Monday, August 25, 2008

Politics and race: Why the Boston Globe sucks, part nine million and seventy-three

So this morning in the hack-tastic Boston Globe we read this:

One convention priority, according to strategists, will be to recast Obama's life story to serve as a rejoinder to rumors about his patriotism and religion that have preyed on his exotic origins. Those worldly immigrant roots figured prominently in his 2004 speech, but many Democrats say that this year he should put greater emphasis on biographical elements that highlight elements of middle-class, all-Americanness.
Which just proves my point about how much the Globe (and the corporate media in general) sucks. What I want to know is, when will people finally wise up to the immense stupidity of the right-wing canard that anyone with "worldly immigrant roots" isn't really an American? I hate to break it to the Globe, but pretty much everyone in the entire country came from immigrant roots. Maybe your parents and your grandparents and your great-grandparents were born on U.S. soil, but chances are your great-great-grandparents were born somewhere else. Interesting too how those of northern European descent get a pass on this criticism. If your forebears came to the U.S. from Germany or some similarly lily-white place, all of a sudden you're not so exotic.

My ancestors, in the relatively recent past, spent all day working in the broiling Sicilian sun and probably had darker skin than Barack Obama. Am I, as an Italian-American whose American-born roots only stretch back as far as my own parents (my grandparents were born on Italian soil) "exotic" too? What is my daughter, with her mix of Asian and European genes? Mighty "exotic," I'd wager, at least according to the nearsighted fools who pass for professional journalists these days.

At the end of the day, isn't this simply racism? "Exotic origins" my ass--Obama was born in Hawaii, which, the last time I checked, was part of the United States. But, you know, a bunch of swarthy-looking types live there, or so the "low-information voter" types the Globe is evidently written for seem to believe, so Hawaii is somehow suspect. Not only that, but half Obama's background is lily-whitey-white, which interestingly never seems to come up in absurd news stories like this one. His mother's maiden name was "Dunham." Doesn't get much whiter than that. But the Kenyan father cancels out the WASP portion of Obama's backround in the nearly fact-free corporate media narrative about his life.

Which also brings up another point, which is how absurd it is to parse these racial details to such an extent. I've said it before and I'll say it again: you go far enough back in your own history, you'll find all kinds of colors, races and religions. Anyone who thinks "Well, we're Irish Catholic today, we were in my grandparents' time, and we always have been" chances are is speaking in blissful ignorance of some long-ago dalliance between a forebear and some dark-skinned slave girl.

If this country is ever going to move forward, we're going to have to get over our juvenile obsession with race (which I know sounds like an enormous cliche, but it's still true). When I was home on maternity leave with the Peanut, I stumbled across a snippet of an old movie on TV that was amazingly eye-opening. Here I was having recently given birth to a baby with a perfect mix of Asian and European features, and across my TV screen flashed a scene of pandemonium in a hospital maternity ward. The dialogue-free scene showed three new mothers--white, black and Asian--each being handed a baby wrapped tightly in blankets. One after the other they unwrapped the bundles to find a baby of a different race! The white mother held an Asian baby, the Asian mother held a black baby, the black mother held a white baby. Against a backdrop of music appropriate for a light comedy, they rang their bedside alarm bells and gesticulated wildly, calling for help.

The movie appeared to date from about the early 1960s, but as we can see from the kind of bullshit being spewed in our "mainstream" press these days, this attitude of rigid racial divisions still prevails. I had to laugh as I sat in my living room, clothing covered in spit-up, breast-pump at my side, piles of unfolded laundry everywhere, and thought about my own situation and that of my new multiracial baby. In a movie produced not even a decade before I was born, the idea of a multiracial couple was preposterous, obscene. But it was my life in 2004. I'm far from the only one. There's a kid we see on our local playground from time to time whose hair is light brown and her perfectly Asian-shaped eyes are grayish blue. "Exotic" in some ways perhaps, but thankfully ordinary enough, at least in our neck of the woods.

How silly our corporate media is going to look when America looks beyond the media's tired old stereotypes to elect its first multiracial president. It's a moment I hope the Peanut will look back on fondly as she grows up.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

As bad as the globe is, it's better than the idiots on TV in boston...

Overmatter said...

It might be more accurate, and wiser, in fairness, for the party to consider not "All-Americaness" (which I took ironically when I read that, and really hoped he meant it ironically -- didn't occur to me that he didn't until I read your post) but rather "Middle-Americaness." Historically the coast-ist party (and me too, really) has been out of touch with any state that doesn't touch an ocean or a vineyard, and that has hurt us.

Also, I'm still pissed at the DNC for taking my donation and using it to send a plea for more donations to "Ms. Carmen Nubile."

elsquid said...

Hey there.

While I obviously agree with your views on race and ethnicity in general, and I don't have enough experience with the non-sports sections of the Globe to evaluate it, I respectfully submit that you're being a little too hard on the paper here and not hard enough on the Democratic Party and the great American ill-think-erate.

Yes, the article should have said something like "perceived as exotic" or put exotic in quotes, because that word has been recognized as inherently suspect when describing anything but hardwoods or invasive insect species. I'm with ya there.

And I'd like to see the Globe's editorial board and columnists opine, as you did, that we, and political parties, need to stop pandering and obsessing over race (and lots of other things).

But I'm betting they already have, lotsa times. And anyway, that's a separate piece of writing from the hard news story you are criticizing, as of course you know.

Most the ire this article arouses in me stems from the fact that it is, as far as I can tell, generally true: that the avowedly inclusive Democratic Party is trying to make Bam more whitebread for the general election.

That would seem to call for criticism of the party, not of the article, the mainstream media, or whatever other messenger you kill.

And hey, I get that media can frame a question such that those low-information voters are led astray.

But this isn't a story about Obama's nomination headlined "Dems Pick Some Exotic Black Guy." It's a story about the fact, and it is a fact, that the party is committing the offense you rightly decry.

The article describes features of O's bio and heritage that shouldn't be thought of as less-than-American, but it does so precisely because some of our people seem to think they should, and because the Party of Inclusion seems willing to humor them.

You should be WAAAAAAAAAY madder at the party and those people than you seem to be at the Globe.

P.S. It just occurred to me what the Globe REALLY needs: you.

Fraulein said...

I guess the main reason I've been angry at the Democrats is that for the most part I don't think they've been aggressive enough in defining the disaster of the Bush years. I haven't specifically noticed either the party or the campaign trying to make Obama seem more "white bread" (for lack of a better term) but I may not have been paying attention. It's entirely possible that they're doing that to avoid pissing off the crazies. Which certainly would be ridiculous since Obama obviously doesn't have much of a shot at the racist vote.

What irritates me about the Globe is how, in its news coverage, it is so quick to parrot right-wing talking points. They're so afraid of being tagged as part of this mythical "left-wing media" that they consistently go overboard in the other direction and it drives me CRAZY.

Several millenia ago when elsquid and I worked at the same north Jersey daily newspaper, I vividly recall our editors making it clear that our reporting had to be substantive. We had to do actual ANALYSIS or otherwise we weren't doing our jobs. This was in covering such earth-shaking things as school board elections. Yet the country's most major media outlets, including the Globe, think nothing of basing entire stories on this "he said, she said" formula that tells the readers exactly squat. The idea that they can do this today, with all the resources at their disposal for doing actual investigative reporting, boggles the mind and this is why I get so pissed at the Globe.

But overall interesting theory re: the campaign and Obama. I'll have to keep an eye out for that.