Will the Black woman who was removed from Claire McCaskill’s town hall meeting on health care get a “beer summit” at the White House? Turns out she was reacting after a white woman snatched a poster of Rosa Parks out of her hand. The white woman then ripped up the poster. After the Black woman reacted, she was quickly removed from the town hall meeting. According to MSNBC, the white woman was not. McCaskill tries to explain what happened to the crowd, but quickly aborts that attempt as boos erupt from the audience.
Here’s the video–notice the freeze frame of the “angry Black woman.”
I came across this cartoon while reading the New York Times’ Week in Review this morning.
Cartoon by Steve Kelley The Times-Picayune
This cartoon put me into a momentary rage for a number of reasons.
First of all, Wanda Sykes was just down-right funny at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner.
Secondly, I am tired of the silent conversation we are having about race, class, gender and Michelle Obama. I’ve been traveling a good deal lately and have overheard more than my fair share of these conversations in cramped airplanes and somewhat less cramped airport bars. They go a little something like this: “…and how about that Michelle Obama. She is just so (a pause to search for the right word)…classy.”
Now, I’m a big Michelle Obama fan too. I love her style and her arms. But I don’t love how the the word “classy” is silently standing in for a a host of other words often used to describe the type of Black woman that Michelle Obama is not i.e. the term used with alarming frequency at the moment: ghetto. In short, Michelle Obama is not a “ghetto chick” (or any other equally derogatory term used to describe poor, Black women) and that’s why so many ladies (and men) –white and Black–love her.
It is the casual illustration of this hierarchy of Black femininity that put me into my momentary rage. Sykes is a comedian. Her jokes, like those of Stephen Colbert, who provided an expert performance at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner during the Bush Administration years, are open to criticism. But to say that she has no class is to critique her performance as a particular type of Black woman. To dismiss her in this way is to say that the loud, aggressive, (lesbian) Sykes is somehow less of a respectable woman than the reserved, resilient, and appropriately ladylike Michelle Obama. It is to say that Michelle Obama is “good” and Wanda Sykes is “ghetto.”
And that is not funny at all.
Two words: Wanda Sykes.
If you haven’t seen Wanda Sykes at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner take a moment and check it out. The only disappointment: no riffs on Obama’s weak public stance on gay marriage.
So far in Week 1, Obama has announced plans to close Gitmo, declared he will dismantle the system of American secret prisons abroad, and has rolled back the global gag rule. Had I been able to pen Obama’s first-week To Do list myself, these three things would have been pretty close to the top of the list.
As I watched the decisions unfold this week, I realized that my life on the Left has made me virtually unprepared for this sort of success. I supported Bill Clinton, and he gave us Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the Welfare-to-Work programme. I supported Hillary and watched her get more and more hawkish as she tried to prove she was a tough as the boys. My whole adult life, I’ve been told by the mainstream radical Left (if I can be forgiven the seeming contradiction in terms) that the American political process was fundamentally bankrupt and that there was no significant difference between Democrats and Republicans. I never believed it so much that I voted for Nader, but I believed it enough to cast my votes for Gore et al wearily and warily.
Now it seems that the American democratic process has actually produced something very like…a difference. People seemed to want to take a new direction, and they seemed to see that new direction in Barack Obama–both because of his policies and because by electing a black man America offered itself, and the world, a dramatic symbol of America’s ability to transform and progress. And then, in his first week in office, Obama actually went and did different things from what your average Democrat, much less your average Republican, would have done. Things, moreover, that he had promised to do.
As I’ve watched myself struggle to take in this unprecedented series of events, I’ve realized that it’s not just the pessimism build from years of Democratic betrayal that has made it so difficult to take this on board. It’s also a certain Left-academic habit of mind which reacts to every seeming victory by looking for the underlying defeat. Don’t get me wrong: this kind of critical thinking is an indispensable political tool. We do need to remember how quickly conservative forces recoup movements to the Left for their own purposes–as when the 1960s radical rhetoric of empowerment was transformed into a means of arguing that welfare only increased ‘dependency’ among the poor. But when that is our only approach to events, we find ourselves baffled by an actual, straightforward victory. Of course Obama is going to make mistakes and make political decisions that genuine progressives, of which he is still not one, find reprehensible. But apparently he is also going to make some decisions that we can endorse wholeheartedly–provided we can figure out how.