The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Obama and Edwards sittin' in a tree...

by the way...anyone else having fun watching Edwards jockying for Vice President..?
##Erich said:

“On the specific issue of racial groups and whether they have genetically-based variations in "quality": at this point, I'm aggressively agnostic on that. Meaning, if somebody is blowing hard for the position "of course racial groups are genetically superior or inferior", I'll tend to want to deflate them, whereas if somebody is going for the more "progressive" attitude of "of course any such claim is hateful, racist, and scientifically untrue," I'll ... do what I'm doing here.”

Erich, I’ve tried to make it clear that a racist statement isn’t necessarily a hateful one—it’s just a statement that differentiates on the basis of genetics. If some people take the position “if you make a racist comment, that makes you a terrible person” that is understandable in terms of the way human beings act. It is not the context of this blog. Scientifically untrue? I’d say unproven. And consider that, so far as I can see, the assumption has been through all human history that “we” are better than “they.” The amazing thing is the amount of evidence amassed suggesting this ain’t true.

And yes, at some point the science will be RELATIVELY undeniable on these points. Not completely, though. I suspect there will always be intelligent debate on both sides. Interesting to me that such a high percentage of those who believe in differential value between racial groups are white males. If they’re right, is it that women and non-whites are less honest? How exactly do we interpret that?
Hillary’s campaign has to be boggled right now. The pundits were just saying on television that they had a perfect playbook to defeat the Republicans—but don’t know how to deal with Obama.

Here’s a way this could well play out: Obama gets the Democratic nomination. The attacks begin. Responsible Republican representatives and surrogates attack on the basis of inexperience and voting record. And then there will be the insane broad-side from talk radio and irresponsible surrogates making appeals to racism and cultural fear, as well as spreading the “Obama attended a Madrassa” lie. The racism I believe to be more prevalent on the Right than the Left comes crawling out from under its rock, and moderates and Independants are appalled. In a knee-jerk response (“This isn’t America!”) they either stay home, throw their votes to an inelectable candidate, or support the Democratic ticket. Republicans are crushed.

It is interesting that Hillary pulls the “gender card” all the time. She can afford to do it, because if she loses every male vote, but got all the female votes, she would still win.

I remember when Clinton was called the “first black President” because some folks felt he was the first president who really saw us as a people. This was never MY opinion, but I grasped what they were saying. His apology for slavery was mocked by white Conservatives, but I got it, and felt it, and was moved.

Hillary has been counting on black support, which went to her out of fondness for Bill, I think, and residual “Great White Father” programming that made it difficult for blacks to believe that one of their own could go all the way to the White House…without being assassinated. But death isn’t the worst thing that can happen. It’s just a thing. And better to die while moving in the direction of your dreams. Blacks are beginning to believe.

As I’ve said before, what you see in Obama is what black people are separate from the legacy of slavery. (No, I’m not saying all black people would be as smart or articulate as Obama—he’s way above the curve for any human group). But his self-confidence and belief in himself comes from knowing who he is in a way almost all whites do…and almost no blacks do.

Folks have often wondered how I can believe in Nothing (which is very different from having no beliefs!), and think that no absolute truth is communicable or perceivable by the human mind…and still engage fully with life, still care, still love life as fully as I do. The answer is that one part of me is engaged with the “Game” and the other part of me lives in the Nothing. It’s all good.

But what I think people miss is the REASON I became this way. It was because I had nothing to lean on that took me “all the way down.” The lack of father gave me no Paternal role model. The intellectual/emotional isolation made it difficult to even talk about anything of any importance with my peers (I was a strange duck indeed). The lack of cultural images meant that the very country that controlled virtually every aspect of my external success considered me sub-human, or at the very least, an oddity. Can’t count the number of times white Conservatives have said the “you’re not like Them. You’re like Us” routine with me. Inviting me to lose all protective coloration and be the trick monkey at their little Salons. I can’t begin to count the percentage of my life I’ve spent being “the only one.” For instance, in my entire career of almost thirty years, not one single time have I ever been in a room at a convention with another working black male SF writer. Can any of you even grasp how lonely that feels? Can you?

Without anything at all to lean on the outside (or so I perceived) I was forced to turn inward, try to find some bit of foundation, some solid ground to stand on, to provide me with leverage. But the deeper I went, the less I found, until I unraveled the whole thing and got the joke.

And there, curiously, there was great calm. To actually make contact with the ocean that births all things is an extraordinary experience. To be able to back up and see how religions, philosophies and political movements arise from it is even more fun.

To watch the way people try desperately to find something solid to cling to, and the metaphorical and literal wars they fight over their bits of flotsam and jetsome….wow. What a party.

Constantly, people (always white people) try to tell me that if I hadn’t had the specific pressures, I wouldn’t be who I am…and they mean this in a positive way. While there’s some truth to it, I also think there’s some hidden racism, an unspoken “see, Steve? If you can do it, why can’t the rest of them?”

I resent that, deeply. But the reason I bring all of this up is that had I had anything to “stand on” as a younger man, I could have applied all of that time and energy to building other things in my life, and been perfectly happy. Yes, I absolutely think I would have made more money, been fitter, and been overall an emotionally healthier human being.

In other words, Obama has a big chunk of the exact, precise puzzle-pieces I’m missing, and have had to “wire around” in order to function as a human being. Both of us were raised without our fathers. But he knows where he comes from in a cultural and genetic sense.

COUNTLESS times I’ve heard whites talk about how important their geneology is to them. How much strength they’ve gained from knowing their names, and ancestors, and countries of origin. Languages. Religions. Visiting their home-lands. Eitehr I can take the position that they’re all full of shit, or I can say that yes, there is something precious there. That we tell stories of our ancestors BECAUSE IT WORKS to create stronger, smarter, better functioning children. And during my entire formative period, during all of my public school education, I heard of nothing except how exquisitely wonderful white people were.

Sorry. That does damage. My emotional flesh will never heal from some of those wounds. Deprive an animal vitamins in its formative years, and it will be a stunted beast no matter how you feed them later.

In all likelihood, there is nothing I can do to heal the emotional bones broken back then. But…I can build up the muscle around them. And I can be certain to give my son and daughter the very things I missed. And I can create images to nurture others as I was not nurtured.

And I can remember that this is all just a game. It’s not real. And that if I decide to play it, I must play all-out even if I started the game with less Monopoly Money than the other players. Even if they collaborate to cheat me. Hell—they’re nice folks. They don’t even realize that the rules were constructed to screw me over.

I play, and I care, because I choose to. No other reason.

But do you grasp the gigantic amount of energy it took to create the structure that keeps me alive and functioning? Take that energy, and free it up, and let me invest it in my writing. Let me write books and movies without having to worry about the image systems. Let me have role models who are more successful than I am, so that I can extract their belief systems, mental syntax, and use of physiology. Let me…

Aww, shit. What’s the use? Life is just what it is.

But I say this because I know that if I had seen an Obama as a kid, my life would have been better. So long as he doesn’t self-destruct, he doesn’t even have to win. What he represents to me is the promise of America. And I think that some of the enthusiasm for him is exactly that. He looks like America—and he’s the only male candidate who does. Every single one of the others looks like the mixture that has come before. Hillary would represent greater change—if it didn’t feel so much like she was riding on Bill’s coat-tails. She is the Clinton Machine, and everyone knows it.

There is such an interesting thing going on here. Obama will appeal to some actual racists: he allows them to assert: “see? Blacks can make it if they just get over themselves…” or “see? I’m not bigoted! I just understand that MOST blacks don’t have what it takes…”

And some liberal Americans in general who, if all the candidates are close together in quality, might vote for an Obama out of guilt, or even curiosity. And black voters who see a symbol to inspire their children. Tananarive’s parents are from the Civil Rights generation, warriors both. And his candidacy gives them hope that what they fought for might actually be happening, at last.

And millions of Americans who look at him and see someone with a level of passion they miss in their own lives, and miss in public discourse.

They’re seeing something. And he’s going to be a little hard to attack because of his race, which will lead some to think that a black man has an advantage. Hah! To me, that’s like chopping off a runner’s right foot, but then giving him the inside lane on the track. The other runners will notice the inside lane bit, but they conveniently forget the severed foot.

What do I think about Obama? I guess I’m in his corner officially. I don’t see any reason to hate the guy, or consider him incompetent to hold office. He is WAY smarter than most of the people I’ve seen running, and has the ability to synthesize information like crazy. This, by the way, is what kept me from ever considering Bush very smart (although I don’t think he’s stupid, either.) I’ve never heard him take fact A and B and come up with new thought C. Smart people do this all the time, and Obama is smart. I think he can compensate for the apparent lack of experience.

And the Republicans, having thrown their weight behind an administration many Americans consider to be a disaster, cannot promote themselves as agents of change. So what it will boil down to is that if you like the direction America is going in…vote Republican. Otherwise, you have to find another horse.

What an interesting, interesting period in history this is. I’m grateful to have lived long enough to see it. Regardless of what happens next, this has been a hell of a ride.


Lynn said...

For a while now I've been thinking that our next president will be either Clinton or Obama and I haven't been entirely sure which one I want to win. I was leaning toward Clinton because I worry that Obama might be a little too far to the left but I'm uncomfortable with Clinton because I feel that a vote for Hillary is a vote for Bill. Not that he was all that bad but he's had his two terms already.

But it's still early and I'm still thinking about it. I've looked at and a few other sites and now I'm thinking that Obama might not be too far to the left after all and I'm not even sure that matters anyway. There are enough moderates and conservatives in congress to balance things out. I like his character; I like his personality. If he's elected I'm sure I would never have to be ashamed of our president like I'm sometimes ashamed of the current president. I'm almost ready to jump on the Obama bandwagon, except that I generally don't jump on bandwagons. I guess you could say I'm following closely behind the bandwagon.

I would still not be terribly disappointed if Clinton won. Now I'm worried that I'm wrong and Edwards will win. I guess he would be an okay president but I think it's past time we show the world that you don't have to be a white male to get elected president of the United States.

Becky said...

I just hope that of the people who voted for Bush many would be prepared to vote for Hillary or Obama. Continuation of the same is not acceptable.

CC-Tron said...

Steve I believe you give Obama too much credit (I'm Black). To me he seems to be a man of average intelligence who can articulate himself well, got into politics, said the right things, had the right look and heritage (half White), and got a big push from the media. That's all. He doesn't strike me as extraordinary or any smarter than Bush per say. His verbal mistakes earlier in the campaign shows he's not politically savy. I think that's part of his appeal.

If he gets the nomination he'll likely get my vote (I think) even though I lean right on many political issues.

Steven Barnes said...

Average intelligence? Wow. I'd love to see the people you surround yourself with, if you think Obama is average! I'd guess his I.Q. to be above 130, easy.

Anonymous said...

Steve –

“Constantly, people (always white people) try to tell me that if I hadn’t had the specific pressures, I wouldn’t be who I am…and they mean this in a positive way. While there’s some truth to it, I also think there’s some hidden racism, an unspoken “see, Steve? If you can do it, why can’t the rest of them?”

I resent that, deeply.”

I’m white and have actually made the above comment to you in the past Steve. And not because of some underlying sense that you’ve done it and therefore others of your particular skin tone should too. I’ve read your story and related to it at a very visceral level. I was adopted and therefore had no sense of history of my past and lost my adopted father to a professional hockey accident (actually the only professional hockey death) when I was three so was raised by my mother. From my first days in school I was introduced as “Bill Masterton’s son” in virtually every grade. There was the expectation that I was supposed to be a great athlete and such was not the case; I felt constantly that I was letting others down; even when I did have some success in sports it was looked upon as some genetically unearned “gift” that was bestowed upon me and that I was not living up to my potential (even though I shared no genetics with my semi-famous father). I took up martial arts to keep from getting my overly imaginative, overly intellectual ass kicked day after day. Fortunately I did have some knack for martial arts and was able to turn pro and win the U.S. Super-middleweight title (kickboxing for K.I.C.K) in the early ‘90’s. Interestingly, it was “Streetlethal” that fired me up and turned me from traditional Karate point fighting to Full Contact Karate (what’s now known as American-style Kickboxing).

I’ve looked back over my life and imagined what it might have been like had my father lived. Chances are I would have played College Hockey, probably been more successful academically in College and probably would be making more money today. But I believe that the things I’ve experienced in my life have been designed so that I can better serve; I’m not entirely sure what that service is and maybe I’ll never know, but I do believe that we’re all connected somehow, that our life circumstances are designed to lead us somewhere and serve somehow. So maybe part of your life’s message is to articulate the need for fathers and somehow increase the role of men in their children’s lives. Maybe you are a better father to your children because of your missing dad…maybe not. Maybe you will shift the direction of one young man’s life and motivate him to stick around for his children. Maybe your dismay at having no role models that looked like you when you were a child created you as a role model for others? Who knows.

When I mentioned that your life challenges might have created you, I was expressing the hope that mine might have created me too and that the suffering we all experience has some purpose in the greater scheme of things.


Marty S said...

I'm curious what you read at that changed your mind about Obama perhaps being to far left. I went to the site myself and found nothing that you could use to draw such a conclusion. He did not respond to their political courage test and when I went to his political statements area I found many statements about what needs fixing in this country(I agree with many of them), but little about how he would fix these problems. For me the nature of a candidates solutions is the crux of determining where on the right/left scale he lies.

cc-tron said...

Steve how you come up with 130 for his IQ? What did I miss?

Lynn said...

Mostly, I've moved from feelings based on hearsay to realizing that maybe some of my assumptions might be wrong. It's not so much what I saw as what I didn't see. I didn't see anything radically leftist. On the other hand, there are a lot more NV's (Not Voting) in Obama's voting record than in Clinton's and I'd like to know why he didn't vote and how he would have voted on those bills.

cc-tron said...

Steve I understand now. I don't agree but I understand.

Steven Barnes said...

Umm...former president of Harvard Law Review? Sorry, but that level of accomplishment just isn't in the "average" category.
Scott--no offense meant. I get a little testy some times. Your question was thoughtful and appropriate.

Frank said...

Marty S said

I'm curious what you read at that changed your mind about Obama perhaps being to far left. I went to the site myself and found nothing that you could use to draw such a conclusion.

Then there is also the fact that if he wins the nomination, it will be in spite of the Black political establishment, all of which supported Clinton.

Then there is the fact that the "Progressive" 'net roots (Kos et al) are not overly enthusiastic with what Obama has to say.

Invade Pakistan....didn't go over well and his Health Care plan has morphed away from the single-payer, government-run plan they favor.

All of this gives him "legs" to run with in a general election.

Anonymous said...

I was going to second Scott's intentions when he voiced his opinion to you.

I think we all wonder how our lives would have been different if certain events had not occurred or if some things had been other than they were. I cannot point to any deprivation as a child nor any class or race issues that appeared detrimental but there were things that happened later on that have definitely formed much of who I am today. I have no way of knowing who I might be without those events. I can speculate but I cannot know. I have to believe that they made me stronger in some way because the idea that this horrible thing just happened leaves me cold, sick to my stomach and shaking in the night.

Steven Barnes said...

I believe I was being ungracious in my comments. I think that when people speak to us of our wounds, they try to salve them...and that the attitude that our challenges make us stronger is one that helps them place their own problems in perspective. It is healthy, and often both loving and respectful. The fact that I have a "twitch" attached to it is probably more a symptom of my own damage than any accurate perception of subconscious racial attitudes. Sigh. I contain multitudes.