Thursday, May 28, 2009

Why am I still angry?

President Obama must’ve read my blog last month – I challenged him to not just pick a woman or a person of color for the Supreme Court but to go out on a limb and select a woman of color. And by golly, he did it. In Sonia Sotomayor we have the potential for the nation’s first Hispanic – and the third woman – Supreme Court justice of the United States.

The excitement that I felt – was quickly followed by a sudden sense of surrealism -WHERE ARE WE? Is this the same America that handed George Bush the presidency and suppressed countless voters? It’s amazing how far we come.

I was reflecting on this with two of my colleagues and friends from the League of Young Voters, formerly known as the League of Pissed Off Voters - a hot organization that’s been channeling the anger from youth in urban communities to effect change since 2003. It was their anger that propelled them to register thousands of young people to vote and achieve countless local victories in communities across the country. But what about now?

With as much positive change as we’ve seen in recent months, are we still pissed off voters? Should we be? And if we lose our anger, how active will we be? What happens when we no longer have the “enemy” – the clear cut opposition with a face and a name?

That line of thought drew me to the following realization: The enemy is not, and never has been, Republicans – a party, a Senator, a Rep., or a presidential candidate. It’s not the media, it’s not the police, and it’s not even a specific piece of legislation.

Those may very often be the targets of my anger, but they are never the cause. The cause of anger – of righteous, burning, passionate anger – is inequality, injustice, hunger, poverty, - the intangible wrongs that permeate the same communities year after year.

And so even in the midst of my joy and support and disbelief and utter pleasure at the swinging of the political pendulum back to the side of the people, I will remain angry as long as tragic health, education and economic disparities exist. As long as I can’t find fresh produce and clean parks between all of the liquor stores and check cashing places in certain neighborhoods. As long as little black boys remain the most socially isolated and disparaged children in America’s education system. As long as jails are overcrowded while schools are being shut down.

I have to have enough skepticism to keep searching for the answers, and uncovering the lies, and shedding light on the corruption, and just enough optimism to encourage young people to run for office, and believe that there are people in my generation that can be the change that we want to see in the world.

So yeah – I think I’ll stay a little bit pissed. It makes for a better world.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Torture Apologist Invaded My Body...?

So last Friday I got a call from to come and do a quick segment on Pelosi and the CIA, with a short pivot to Obama’s announcement about military tribunals. Kind of random (since I don’t work on any of the above issues), but couldn’t be too difficult, right?


Despite my quick prepping on CAP’s stance on the two issues, and all of my learned experience doing 30 second sound-bite punditry, I still somehow managed to bring down my entire organization, excuse George Bush for war crimes, and overall destroy liberal politics as we know them. Well, maybe it wasn’t that dramatic, but it was still pretty bad.

When the conversation veered slightly off topic and turned into a  yelling match about torture between two other bloggers, making it difficult for me to jump in, my talking point about “moving forward and taking the American people’s attention off Obama’s ambitious legislative agenda” (which I intended to say only in reference to the Pelosi/CIA who-dunnit) somehow came out as the following –

The American people right now are actually not interested in this sideshow and this discussion.  The American people are interested in looking forward -- nobody is concerned anymore with what the Bush administration was doing and did.  We decided it was torture.  Conservatives may or may not disagree. None of that matters at this point and time.

What the heck did I just say? Dear God – A TORTURE APOLOGIST TOOK OVER MY BODY. 

Looking back at the quote, I’m honestly not sure how I could have said something so wholly inaccurate and misrepresenting of my own personal opinion and the work of my organization and “the American people”.  Me? A black woman who proudly wears her “Where are my reparations T-shirt” every Black History Month? Would I really suggest that America look away from and excuse its very recent and inhumane past? I think not. And yet, it appears as if I did. 

In fact, the argument that she used  (and yes, I’m now referring to the person using my mouth to speak as “she”) was straight out of the conservative playbook.  Misspeaking has never hurt so much and 10 minute segments split between 4 people and 2 anchors don't leave much opportunity for on-air self-correction. All I could do was log off and hope that nobody was watching.....

Ummm...nope. Not that lucky. 

Since then, progressive bloggers and several viewers have pointedly taken me to task on the quote – and rightly so….if it had been me. But it wasn’t. It was the renegade spirit of a wingnut. 

As I spend the next 3 days restraining from all political commentary and confessing my liberal sin I ask for forgiveness from my fellow progressive bloggers and the millions (well, 8 to be exact) of Americans that have emailed me upset about my mischaracterization of American public opinion and my own. I am sincerely sorry. 

And rest assured that if the torture apologist ever rears her ugly head around these parts again, aiming to trip up my words, I'll make sure to get rid of her swiftly and surely - especially before appearing on national tv. 

Live From the People's House

(originally published on 5/14/09)

I had the
pleasure of attending the White House poetry jam on Tuesday night, and am still smiling. The event officially titled “An evening of poetry, music, and the spoken word”, brought together a diverse group of performers from all parts of the country for an intimate gathering filled with drinks, hors d’oeuvres, piano, bass, hip-hop and Shakespeare. From James Earl Jones to two young college slam champions, the performances were young, fresh, and surprisingly cultural. Many of the artists’ pieces celebrated their backgrounds, their ancestors, their unique life experiences, and the role that culture and identity have had in shaping them.

The next morning as I scoured through the news coverage of the event, I looked, hoping that one of the dozen or so stories would highlight the most important element of the evening. No luck. I found details of the performances, the food, the location, the attire, but the one most defining, perhaps indescribable element of the evening that few news outlets have covered was the atmosphere. The White House felt like home. A house more gilded and historical and bejeweled than any I have ever lived in, but a comforting, welcoming, beautiful, and kinetic, home just the same. And it was a home that felt like many neighborhoods in urban America – diverse, loud, filled with laughter and love.

As I walked through security a woman in front of me was pulling out her ID and said, “I’m so nervous!”. The security guard smiled and said “Why? This is the people’s house. Your house.”. I knew right then and there that this was going to be an experience unlike any other. And the event did not disappoint.
To sit in a room full of artists spitting fierce lines to people with afros dancing next to people speaking Spanish next to a group of hearing impaired guests excitedly signing to one another next to Angie Martinez waving at the first daughters next to Spike Lee and his lovely wife sitting at the same candlelit table as Joe and Jill Biden while Saul Williams and Hill Harper chatted with George Stephanopolis was a dream – live and in many, many, colors.

As the event drew to a close and I waited for my high heeled feet to stop throbbing before I began the walk home, I took a rest in the East Room and sat on an ornate bench near a friendly older woman with a thick Spanish accent. She was the mother of one of the spoken word performers. She turned to me, shaking her head and smiling from ear to ear, and said very simply: “My daughter in the White House. Who would have thought?” I looked around at the sea of young black and brown faces and said back to her “Certainly not me.” And I’m so lucky to have been a part of it.

Can't America's Judge Judy Be Black?

(originally published on 5/7/09)

With Justice Souter announcing his pending retirement from the Supreme Court, heavy speculation as to who President Obama will pick as his replacement has begun in full force. Already, women’s groups and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the only female judge on the 9-member court, have spoken out very openly about the need for another woman on the court.  Women everywhere are demanding that he use his choice to appoint a woman, and conventional wisdom seems to suggest that he will.

But have people forgotten that Clarence Thomas is the only person of color on the court? Should there not be some sort of representational parity there as well?

 I mentioned this to a friend the other day and he immediately responded back with the question “If you had to pick, which do you prefer? A woman or a person of color on the Supreme Court?”

 And there’s the problem.

Not only am I am once again having to “choose between my gender and my race” in society’s eyes (flashback Barack vs. Hillary) but  I am supposed to value one identity over the other.  is it more meaningful to have someone represent my concerns as  a person of color or as a woman on our nation’s highest court? Knowing our nation’s history, both are of supreme importance.

But people seem to forget – we carry multiple identities. The idea that I am always forced to choose says that not only to people not understand or respect my full identity, but it also means that someone like me – a black or brown woman – is almost never one of the options.  News flash: there are more people in this world than black men and white women.

What about the idea that I shouldn’t have to choose – that the Supreme Court and other high offices should have candidates that break traditional gender and racial categorization but instead represent a portion of America that rarely has strong role models in positions of power: women of color (and no, Oprah isn’t enough).

So here’s hoping that Barack Obama does the unthinkable with his one slot and appoints someone to the Supreme Court that adds not only gender or racial diversity in appearance, but also in the unique life experience that black and brown women across the world, and particularly in America, share. 

What He Should Say the Morning After

(originally published on 4/30/09)

I woke up this morning wondering if he remembers what he said to me last night...and more importantly, if he meant it.

Don’t worry - I’m not talking about some inappropriate, personal encounter. I’m talking about President Obama. I went to bed last night with his press conference on my mind and woke up to the fact that today is the first day after the first 100 days.

Now that the arbitrary time marker has passed, what is it that we want President Obama to whisper in the American ear to  give us confidence that the path he has set us on will be filled with the effective follow through and implementation of the foundation that he has been laying since January 20th?  What can he say to us now?

1. “I won’t back down.”
With the House and Senate both having passed the President’s unprecedented, budget just yesterday, many of the fights around the most important issues within it (i.e. a public option universal health care system and a Pell grant entitlement program) will continue into the summer. As the President’s proposals become increasingly bogged down between partisan bickering in Congress, those of us that support the most progressive aspects of his agenda, must be assured that he will not allow the spirit of compromise and pragmatism to water down his most ambitious goals  in the months ahead.

2.  “I’m not afraid. “
We have watched President Obama play the game like a pro – saying what he needed to say when he needed to say it and never going too far. But now we’re looking for him to say a little bit more. When is he going to stop talking about the middle class and start actually talking about poverty? When does he plan on touching the issue of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell? And need I ask again about crack/powder cocaine? How about looking big industry in the face and attacking the myth of clean coal? It’s time for him tell us firmly that he’s not afraid to take it there. 

3. “I still need you.” 
The President must continually remind the country of its own role in the process of turning our country around. Progressives – especially new young voters – are actively engaging in the civic and legislative processes and will continue to – especially if we feel as if our voices are valued and are being heard. We need the President to create an echo chamber between us and Congress that amplifies our effort and our stories. He must always remember that to get the work done, he need us just as much as we need him. 

This is what I need to hear on day 101. What about you?

Why We Hate Black Republicans

(originally posted on 4/23/09)

Let’s be honest – Carlton from the Fresh Prince was the only black Republican that ever won our hearts. Michael Steele, Clarence Thomas, Don King… There’s something about black Republicans that just gets under black liberals’ skin. Especially now. Show me a black man that didn’t vote for Barack Obama and I’ll show you a million more that are angry with him. But why is it? It can’t be a purely political dislike for conservatives because there are many African Americans that are just as conservative on social issues – particularly those with even loose ties to a religious community. And its certainly not a historical legacy, because Lincoln was Republican and, based on his policy record alone, Nixon was a more progressive president than Bill Clinton. 

So why do we assume black Republicans are sellouts that have some element of self hate? And why do we respond so harshly their opinions?

The legacy of slavery in America tells us that if we’re not all together, we’ll never be free and that “them” being “over there” hurts “us” “over here”.  Especially when “over there” is considered the big house”of American politics – the part with more economic clout, and, as of late, governing power. And if the Republican party is the house, the Democratic party is the field. Self-preservation tells us that we’ll never get out of the field, while some of us are still in the big house.

There is, of course, some truth to the idea that a group divided is never as strong as a group united…but that is assuming that the group has one common goal. And we don’t. No one does. But political ideologies clearly aren’t our greatest divide in the black community, so our anger is sorely misguided.

Class, educational background, age and generational identification, sexual orientation, religion, immigration status, are just a few of the frameworks that have set up cultural divides within the black community. We can’t even agree on the light skin vs. dark skinned issue, let alone a political philosophy.

Black Republicans are not the problem. The key isn’t to persuade, recruit, or attack those on the “opposite side”. Our task is instead to better mobilize the people who do share our goals to win victories for social justice. Period. The problem isn’t the people in the big house – it’s the people in the field not willing to run. If we actually got all the progressives together to exercise their power, we wouldn’t have time to hate on black Republicans. We’d be too busy loving ourselves.