Tuskegee Airmen

My father’s joy in serving his country at a time of war and doing it with pilot’s wings was short-lived. His skin color again made a difference. During a break in training he went home to Chicago and returned to Alabama on a bus with a childhood buddy, another airman, also black, but there was one difference. Daddy looked too white. The two buddies, leaving the bus, were spied by a group of 10 or 12 rednecks, who seeing them together, arm in arm – both in their uniforms, spat out epithets of “nigger lover” and proceeded to try to kill my dad and his friend. Two against many was impossible odds, and my father – who took the brunt of the attack, was hospitalized. A rumor got back to the base that my father had been killed. The Airmen were ready for battle; they broke out equipment from the armory and were headed into town to extract revenge. My father was quickly removed from the hospital on a stretcher to prove that he hadn’t been killed to quell the revolt. For this incident, my father was court-martialed for “inciting a riot”. Years later, his record was cleared.

At the end of the war, with a college degree and no outlet to use his flight skills, my father worked briefly as a sleeping car porter, then as a reporter for a Los Angeles newspaper, but was drawn to New York by the call of the stage. He and my mother quickly became a part of a racially integrated bohemian group of young actors, musicians, writers, poets and left wing progressives; many who had joined the Communist Party. His path crossed with a young Puerto Rican, who was acting and producing and they became friends. That young man was Jose Ferrer. Ferrer had read the controversial novel by Lillian Smith, and wanted to stage it on Broadway.

No stranger to working with black American’s, Joe Ferrer played Iago to Paul Robson’s Othello in 1943. In 1945, Ferrer made his Broadway producing debut with Strange Fruit, which he also directed. My father was typecast in the role of the angry half-white brother of the leading female figure “Nonnie”, played by Jane White.

There were not that many roles for him at that time; black actors on stage were supposed to "look black". Ferrer, coming from Puerto Rico, had no understanding of the notions of race here in the United States. Not that there is no racism in Puerto Rico, but the definitions of black and white were more fluid, and in Puerto Rico, my father would have been white. Joe was planning a production of Cyrano de Bergerac, and he decided to cast my father as one of the Musketeers.

The press reaction was instantaneous; “Negro Integrates Cast of Cyrano” was a headline in Life Magazine. It was okay for there to be all black shows on Broadway, it was okay to have a few black actors playing maids and butlers, but to put a Negro in a “white” role was controversial. Joe stuck to his guns, and the show went on, with my dad in it.

My father told me a funny story about that time. A group of reporters were hanging around outside of the theatre to get a chance to interview “the Negro” when he came out. My dad removed his makeup, got dressed in street clothes and walked right past them. A Greek actor, also in the cast was chased down the block when he exited the stage door.
They thought he was "the Negro".

After Cyrano and during the McCarthy period life became tense in my household, and in the homes of all my parents friends and associates. The witch hunt was on. Acting jobs were slim, and there were even less roles open for my father, though he did do a few “race films.” My father’s dream of one day being allowed to play Hamlet (and not Othello) was deferred. Joe argued with my father – why not just pass for white or better yet, just be “Hispanic”, which was an option taken by several other fair-skinned black actors at that time. But my father would not leave his wife and children and father; who was a proud “race man”; nor would he ever put himself through the agonies he had gone through as a child, “passing”, by day, and black at home.

We were living at that time with my grandparents in their brownstone in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, a neighborhood that was predominantly Jewish, with only four black families. My grandparents had moved from Chicago to be close to their new granddaughter, and a Jewish neighborhood was the safest place for them to live in relative peace. Money was tight and my sensible mother, who had never been a “fellow traveler”, prodded my father to get a job teaching to stave off creditors. She wanted to get us out of New York, away from the increasing scrutiny of the Inquisition. We went south. This is where I first felt the slap in the face of the reality of a divided world, with signs posted everywhere "for Whites only". "No niggers, no Jews, no dogs welcome." This is where I got my first lessons on being black in America. It was a world where Negroes had to step into the street if a white person was walking on the sidewalk. I went into shock. This was not my beloved Brooklyn where my best friend had been a little boy next door, the son of a rabbi. To me, the kids on campus were strange, they didn’t know what Chanukah was, they were afraid of white people, and I had to ask my mother what “white people” were. Wasn’t Bobby (my grandmother) white? For the first time in my life I lived in an all black world, on the campus, and there was a fearful world outside in the little town of Princess Anne. We were surrounded by redneck bigots who frightened my mother and we rarely went into town. This is the world where I learned to understand the lyrics of the tune that had inspired the title of Lillian Smith’s play.

Strange fruit...

A world where ugly stares followed you when you went to a store. A world where I could not buy an ice cream cone. A world where my father would stop the car and go somewhere alone and bring us back something to eat. A world that was like descending into hell, if you set foot off the reservation. After an episode where I was hospitalized and placed in a “Negro Ward” with no nurses, and doctors who were not interested in treating “niggers”, where no one changed the dressings of the little black girl in bed next to me who had been burned all over her body, who screamed and whimpered all night in pain, my mother put her foot down. We had to go north. We left Maryland behind, and went back to NY to stay with my grandparents again. My father, torn by the need to feed his family, applied for and was miraculously awarded a John Hay Whitney fellowship to get his doctorate at Penn State and so by 1954 we were living in the almost all-white town of State College, where we watched, along with other young academics and their families the Army-McCarthy hearings in uneasy silence on a neighbors television.

After completing his doctorate, with no permanent job in the offing at Penn State, in 1956 my father got a new job to go along with his new PhD. But it was in the south. My mother was unhappy about it but we moved to Baton Rouge LA to the campus of Southern University. Back to the world of campus living, but at first it wasn’t as bad as Maryland. Baton Rouge had a large and prosperous black and black Creole community, and if you were careful, you could avoid the signs, the slurs, and the racial ugliness.

For the first time, my father fit in, the campus looked like an integrated society – the southern creoles attending the school or on the staff were often as pale as my father. The only problem was that they tended to be a closed society, mired in lineages and aristocratic snobbery. But it was not the fearful sullen world of Maryland’s Eastern shore and for a brief moment we were happy. That moment was short-lived.

In September of 1957 President Eisenhower deployed the 82nd Airborne Division for the desegregation of Little Rock Arkansas schools. Klan activity around our campus in LA increased, and my father and other young teachers quietly armed themselves with shotguns.

Strange fruit...

The 1957 Little Rock school integration incident had polarized the United States on the subject of race. The Supreme Court had decreed that nine black students were to be allowed to attend Central High School in Little Rock. On September 2, 1957, Arkansas governor Orval Faubus called in the National Guard, ostensibly because he had heard that white supremacists were going to descend on the town. He declared that Central was off limits to black students, and the town’s black high school was off limits to whites. More disturbing still was his statement that “blood would run in the streets” if the black students attempted to attend Central. Louis Armstrong told a reporter that President Eisenhower was a hypocrite and that he (Armstrong) was sick to be a goodwill ambassador for a country that was silently condoning racist activity. There was a great deal of controversy, but Louis stood by his statement. He also didn’t make the trip to the Soviet Union that had been planned for him by the U.S. State Department; Armstrong’s statements to the press stood out as a defining moment in his life and career
Strange Fruit

At my mother’s urging we left the south, moving to back to NY, and finally to Queens, where in 1959 the Klan was burning crosses on the lawns of the new black middle class families who were integrating solidly white neighborhoods. Dad got a job at Nassau Community College. My introduction to Queens was being bussed into a mostly white Junior High School where there was a bloody race riot on opening day.

Strange fruit...

My father died in 1996.

NYTimes Obituary George Oliver

He never got to play Hamlet, though in later years, as the Chairman of the Drama Department he got to direct it. Tired of fighting against the system, my father would become a Democrat, though he was a very left of center one. But at a meeting of the Tuskegee Airman’s Association he got to meet and hear Colin Powell speak, and he said wistfully that he hoped to see Colin Powell become President of the United States one day. He felt that Powell was the only black man that might, just might get a shot at it; that even white Americans would be able to see him as Commander in Chief. A lot of black people felt the same way, even though Powell was a Republican. But Powell’s wife, wisely, feared for his life, and he did not run. America was not ready for a black President.

Strange Fruit...

So as I look at Barack Obama, and I am proud. But I hear the chords of that tune whispering in the background...strange fruit ....they try to make him a Muslim...lynch the terrorist...strange name Barack Hussein...
Strange fruit...

as the press moves in for the kill like a lynch mob...gonna crucify him for the words of a Reverend who only spoke the truth from his life experience in this county.

Strange fruit
when fellow liberal Democrats start acting like Dixiecrats or Republicans

Strange fruit...

My father would have understood Jeremiah Wright. Curiously, Rev. Wright has rather obvious European ancestry as well, though no one has commented on it. Branded a racist by the press, in spite of all the work he's done with whites through the years, he's the target of a jihad, to crush Barack Obama.

Strange fruit...

My father would have understood his anger, just as my father supported my membership in militant organizations. He knew that my fights against injustice was a battle to gain justice for us all. He understood my rage, and frustration. But my father’s generation, and my generation, have now given birth to another set of choices, our struggles have borne new fruit. I’m not sure if I believe in an afterlife, but my dad lives on in me. So I share his story here as a piece of histoy, of how it used to be and doesn’t have to be anymore, if we change the record on the turntable.

My hope is that Barack Obama will somehow prove by his candidacy and ultimate victory that the sad refrain so engrained in our collective black psyche will fade into history as a tragic footnote of a past that took overlong to die. But it will be up to Americans; black, white, brown, yellow and red; to erase that haunting melody ... Strange fruit... and to see if we can burn down that poplar tree, and plant something else in the ashes.

Rev. Wright's words on AIDS, in perspective

I applaud the work done by Rev. Wright’s UCC church in the Chicago community; attacking homophobia, addressing AIDS, and also for establishing recovery programs for addictions.
I am writing this diary in response to the reactions to certain statements made by Rev. Jeremiah Wright, which have "shocked" some readers and viewers around the nation.

Some background on me and HIV/AIDS.
I have been dealing with the AIDS epidemic since it was dubbed "GRID" (gay-related immunodeficiency disease). First as a street-activist in old my neighborhood on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where we attended a trickle then a flood of the funerals of our neighbors, friends and partners, later as an anthropology student working in community AIDs research, and then as an ethnographer and applied medical anthropologist working in communities of color in both the US and Puerto Rico.

I have also worked as a priest in my own religious community doing both AIDS education and counseling.
I have been both personally affected by HIV/AIDS and have been "community" affected, in the sense that the multiple communities I belong to and support, have all been overwhelmingly impacted by the pandemic.
It is important that I discuss a bit of history to clarify why I’m not the least bit shocked by statements made by Reverend Wright.

In the early days of the epidemic, in Harlem, I was a member of a group of concerned activists attempting to get local Black and Latino ministers to discuss the situation in our own communities. They denounced and rejected us, and their own congregants who were infected or affected. Their open homophobia, along with their view of the disease of drug addiction as a "moral failing", rather than a symptom of a profound societal problem tied to IV drug use in minority communities, economic conditions, racism, an unbalanced criminal justice and sentencing system, presented an almost solid wall of denial. Most local elected politicians, taking their cue from church leaders, also refused to engage in the battle early on.

A few brave religious did respond to the call – among them Father David Kirk of Emmaus House (now deceased), and Father Luis Barrios of St. Ann’s Church in the South Bronx, who subsequently lost his pastorship there for inviting local Santeros (Afro-Cuban Lukumi priests) into his church for a healing mass for families both infected and affected by the epidemic. The congregation had gathered to take communion, with consecrated bread kneaded by people with AIDS. In 1988 Father Bob Warren, of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement at Graymoor monastery established "Do Not Fear to Hope" meetings and retreats, but the majority of my own community religious leaders maintained a deadly silence. Or they pointed fingers of accusation at those living with AIDS with cries of "sinner" and "shame". The Bishop of Puerto Rico castigated a parishioner who wanted to use condoms with her husband, when she found out he was HIV positive. Better to die from AIDS is a paraphrase of his response. And there was no outcry except from activists.

Later, groups like the Minority Task Force on AIDs and the Latino AIDS Commission were formed, and they waged struggle with groups like the Gay Men’s Health Crisis who were defining the epidemic as solely affecting white men, challenging them to address the needs and concerns of blacks and Latinos with AIDS. There were also struggles around raising awareness and redefining women and HIV/AIDS, led by ACT-UP, focusing on a lack of research on women and access to treatment and early interventions, due to the then erroneous system of determination of what opportunistic infections even qualified one to get treatment.

Over the years I have listened to the voices of thousands of research participants, in multiple studies funded by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) or NIDA (National Institute of Drug Abuse) , in one-on- one interviews and via transcripts of interviews, as well as the voices of community members in local forums, community events and worship services. When asked "where does AIDs come from?" many have replied that they believe the government has a role in it. The word "genocide" is often coupled to this statement.
This is a deeply seated belief. Forget about "fact" or "fiction". People believe what they see around them. Based partially on the knowledge of the Tuskegee Experiments, where indigent syphilis sufferers were allowed to go untreated, based on the knowledge of most members of our community that pharmaceutical drug experimentation takes place in the prisons across America, based on the knowledge in the Puerto Rican community that the United States government actively encouraged the sterilization of over 1/3 of the women of Puerto Rico as part of a "population control program" and that similar programs were undertaken among Native American women on reservations, based on the clear lack of response of the US government to alleviate the epidemic world wide. Based on the control of the pharmaceutical industries of high-priced treatments not afforded to the poor. Based on how the black community viewed Katrina, and the lack of response to the suffering of the Gulf coast residents by our President and his appointees. Based on the fact that the press is paying little attention to formaldehyde FEMA trailers. Based on a non-response to Darfur.
I could go on and on with this list of "based on’s". But I hope you get my point. Many viewed Rev. Wright’s sermons as "some crazy old racist man" and are completely clueless about the role of the black church in our body politic and the style of black preaching – but I won’t address that here. Pastor Dan has addressed it in several excellent posts.

I will say that the United States Government has completed abnegated its responsibility to take leadership in the global pandemic. And so yes – the US government must share responsibility. If Reverend Wright is to be "damned" for only speaking what so many of our citizens deeply believe and fear, so be it. The question is – if there is this fear, how do we change it?

Ever wonder why huge International AIDS conferences are not held here? Because the US, among other nations is at the top of the list banning, or restricting the entry of anyone to this country who is HIV positive. Many AIDS researchers and activists are themselves infected. We do not allow immigration here, or naturalization of anyone with who is HIV positive. Period.

Contrast that with countries like Brazil who have open access, national health care, and have defied the monopoly of pharmaceutical patents, and are now distributing generic AIDS drugs to their citizens – free of charge.

Too many people in out community have watched friends and family members die due to lack of access to not only AIDS services, and support, but also housing and hospice care. GWB’s "compassionate conservatism" is not compassionate at all.

"AIDS is one of the top three causes of death for African American men aged 25–54 and for African American women aged 35–44 years in the United States of America. In the United States, African Americans make up about 47% of the total HIV-positive population and more than half of new HIV cases, despite making up only 12% of the population. African American women are 19 times more likely to contract HIV than white women"

I understand, why people don’t understand the impassioned preaching of Reverend Wright. To me it is short of miraculous that he is preaching about this at all, given the long silence in our own community pulpits. The right wing religious movement, represented by some of the "spiritual advisors" surrounding John McCain, asks congregants to damn those who are gay, damn those who are poor addicts , damn those on welfare, damn those who need abortions, damn those who are HIV positive.

I ask you in all sincerity. Who IS responsible for the continued spread of AIDS?
It is not the Creator. I don’t believe God, by whatever name one chooses to call him/her has anything to do with it. The fault lies squarely with our government, and other nations who have the money and capacity to do something about it.

Let us pray that we can elect a President who will not shirk from this task. And though Senator Obama may not have been in a pew to hear that particular sermon, I am sure that he does understand the underlying "mis-ease", distrust, pain, and yes - anger that African-Americans and other community members of color have about a system that has decided to count us out.

I realize that many readers may be atheists or agnostics. And many other's of you are from churches that are quite different from those that are normal to many of us. The black community survived the trauma of slavery, reconstruction, the depression, & Jim Crow on faith. To mock our ways, to misunderstand our worship services is to be closed to difference.

Let us move on to address the economy, the War, the environment, but let us not forget that there is a deep racial divide that still separates us. I pray that Senator Obama can begin to heal that divide, as a man who straddles both worlds.

anthropologists for Obama

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Why I am REALLY proud of Michelle Obama and my country

I am sick and tired of all the remarks recently about Michelle Obama and her statement about being "really" proud of America.

I'm 60 years old, and "black". I was born in the North, in the Brooklyn Jewish Hospital, and lived in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood. My grandmother, (Dad's mom) who helped raise me, was a "white" woman from Kansas.

My Dad was a Tuskegee Airman in WWII - and was beaten to a pulp by racists when he got off a bus to go to the training field with an army buddy who "looked black" (my dad was fair with blue eyes).

By the time I was 5 we moved south - where my dad was teaching at a "black" university in a racially segregated town, where I couldn't enter a store to buy an ice cream cone. At age 6 we moved to the campus of a "white" school in PA - where I was asked in all seriousness if my best friend (the only Jewish girl in town) had horns and a tail. By the time I was 9 and back in the south, I watched my dad and some other young professor’s hold off cross-burning KKK'ers with shotguns.

By age 11 I was bussed to a school which had race riots because kids who looked like me were going to the school for the first time. This was in Queens, in NY.

By age 13 I was informed by my school guidance counselor that if I tried to apply for a special High School in NYC (taking off a day for auditions) I would get detention and a blue referral card. "White" kids were allowed the day off. I applied anyway - and was accepted to the High School of Music and Arts.

By age 16 I was engaged in the civil rights movement and in later years lost close friends, and two partners, who died because someone didn't like their skin color, sexual orientation politics, or religion.

I am now 60. And for the first time in my life I am REALLY proud of my country. I wish my grandmother was alive to see this. She had to flee Kansas to marry my grandfather in 1915 because "inter-racial" marriage was illegal. I wish my dad and mom were alive to see this. They had hopes that Colin Powell would/could have run for President - but his wife, wisely held him back. It was not the right time.

Most of my ancestors have been in this country since the 1600's. I am descended from Revolutionary War heroes, Civil War Heroes, and people who were enslaved.

I am an American. I defy anyone to question my "patriotism". On the backs of my ancestors - black, white and indigenous, this country was built.

I see my students at the University excited to be engaged in the political process for the first time. They make me proud. 95% support Obama, and I teach at a predominantly "white" school. I see a coalition broader than the one I was a part of in the sixties forming before my eyes. That makes me proud.

I see Michelle Obama and his sister Maya Soetoro-Ng, and they make me proud.

As an anthropologist, I realize that "race" is a social construct, but if you think racism isn't alive and well you are living in a bubble.

If you think that Barak Obama hasn't felt racisms sting because of his upbringing, which is a position I've heard some people take, you are naive.

But - he's not demoralized nor has he internalized crippling self-hate. He has hope and a vision, and is being supported by a broad base of people that I thought I'd never live to see come together, here in MY country. That's good enough for me.

And to honor his wife Michelle, in response to some of the positions expressed on the web (thankfully the minority ones) I will now send another donation to help Barak Obama's campaign.

And be REALLY proud to see Michelle as First Lady.

Why I am no longer supporting Hillary Clinton

I will apologize in advance if some of the things I say here upset or distress those people who support Senator Hillary Clinton. I was once one of them – in the sense that I cast my vote for her to become a Senator from the state of NY.

I had some doubts about that vote when I cast it. I have never been much of a participant in the two party politics of the US. I don’t find the process particularly democratic, since I abhor the electoral college, think that we should have proportional party representation rather than our current system, and to be honest I think proportional parliaments where people vote for a party, and where elections stand on issues, rather than a candidate, is a healthier system. I have openly spent most of my life wishing and working toward building alternatives to only two parties, and sometimes feeling that one has to select the best of the two equally negative choices. But I digress.

I live upstate New York these days – not downstate in New York City. The town I moved to at first had a strong Republican Party, and a very vocal group of anti-feminists. Though my grandfather was a solid Republican (party of Lincoln – he used to proclaim) I did not come of age in the era when Democrat was necessarily equated to Dixiecrat, and so, when my eyes strayed from grass roots organizing to local electoral politics I did support certain Democratic candidates, particularly those with the backing of unions with a large working class and minority membership. Unions like 1199, who represents hospital workers.

My next door neighbor up here was a renter, not a home owner, and she asked me one day if I would put a “Vote Hillary” sign up in my yard. Her landlord would not allow it. He was a staunch Republican and though my neighbor was paying over $1,000 a month to rent her home he threatened her with eviction should she put up a sign for the Clinton campaign. So I took the sign and plopped it onto my front lawn. That night, a person, or persons unknown, came onto my property and removed the sign. I reported it to the town and state police. Their response was laconic and disinterested. One trooper informed me that it had happened all over Ulster County and they couldn’t do anything about it. It was reported in the local papers. I felt angry and violated. I got another sign and spent several nights sitting on my front porch, guarding my right to have a sign for whomever I pleased. A week later, the second sign was removed. I admit, that I was so pissed that I wasn’t thinking clearly about my vote, but I resolved to cast my ballot for Ms. Clinton.

I was uneasy about her, specifically because I didn’t care for Bill Clinton. Contrary to the popular joke bandied around, I have never thought of him as America’s First Black President. I was uneasy about her because I am a feminist. I have long dreamed of a day when this country would be grown-up enough and liberated enough to elect a woman to our highest office. I saw other women around the world in leadership positions – Indira Gandhi, Benazir Bhutto, Golda Meir, Felisa Rincón de Gautier, (mayor of San Juan PR).
I remember Shirley Chisholm’s first run for office, and was moved by eloquent Barbara Jordan. My greatest she-roe was Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party who was “sick and tired of being sick and tired”. As a student of feminist history, I was strongly influenced by Lucy Stone, and Sojourner Truth.

But Hillary Clinton made me uneasy. I was working at the time with Puerto Rican women who were victims of spousal abuse, spousal infidelities, many of whom had been infected with HIV/AIDS by their philandering or drug injecting partners, and while I was working to support poor women in breaking their ties to their abusers, and doing the hard work to get them to open up about the sick-secrets that kept them locked in a cycle of abuse which for many of them ended in death, did I really think I could see Hillary as a role model for any of them? Actually no. I tried to ease my fears about the Clintons and their carpet bagging move into my home state – thinking that Hillary would more than likely be quite distant from her husband. Bill Clinton’s sexual behaviors were no different from the behaviors of many other men in power, so I’m not singling him out, and yes a band of male hypocrites whose practice is the same went after him with a vendetta, but the facts remain. He used his power to influence a female intern, and lied about having sex with her, and others, and demeaned the Oval office. And his wife “stood by her man”. How was I supposed to explain that away to my clients? I left a former husband for his adultery. I am different from my mom’s generations who espoused the “look the other way” theory and “men will be men”. I’d rather live alone than live with a man who strays.

So, I swallowed my uneasiness and voted for Hillary. I did do some research on her, wasn’t particularly impressed with her early teenage infatuation with the politics of Barry Goldwater, but we are all given the chance to grow up, and she was clearly a Democrat these days, and had earned the respect of many members of the minority community, so I pulled the lever, and promptly forgot about her, until the war – or impending war rolled around.

I worked at the World Trade Center, and by luck my sump pump broke that morning and my basement flooded, and I didn’t make it in. I may not be writing this piece had I gotten to work. I was then swept up in the backlash upstate here against my husband who looks like people’s stereotypical “Muslim-Arab”, though he’s a 6 foot three Puerto Rican from Spanish Harlem. Xenophobia was alive and well, and caught up in fears for my husband’s safety I kept one eye on the congress and assured myself that our elected officials wouldn’t let us get caught up yet again, in another futile war like Vietnam, built on lies.

I was wrong. And the woman who I pulled the lever for, voted to throw us into a war against not al-Qaeda – but Iraq, a country whose leader we helped into power. My last hope went down the drain when I saw Colin Powell mouthing the script of the Bush administration, and I watched in horror as millions of Americans glued to their televisions cheered the bombing of Iraq as if it was the annual Macy’s fireworks display.

I took another look at Hillary. I realized that her vote had been influenced by her future plans. As a woman she, or her advisors, felt she needed to look like a hawk – preparation for a future Presidential bid. I also began to pay attention to who was minding the store for the voters here in NY. Not our Senator Clinton, already gearing up for a run for the white house. But Barak Obama was not on my radar. He was only the nice, eloquent young man who made a speech at the Convention.

I began to work with others opposed to the War, a position (shades of Vietnam) viewed as unpatriotic. I grew more and more uneasy at the level of jingoistic rhetoric. When finally the lies and manipulations began to surface I sat and watched and waited for those who claimed to have been duped on the first vote, to get us out of Iraq and to impeach Bush and his cadre.

It didn’t happen. And so, I began to look around some more. And then Katrina happened, and I was caught up in the horror of watching a part of this nation I love, its residents drowned like rats, ignored by its President, and as visions of bloated bodies drifting through the flooded streets of NOLA my emotions were torn apart and I wept. I waited to see what the future would bring. Who would stand up and offer Katrina victims hope?

BTW lest we forget – Katrina victims are still in trailers, those who’ve been able to get back. I hosted an evacuee for 3 months in my home, and my husband accompanied him and his son down to NOLA to look at what was left of his family home – nothing could be salvaged. He’s still waiting for a settlement from FEMA, and he had flood insurance.

John Edwards popped up – announcing his support for Katrina victims, and I began to look at him with interest. But my students pointed out another candidate, the young man I remembered, Barak Obama, and I began to examine him closely. Just who was he?
Did he seriously think that my dearly beloved country, with all its flaws would let a black freshman Senator runs a serious bid for the white house? Apparently he did. And so did many of my students who, while us old folks have been sleeping, have built a network of Myspace and Facebooks and blogs – all foreign to me.

And so I looked harder. The establishment black politicians were solidly in the Clinton camp. Nothing new. But I was never a part of that group anyway, I believed in a rainbow coalition. My Rainbow Coalition was the one espoused by Fred Hampton of the Panthers which included Brown Berets (Chicano), Young Lords (Puerto Rican) AIM (American Indians) I Wor Kuen (Asians) Young Patriots (Appalachian and poor whites). I have never supported Jesse Jackson and his tepid rip-off of Fred’s vision.

As much as I found Edwards interesting, I found Obama more so. Why? Not because he was black. That was actually a disadvantage since cynical me couldn’t imagine a black man making it to the White House – alive. It had to do with his ability to communicate.
I’ve lived my life having the opportunity to hear great communicators. Hampton was one, MLK was another, – but the list is a long one, too long to go into here. Contrary to the popular wisdom, I’m not looking for the Head of State, or shall we say “Figurehead of State” to be a wonk, that’s what Presidents have cabinets for and advisors. I lived in DC long enough to figure out how the work gets done there and who does it – and learned a lot about the process of bringing ideas to legislation and actually getting anything passed given the DC quicksand of bureaucracy and special interests. I was looking for someone who could actually mobilize Americans – you know, “we” the people, and not just “them” the officials. Edwards – though interesting just doesn’t have that spark. Al Gore (who I still believe was robbed), whose ideas on the environment, and global warming I like – was leaden.

Hmmmm. So I started reading up on Senator Obama. Interested I read on. More “hmm's” His mom was an anthropologist. So am I. He has experience living in many world communities. So do I. His grandparents were from Kansas and white. So was my grandmother. She had the courage to marry the man she loved, who happened to be black and run off in 1915 to get married to him, since interracial marriage was illegal back then. His mom’s parents didn’t reject him, like my grandmothers family did to her, and my dad. “Curiouser and curiouser!” cried I (like Alice) and I read on. He had a half Asian sister. He speaks more than one language. He has a wife who is as intelligent as he is who hails from the part of Chicago where my dad was born, and she grew up in a working class household just like my dad’s.

I continued to look at his resume; law school and teaching constitutional law; even better. I’m a beneficiary of a Supreme Court that is NOT the one currently constituted by Bush. Obama’s political experience was working in State government. Great. Positions on women’s issues - top scores; he passed my feminist test. Positions on the war – impeccable. He spoke out against it.

But where in the heck was this guy going to get the kind of money it takes to even approach getting a nomination? Well, that question got answered; from the people, not just from fat cat contributors. I was awed by the use of modern internet technology employed by his campaign; the democratization of funding. I pushed a button and sent money.

While all this was going on in my head, friends of mine, women my age or near to it, long time vets of both Civil Rights and the Women’s movement began to raise the Hillary question. Wasn’t I going to automatically vote for her? If so why not, and there was a subtext of losing my feminist hang-out card if I didn’t follow the party line. But, they forgot, I wasn’t in their party.

But to be fair to my dear friends, even though I believe they are wrong-headed, I went back and revisited Hillary’s resume. Now last time I looked at a politician’s vita, being First Lady of the US, or wife of a Governor was not electoral experience. She had it all on her resume, in her press releases, appropriating those years in State House and White House. Then I looked at her contributors – those whose names and affiliations I could find. Then I looked at a history of politics she’s been engaged in with her husband, and past financial dealings that didn’t sit right with me. I dug my feet in and resisted my friends. I DO want a woman in the White House one day. But it was quite clear that Hillary wasn’t the one and could never be the one. And yes, attacks on her for being assertive are sexist. But a growing group of feminists were beginning to also open up and question her positions, and her vita. I signed on to their petition.

I then began to listen more closely to the pundits and commentators, and pronouncements from the Hillary camp. I was appalled. There were lots of automatic assumptions. I heard remarks that would curl my already curly hair even tighter. “Latinos hate Blacks” so Hillary automatically gets the Latino vote. Have any of these people actually explored the rich cultural diversity of Spanish speaking US citizens? Apparently not. Last time I looked my husband was what he calls “Afro-Boriqua” (Black Puerto Rican).

Then there were the “Hillary has labor tied up” pronouncements. Hmmm… don’t think so. Her positions on NAFTA are on the record no matter how hard she tries to squirm out of them.

Okay, health care reform. I am not happy with the programs of either candidate, I don’t think they go far enough, and I won’t quibble about the differences. But Hillary had a shot at shepherding a health care bill through Congress and blew it. Both of their plans are better than what we have now. Someone is going to have to take a hard look at the role of insurance companies and at least I know Obama isn’t funded by them. I know what poor health care looks like and its impact on children and families, from long years of community work and activism around health issues. I was there when we tested every child in East Harlem for lead poisoning. I sat-in in the takeover of Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx, where rats regularly ran across operating tables. I worked on an infant mortality project, not in the third world but right here in the US and the rates are higher in some neighborhoods than in parts of the 3rd world. I have done AIDS work since the beginning when it was something called Grid. I have seen the impact of broken policies called the “war on drugs” but which should be called a war on poor folks, that penalizes small time addicts, fills the prisons (the new factories of upstate NY), and does nothing to stem the epidemic.

And if you think the situation here in the States is bad, you should take a first hand look at the situation in Puerto Rico. My husband will confirm that after every field trip to Puerto Rico, where I spent time in the caserios (public housing projects) and poor neighborhoods like La Colectora and La Perla, I had nightmares for weeks. The United States only interest in Puerto Rico is to maintain its enormous number of military facilities there. The welfare of its peoples, American Citizens who don’t have the right to vote for the President, well, lets just say they are ignored.

I know what it is like to be afraid of losing health insurance. I am only teaching part time today because I need health coverage. If not for that I’d be retired. And I’m one of the lucky ones because I have a job that provides adequate coverage, thanks to my union. Millions of my fellow citizens do not.

Recently I been hearing that “the press is biased against Senator Clinton, because of sexism”. But when I do a media analysis (I do have a degree in Media Studies and a background in broadcasting), I find that the mainstream press has bought her entire resume hook line and sinker. Where are the tough questions asked of her? I swear I can’t find them. I carefully watched the debate in Texas, and have as yet to read in any major news outlet the fact that the “moderators” allowed her to ride over their questions, to interrupt, to avoid answering questions and to go on and on about HER health care plan. This is then characterized as an Obama Hillary fight. Not a failure of debate moderation. When the cakewalk didn’t happen, when each firewall fell, state after state, she has been allowed to bluster on, and gets a huge amount of free airtime each time her campaign decides to take yet another tack (read attack) on Senator Obama and his supporters. And the press dutifully reports her every smear. I’m still shaking my head over the non-story of “plagiarism” which to date gets thousands of hits on google, and got endless hours of print and television coverage.

Are some comments made about Senator Clinton sexist? Yes. Does she merit them? No. Are some comments made about and to Senator Obama racist? Yes. Does he merit them? No. But the arguments some of my friends make about the relative gravity of sexist remarks over racist ones, given the history of this country don’t pan out. The same argument was used during the history of the women’s suffrage movement when Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton decided to scrap the struggles of newly freed slaves to woo Southern white females into the movement, women who refused to sit in meetings with black women. Who held fast to principle was Lucy Stone. If you ask me what kind of feminist I am – I grin and reply, I’m a “Stoner”.

The quality of a candidate’s courage and wisdom is to rise above these bone-headed vestigial and antediluvian attacks which are rooted in America’s historic past and unpleasantly part of our present. A true feminist would opt for a different style and practice. I went through struggles in the women’s movement critiquing a particular brand of “feminism” that said women of color need not apply. I resented that then and still resent it, and struggle against it to this day. The race baiting that Senator Clinton allowed in her campaign, using her husband, and others, as surrogates is unacceptable. When have you heard Senator Obama state that women aren’t prepared to be President? Yes, he has disagreed with her positions, and her nasty aspersions, but he has maintained a calm that is almost unnatural. But I believe he knows too well that a black man in America cannot go on the attack, even verbally against a white woman. Some folks still hang nooses in trees in this country. Hillary benefits from this “white female gender privilege”. And we have recently seen that a black woman in America can’t even be her own person. I guess Michelle Obama is supposed to do an imitation of Cindy McCain in blackface, or morph into Laura Bush, or Roselyn Carter.

It is not anti-feminist for me to bring up Bill Clinton. Ms Clinton has opted to rely upon the political capital of her husband. How not feminist, but how expedient. Herein lies one of the more fatal flaws in her candidacy. Are we to have co—presidents? If Hillary had ditched Bill, or locked him up in the Harlem State office building, run her campaign on her own record as a junior Senator, not appropriating her husbands legacy as her own – she’d be more believable, and supportable. But I’m not gonna cotton to some kind of knee jerk response to her so-called feminism just because of her gender. The same way I don’t allow socially constructed racial categories, or gender to determine how I view male candidates. If I did that I’d be a slavish admirer of Condy Rice and Clarence Thomas. I shudder the thought. I resent very strongly the suggestion that because I am a black woman in America that my automatic choice is to select a black candidate, over a white, latino, asian or candidate of any ethnicity, socially constructed race or religion.

And that when it is expedient my gender becomes an issue and I am told I have to choose. Says who? Do I need to remind you that feminists can be male as well? Do I expect a woman running for office to become a man in a pant-suit? Hell No. Do I expect a man who happens to be black to run for President to only speak to black Americans? Hell No again.

Who has actually been able to address a broader spectrum of the jambalaya that is the American populace? At this point it is Senator Barak Obama, and only Obama.

Is he perfect? No. Can he fix everything wrong with this country? Hell no – Presidents rarely fix much (though they can do a lot of damage – see Bush). But they set a tone.
Right now, given the rising global tide of hatred of America and Americans we are in dire need of a President who can restore some type of global respect for us as a nation. Us means all of us – no matter “race”, gender or ethnicity or political party.

Do I see Hillary Clinton as this leader? No! Do any Republican candidates fit the picture? No! Bomb-bomb Iran McCain, or religious right conservative Huckabee, will dig us into a deeper muck than the one we are currently mired in.

My final thoughts about all of this are about words. The power of words. What the Yoruba of Nigeria call the “ashé of the tongue”. Words echo to us down through the corridors of time and are what separate us from our primate cousins. As a young child I was moved by the then banned Paul Robson. I was inspired to join VISTA (the domestic peace corps) because of words spoken by JFK. I was given a dream to hold onto by Martin Luther King. I was given mottoes to live by, from the words of Fannie Lou Hamer, Sojourner Truth and Lucy Stone.

How dare Senator Clinton, and others question that words matter? Words and song were sometimes the only aid and solace to my ancestors. The sarcastic mockery of Ms Clinton waving her arms in the air, snidely speaking of celestial choirs as if that is somehow a bad thing to be compared to. Anyone who has ever listened to a choir singing Handel, or a Bach Cantata, anyone who has never felt the power of a hymn like Amazing Grace, anyone who has changed their life, found hope, because of something they read, or heard, or sang, knows that words move our hearts to action. Our constitution was based on a powerful oral traditions – words called Gayanashagowa (the Great Law of Peace) of the Iroquois Confederacy.

I must remind her gently that the word is a powerful tool and her very words may come back to haunt her one day. History is being written here. Does Ms Clinton in her relentless attack think that somehow her words will just disappear when the campaign is over, no matter who is victorious and the real battle is begun for the Presidency?

No matter who “wins” the primary, she has been the candidate who is setting up a loss for the Democratic Party. Not Senator Obama. But I doubt that she even cares. And that is a very sad thing. I wish you well Senator Clinton, but you will never again in life get my vote. Not even if you win the nomination. That’s how your words have affected me. If Senator Obama has this primary stolen from him I will go back to my roots and work to organize a third party, that listens to the words of the people. And I will work tirelessly to see that you are not the representative of my state in the future.

You have my word on that.