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July 30, 2008

Obama's Potential Residence: A White House or Darker Domicile

All of the changes in policy aside, is America ready for the varying differences that will also be visited upon the White House by its possible black residents? If Barack Obama ascends to the presidency and the accompanying benefit of residency in the presidential mansion, the White House, what will be the impact on one of America's most sacred symbols?

How many more ridiculous stereotypes will a so-called Black president have to endure/avoid than other previous presidents? The White House has not been known to have little black children running down its hallways, or never had a preponderance of black folk deep within its inner sanctum! How will the nation respond to the likes of Coltrane, Hyman, Vandross, and Sade possibly resonating throughout the halls of its most hallowed domicile? What will be the reaction if residents and overnight guests are often witnessed fluffing out their Afros in the hallways or having their hair braided on the white house lawn? Am I exaggerating when I say that America’s way of seeing its president and the presidency itself will greatly change if Obama ascends to the position as it would have if Hilary had taken office? McCain in the White House might be different in how he handles his business, but in terms of the social dimensions of this White House under McCain’s administration the house would be no less white! Is that a problem? Why or why not?

Am I making a mountain out of a mole hill, Soul Train out of American Band Stand, the Cosby’s out of Father’s Knows Best when I say the White House is headed for darker days? Does that have to be a bad thing? Seriously, how devastating will it be for the presidential photo gallery to have some racial diversity? Won’t it benefit America to have a leader who looks more like the majority of people in the world at least every now and then? Questions about his ability are moot! Even a fool knows that America would not elect a black presidential candidate if he were incompetent, though as comedian Chris Rock once said, America not long ago did elect a C student. But this disconnect between what America wouldn’t do with a black presidential candidate and what it recently did with our currently sitting president isn’t really symbolic of more profound, if not troubling statements about American hypocrisy, is it? Well, is it?

If the Obamas celebrate Juneteenth will that finally elevate this black celebration to at least a symbolic holiday status? No other president that I know of truly celebrated this holiday. Will it at least provide an additional symbol of the different America underrepresented people often live in, even to the point of significant holidays that some groups share that many others don’t have a clue about (Juneteenth being the celebration of the date that slaves in the deep, Deep South [Galveston, Texas] finally received word [over two years late] that they had been emancipated).

Will Air Force One pick up the nickname Soul Plane? If the Obamas hire an all white staff will this surreal inversion be anymore replete with irony? After all, since presidents have a tendency to appoint political colleagues to pivotal positions, will people recognize the unwarranted scrutiny and hypocrisy leveled against the so-called Black president if the majority of Obama's appointments are as Black as other president's appointments were White!

In the grand scheme of things should any of that even matter? Not really! Unfortunately for many it will! That is why we need this political Jackie Robinson to not only enter the majors, but be successful at that level as Jackie was! Only then will the floodgates be thrown wide open for the other underrepresented individuals that will have to endure the insensitive stereotypes before them until this new reality becomes the rule instead of the exception. Since many black men somehow inspire a certain level of comfort in unfamiliar people assuming familiarity (did someone say privilege), will it be just a matter of time before Obama isn’t seen as Mr. President, but instead as Brother Barack? Maybe that will instill an additional change in the way the presidency is viewed as well as the ensuring actions emanating from within the Oval office. Maybe this president/brother will be our keeper, or a keeper himself!

July 18, 2008

Gendered Games/She said - He said: But is either even listening?

Our infant years of being preassigned color preferences (blue or pink) couldn't have also shaped other choices we would later make, right? Our adolescent years of playing/not playing with dolls couldn't be the reason we think and act so differently, could it? Well, many scholars suggest that some of the reasons why extraordinary humans of differing genders seem to take a liking to one another transcends a biological predisposition to procreation! There has got to be more to it than the occasional acknowledgment that one of us has a high degree of presence (she/he's hot!). Why is it that women and men like, lust, and love so differently?

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I once had an argument with a woman that I still don't quite understand! While we definitely had a difference in opinion, it somehow escalated to an epic emotional exchange! She got upset with me for being condescending when--since she wasn't grasping my point-- I acted surprised before I took another approach to try to make my point! I got upset with her because she was so agitated with me that she continually violated our unwritten rules of engagement and interrupted me over and over again (though I may have been a bit long winded)! Eventually I was so immersed in precisely packaging my points that I couldn't creatively cogitate! Consequently she then decided to overcompensate in an effort to cease interrupting me and went mute. We were then doing our verbal dance in eerie silence, essentially abound in non-verbal vicissitude! Please someone, anyone, tell me I am not alone in being lost in these gendered games!

Yes I am aware of the Mars-Venus rationale. Yes I know that allegedly men are framed as more rational and women more emotional (though our gendered responses to road rage challenge that notion). But what is a person to do when she/he notices this unavoidable pattern of behavior? Do we inform our love interest that he/she is unknowingly conforming to stereotypical gendered behavior? Or do we consider the peril of doing that and in the process possibly manipulating the behavior of our stereotypical acting amour?

I got upset with a woman once because she felt as if I needed to check in with her before I made certain moves, just to keep her in the know! If I didn't call her a certain amount of times a day or take too long (in terms of hours) responding to her efforts to communicate she would either give me some dimension of the silent treatment /pout or just not return my calls for a few days. Ironically she would even get angry at me because I wouldn't get jealous since I am not "usually" the jealous type! She was quite stunning in a variety of ways and had grown accustomed to men in her life exhibiting certain levels of insecurity around losing her. I never felt that way because I was in perpetual disbelief of having even gained her attention! So I almost expected the dream to end! Those of you who have been on different sides of this equation or anything like it, please share your insight. What would you/did you do?

As humans we can frame almost anything we do in the context of a game! It might be more because our competitive urge to succeed rises. However it always feels as if so much more is at stake when we enter the gender games! Is it possible that romantic relationships would be less complex/competitive/contentious if we communicated better? How do we do this?

July 3, 2008

Stripping Independence Down as an Unattainable Dream

As we approach “Independence Day” I marvel at how far we have not come in terms of truly obtaining our so called “independence.” No, I am not talking about the 4th of July celebration, though I could easily go there, as I did this time last year when I posted my 13th topic to the blog titled “A Snapshot of Patriotism and the 4th of July (June 29, 2007). Why just the other day I was telling a friend of mine that two of my buddies were coming to town and we were going to hang out in Montreal, Burlington, and maybe Lake Placid while they were here. The first reaction I received from her was an assumption that we were going to do one thing specifically. She said, “So you guys are going to hang out at strip clubs, huh!”

My friend must not have heard me say Burlington and Lake Placid! Unless I am mistaken, I don’t think either one of them has a strip club. So why would she have automatically thought that one of our destinations would be a strip club? What is it about men (or perhaps me and my boys) hanging out that automatically suggests we will end up at a strip club? Yes, I teach a class called Romance, Sex, Love, and Marriage! Yes, I once wrote a graduate paper titled “Objects in the Mirror are Closer than They Appear,” which was an ethnographic study on objectification and commodification within nude dance settings (I actually had the pleasure of presenting this paper at an academic conference at Oklahoma State University). Yes I think the female body is a thing in which to admire. But none of this necessarily suggests that all my friends are interested in that type of research, or even that I still am. And if I choose to visit a strip club, does that automatically make me a lesser person in some people’s eyes, or a better person in others. It is quite intriguing to me how 60 minutes in a strip club out of 21hours in Montreal across three trips in five days (including 11 hours in the Casino gambling) can be perplexing or the defining moment for some people, many of whom have never even visited Quebec, which is only twenty minutes away from Plattsburgh. Of course, some are also judging the gambling as well. Some would even surmise that both are gambling to varying extents. Then they put out their cigarette, or finish their high cholesterol, highly caloric dessert.

It’s funny, but one of the major loves of my life used to be approached by her friends about my research when I was in the midst of it. Her friends who knew of it but didn’t really know either one of us would exhibit quite a judgmental attitude about me or any other man going into what they obviously deemed a den of inequity. The irony of the situation was that before that research, I had only been in a strip club twice, while my lover and her friends went four to five times a year (even inviting my mother along on numerous occassions) to Chippendales. As a matter of fact, that special woman in my life used to tease me for being a prude in my views about female sexuality and self determination. I did have a one dimensional interpretation of the reasons people strip to their underwear or less for money. But like most people, until I started “talking” with the people who had chosen that lifestyle, temporarily or permanently, I knew as much about them and the culture they were a part of as someone knows about the culture of someone of a different race from outside the race.

Comedian Chris Rock once said that his sole purpose in life was to make sure his daughter stayed off the pole! Is there something different going on, in terms of societal interpretations, when a man vs. a woman decides to enter an erotic, tantalizing, titillating space? At what point will we achieve any type of independence if we stand outside of relationships not knowing the agreed upon “rules of engagement” of the couples we are critiquing, and judge those relationships by a criteria to which we adhere? And yes, I know that once upon a time women had less choices. I also understand that today the choices are often not necessarily made without societal coercion. But this is quite a complicated topic that we need to strip bare (okay, maybe I could have gone without that bit of wit)!

Oh, and before I leave this subject, perhaps some of you could also enlighten me as to why a U.S. Customs’ guard four years ago would insist that my two friends and I, along with a student of mine, had to be reentering the country after a foray at an infamous strip club north of Rouses Point? We were crossing at Overton Corners (the border crossing between Champlain and Rouses Point) to avoid the potential traffic at the more congested Champlain crossing. When my two friends (both educators doing major things in the academy), the student and I answered the question that we had just come from Montreal and the Casino, the guard asked me “Are you sure you aren’t coming from the strip club above Rouses Point? One last thing, the student and my two friends were Black, the guard was White? I would like to think that doesn’t make a difference. What do you think?

Will we ever be truly independent of projecting onto others our baggage? Or, are we slaves to a reality that simply locks us into one dimensional perspectives on other’s behavior?