Sunday, January 25, 2009

Everything's gonna be alright

I have to apologize for some negativity. After the elation of Obama's election, I was disheartened by some of his appointments, but maybe I was so inspired by the inauguration. What a beautiful man, and what a beautiful moment for this great country. I always kind of knew in the back of my mind that America would come through, although, as Churchill said, after they had tried everything else. The more I live in this country, the more I see racial shadings to almost everything that happens here. And they are much more complex that simple racism. And I am constantly amazed by what people will go through to try to save face. There are many reasons Obama won. After Bush, I figured that any democrat would be a shoe-in, but there was the nomination. People talked about the whatever-effect, you know, the African American candidate, I believe it was for mayor of L.A. who polled well but lost the election because white people either couldn't bring themselves to follow through when in the booth, or because they were embarassed to say what they really thought to pollsters. Of course, we were all scared that the election would be stolen as in 2000 and 2004. I think Katrina was the watershed moment in public distaste for Bush and all he and his era represented. To my mind it felt more tragic than 9/11. More people were killed on 9/11, but we did everything we could to help. Katrina was a tragedy of blatant disregard for the lives of poor people of color. I think it cast a mirror on the ugliest and most hidden racisms that were both institutional and personal in America. And I think that America didn't like what they saw and started coming around. And I think that elections have a bizarre way of expressing a collective unconscious, of communicating things that are difficult to articulate collectively. Obama is an incredible man, a poet, a statesman, a strategist, a man of faith. We have been assuming that his one-in-a-million qualities enabled him to overcome the racial biases of white voters. Can we interpret his election and his unprecended popularity as our collectively subconscious response to Katrina, and all of the ugly racism that led up to it. Electing Obama does not atone for atrocities committed against African-Americans since the 17th century, but it does represent something very hopeful. When Barack talks about the "unlikely story that is America," race is the undercurrent, the backstory, the hidden plot behind everything else. Like many great stories, this one has had its harrowing moments; the last 8 years stands out, but ultimately it looks very hopeful. I wish there could be an Obama for Israel, Russia, Africa, Iran.

Another item came up regarding race, this one having more to do with people of northern european descent. I was reading an article about white people being ashamed of their bodies. This is nothing new, but maybe something not explored sufficiently. White Americans hate their bodies. If you read fashion magazines, they have many articles describing how to hide or distort different parts of the body. Eating disorders are the ultimate body hating concept, trying to make the body disappear. We don't like like the body to have any shape or any features that protrude, buttocks, hips, breasts, nose, ears. Whenever the subject of singing or dancing come up, we are at pains to point out how awful we are at both, or how we are not professionals at either. I was listening to "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" this morning, and I found that most jokes were deprecating some physical aspect of white people. We basically don't sing, dance, dress up, or do anything that involves sharing our physicality with others. I know this goes back to the puritans, etc., but I have found this tendency growing geometrically since the 1980s. The article alluded to pointed out how African-American and hispanic-Americans are much more comfortable with their bodies, and more willing to show them off. Disparaging comments were made on "Wait Wait" about Aretha's hat, and Michelle's dress. It seemed like these white people were unable to relate to adornment in any kind of positive way. Critique was the only mode of discourse. There was Aretha, certainly over 300 lbs., pretty old by now. Her features were never classically pretty. Yet, how can you critique anything she does. It's not really possible. She's fascinating and beautiful and an artist, powerful and expressive, and wonderful to look at, listen to, and watch. Objectively the bow on her hat was absurdly large, but who cares.
There's too much picking apart, analyzing, not enough holistic experience, of process, of living. People should do a lot more singing, dancing, dressing up for each other, and less critiquing. We should start to enjoy our bodies, instead of trying to figure out how to hide, punish, or get rid of them. After all, we are in God's image.