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The politics of being “Un-American” | Race-Talk | 336

The politics of being “Un-American”

Filed under: African Americans,Featured |

I was a named for my grandmother, Josephine, a fishing, church going, sharecropping, big bodied and spirited woman. She, in many ways, signifies what it means to be American- marrying as a young woman, raising a family in the rural south and moving from being a tenant on someone else’s farm to owning her own.  I never came to know her, as she died shortly before I was born, but her legacy and her power sit with me each and every day.  My father used to say that I have her heart, open and kind, but I believe she has shared with me much more favorable attributes.  I have adopted from her, through my father, a desire for social justice, political astuteness, and a will to redeem the nation that, in so many ways, failed her.

Yesterday, my mother and I were speaking about some of the campaign ads I’ve seen since returning to Houston as the heat turns up on many of the local and state-wide races.  I must admit, even as someone who is rarely shocked by the shenanigans of politics and politicians, I am in awe of what I am witnessing.  Texas, by far, is a red, conservative cowboy kind of state.  Actually, I often proclaim that Texas is like its own country within the US.  Who knew that Rick Perry would solidify my thoughts when discussing his desire to secede from the nation when Barack Obama became our 44th president? It is apparent that Perry is not a fan of Obama, he has outwardly and contemptuously disagreed with the President’s decisions concerning everything from border patrols and immigration to EPA regulations and of course “Obamacare”.  That term, to this day, makes my blood just a little warm.  As ludicrous as Perry’s sentiments and behaviors have  been towards Obama (see him brag of “confronting Obama” here ) he receives an out-pour of support from many Texans- more Texans, unfortunately, than I would care to admit- which somehow has me considering an article I read in the Economist the other day.

According to the Economist , working class whites, who hold a great amount of political power within the nation, oppose Barack Obama and other democrats for many issues- race not being one of them at all.  Essentially, according to the report, Democrats, if they have any intention of running successful and victorious campaigns, must distance themselves from the President. “Today (the President) has become an albatross around their necks.” What is also made clear is that in addition to the the less than 50% approval rating that Obama has received, he is even less popular among certain whites, and it is because, at least in the Economist’s opinion, he simply does not know how to reach “the (white, working class) people”.  I suppose this notion could be deemed true if one isn’t privy to the history of the dynamics of race and politics (and their intersection)  in this nation.  I suppose that anything is possible.

Some assert that the mere election of Barack Obama in 2008 solidifies our movement from a nation wholly consumed with race, to one that has completely moved past it.  I wish, with all of me, that such a notion could be true, but we must be clear- electing one Black (male) president, after electing 43 White (male) presidents, does not constitute anything that should be considered “post racial”, or post anything for that matter. Veritably, the fact that organizations like the Birthers and the Tea Party are even acknowledged, let alone given credence, speaks quite to the contrary.  It is said that working class whites don’t object to Barack Obama because he is Black, but because he is un-American.

I wonder, from what I have experienced as a Texas girl- often confronted with racism- and an academic, if those two things are able to be separated, if indeed they are viewed as mutually exclusive to most.  In my heart of hearts I believe that, for many, being Black and in a position to lead the nation, to make the decisions necessary to do so, to have audacity and be unyielding, is somehow un-American.  But what exactly is “American”?  Is Rick Perry, in his effort to leave the Union, how we define the American ideal?  I would think that he would be lauded as the most un-American of us all.  As James Baldwin said in his famed speech, A Talk to Teachers , “What is upsetting the country is a sense of its own identity.” Until we are able to admit that we have created faux archetypes of what being “American” is, we fail this nation, ourselves, and whatever legacy we could hope to create for the future. It is unsettling and even painful to admit that the fiber of what has made us is wrought with injustice and immorality.  It is painful, but confronting it is our only hope.

Back to my all American maw maw.  My mother said that she would respond when a new Republican president was elected, “Well sha we just have to tighten our belts, cause you know he don’t mean us no good and its gon’ be hard.”  Joesephine went on to say, according to my mother, “But they don’ tried with all their might to kill us, and we still here, stronger than ever.”  Surviving is indeed the American way.  As I monitor the Perry campaign and attempt to understand the fear that sits at the center of the hate that permeates our elections and lives, I realize that my maw maw was right.  As calamitous as our political experiences have been, from fighting for the vote to fighting for the Black man who has won the vote, we are still standing, and to that I say Amen.


One Response to The politics of being “Un-American”

  1. It seems that being ‘un-American’ is a blanket category used to describe anything unacceptable to these groups. They might say race is not a part of this category but how are we to know when this phrase is bandied about with no real definition.

    October 27, 2010 at 11:47 am

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