Posted by: Naamen Gobert Tilahun
See when I admit that I support Obama, people (mostly white) get this look on their face and that’s the end the conversation. They don’t ask why, they don’t start a dialogue, there’s just this look. The look is very much like a slap in the face. What the look says is “Ah, I knew you would”, “Of Course.”, “Well, I’m not surprised.”. The look rests on the assumption that as a black man of course I would be voting for the black man. It’s a racist assumption that insults not only myself but Obama as well. When we deconstruct the look there are two main attacks that are happening here.
Number one they are assuming that Obama has nothing to offer except being a black man, they are assuming that none of his politics matter that his only viability as a candidate stems from his race.
Which makes me question why they themselves voted for Clinton or Bush or Gore or Perot or any number of white men that have run for/been elected president for as long as this country has been in existence? Were they only viable candidates because they were white men? The obvious answer to me is an undeniable yes, race has always played a part in the viability of presidential candidacies even if that role was simply the absence of any People of Color. I wouldn’t mind the look as much if it allowed for the look giver to have that bit of introspection into their own history, all too often though the path to realization is protected by a sticky coat of privilege. The look they are so ready to give me, the belief that they know me and my politics by simple virtue of my skin well most aren’t so good at turning that gaze on themselves.
Number two, and much more personal to me, they are assuming I’m ignorant. They think that I don’t have the capacity to research issues, listen to the speeches and evaluate a candidate without race being a factor. They assume that I don’t have enough character or social consciousness to look at all the candidates and decide who is the best candidate for me personally as well as politically.
The flipside of this is that if I was supporting any candidate but Obama, which I did until about a month ago (Kucinich, and if he hadn’t dropped out and I hadn’t seen the dropout coming I would still be supporting him), I would get the other end of the look. Traitor. That I was betraying black people by voicing my support of (for our purposes let’s say) Hilary. The assumptions were the same except that in this instance I was cast into the role of “self-hating black man” the idea that I would only be supporting Hilary because I didn’t want to support Obama. It makes the same assumptions about Hilary and about myself, that I’m incapable of making an informed political decision and that Hilary is only useful as a tool of my self-hatred.
Because of this Women of Color and Black Women especially hold a particularly unenviable position in this primary. Not only are they the center of debate without being allowed a voice on the situation, but white feminists (white pundits and male POC pundits as well) such as Gloria Steinem have taken to speaking for/at them. Being the source of such scrutiny they are hard pressed to publicly voice a candidate without “betraying” someone and drawing fire from some corner. I’d say more but I don’t want this to be me talking for Women of Color, there are plenty of posts on this subject all over the Internet from Women of Color. Do some research.
The war of “race vs. gender” has hovered around the democratic party since the announcements of candidacy, sometimes even brought up by the candidates themselves. It’s a war I don’t want any part in because I don’t believe in rating or ranking oppressions, all oppression is horrible and also it ignores the intersecting identities of millions of people. Going back to the look, it assumes my part in this bullshit war of oppression where we turn on each other instead of uniting. Because it assumes that my decision making process was: black over woman. The essentially mocks my choice, my decision making ability, my intelligence in one fell swoop of your privilege.
So this a political entry but it’s also a rant against all of the people out there who have given other POC that look, who intend to give POC that look or those who have schooled their faces but still think it.
To Them: That look is not only racist the motivation behind the look is stupid because the truth is you don’t know me, you don’t know why I’ve chosen to support Obama (or Hilary, or Edwards or…). Unless I’ve chosen to talk to you in depth, you don’t know anything about me. The look demeans us both and at the end of it, you don’t know my reasons and I just think you’re an asshole.
Postscript: This could just as easily be about a woman supporting Hilary and the similar looks they receive. Even though this post isn’t about that I want to acknowledge the truth there.
Naamen Gobert Tilahun is a creative writer and blogger. You can visit him at Words From The Center, Words From The Edge, where he discusses writing, science-fiction, movies, and more.