Saturday, March 22, 2008

Throw Grandma from the train

What is UP with all the right-wingers pouncing on Obama's race speech by saying he threw his white granny under the desegregated bus? Check out this post on Media Matters about Fixed News anchor Chris Wallace himself getting PO'd about how Fox & Friends were snarking on and on about it.

I had flipped by Faux News the night after the speech and saw Hannity going off about that very point but I didn't think it was going to be the nail on which the right-wingers would hang their argument. And then I saw Ann Coulter using the same argument in her weekly column and realized it was going somewhere.

On the night of the speech I was watching Olbermann and was absolutely spellbound at the way he, also, fixated on that point because he was able to relate to it so well. He told this rather touching tale of hearing his grandfather complain about Hawaii 5-0 getting interrupted over "some (insert racial epithet here) getting shot" (MLK) and realizing that even though he loved his grandfather, he'd never be able to trust him fully, that even discussions about who the greatest baseball players would from then on be tainted.

I think I owe ER somewhat of an apology over my dismissal of personal confession in race. While I don't believe that Obama is calling us to confess our personal race sins and focus totally on our personal feelings and responsibilities, it suddenly hit me today what role confession serves. Used wisely, it's a personal reflection that helps you sift through what's helpful and hurtful in your life. It's SELF-reflection, which is quickly becoming a sadly lost art in our world, one that needs reviving. Personal confession/self-reflection allows us to think critically about the things we think about, about the things that we take in and shape us, and determine whether they benefit or harm us.

In the people who are attaching Obama for his confession about his grandmother -- which is as much a self-reflective act for him as it would be for grandma, since trust me, there's pain in understanding that someone you love is being hateful toward other people who have traits similar to yours -- I sense a lack of self-reflection or even just reflection about what goes on in their heads and around them. This is reaction to something they find upsetting, with no excavation to discover why they're upset.

So many people who fixated on Obama's line about his grandma -- and I'm one of them -- were transported with that sentence back to the moments in their lives where they realized the dark side of their beloved's humanity, decided to keep loving them anyway but knew that a shadow would always hang over their relationship. Or they realized this about themselves.

Here's my confession. My mother hates nearly everything about the way I look that indicates that I'm Asian. She, like Obama's grandmama, also said things about nonwhites, especially African Americans, that made me hurt. She threatened us girls once we reached our teen years with the dire prediction that our names would be sullied if we ever dated anyone who wasn't lily-white, and threatened to disown us if we ever did.

Years later, after dating a succession of men of a variety of ancestry because I knew my mom was wrong about the race thing, I saw a white woman walking hand-in-hand with a black man and still thought, "You'd think she could find someone better than that." And was immediately horrified by my own thought and what it meant, which seemed to come out of nowhere but obviously was down there close to my heart.

Here's my biggest sin: While I tend to regard most people warily, I especially do not trust white people who profess color-blindness, who ask me where I'm REALLY from, who use racial slurs in my presence and then apologize by saying, "I forgot because you're not really Asian." Deep in my heart, I really don't think they get the race issue and maybe never will, and I'd almost prefer to let them go.

I wrassle all these down on various occasions. I especially need to wrassle down that last one if I'm really committed to building bridges and dialogue. It's ugly, but OK. Time to take a bite and swallow it down. Better than choking on it.

I realize that if we don't think about racism, we don't recognize it when we see it in the wild or in our own houses. (And we all have, no one's unblemished enough to throw that stone.) Our loved ones are racist or we're racist, and we say nothing because we either didn't notice or didn't want to think badly about us/them so we just didn't think about it, fiddle-dee-dee. Because it's true -- once we realize something like this in someone we love, even ourselves, things are never quite the same. But then, we don't have to stop loving someone even though we don't agree with them 100 percent. That's mature love. It's like costly grace, hurts and it don't come cheap, but you treasure it more.

So, ER, you were right about the personal.

Now, on to other things ...

I saw Horton Hears a Who today, and it's fantastic. Forget all the yahoos who think that Dr. Seuss was writing an anti-abortion parable; that's the shallowest interpretation -- and very much taken out of context -- of what "A person's a person no matter how small" means. This story is a classic Hero Quest, following the myth story so perfectly and so well that you can almost attach any meaning to it and it'll come out. For me, I thought it was one of the nicest allegories for God I'd ever seen. I like the idea that God is all-powerful and all-loving, yet evil exists, why? Because God's also kind of bumbling, too, and a little distracted.

And oh holy shit, back to race: Look at this crap that's going around the Internets. Beware if this lands in your inbox.

Better stuff on race: Check out PBS' Religion & Ethics weekly page about The Speech:

(Obama) represents a post-racial approach to engaging difference and oppression. But again looking forward in a hopeful fashion ... a focus on what we have in common as Americans. Again, Dr. King did that. JFK did that. Obama has much of that appeal. And I hope that we can take his invitation to move forward. It has to be multi-racial, it has to be interfaith. And it has to start with what we have in common as the children of God.

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