Friday, February 9, 2007

Race, Obama, and the Oppressive White Man

The other night at a poet's gathering I encountered the wrath of another poet for comments that I felt were banal but were not taken that way. The final response to the dialogue was that responding to me was a way to stick it to the "white man". In otherwords because of my skin color I am an oppressor.....

Barack Obama, who I support for president by the way, has also been questioned for his race. In an almost reverse of Jim Crow it is now assumed that anyone who does not fit into a simple oppressed class category is not legitimate. So you have Laura Washington in the Sun Times questioning whether Obama is 'really' black since his family is not descended from African slaves.

These flaccid categories ignore the realities of class as the primary form of oppression in our world. I lived for many years in Latin America where the sense of race is much different. It is true that the whiter you are in this world usually the more priviliged you are but it is more than race. In Latin America race is important but social class more so. American notions of "gender discrimination" or "racial discrimination" dont apply because the weight of class oppression is so great as to trump all other forms of oppression. In other words when you live on 2 dollars a day and you have no prospects the color of your skin is not the issue- systemic evil is the issue and gender and racial oppression are much less important than class issues.

What makes Barack Obama so compelling is that he moves beyond the old 1960's era labels. This is not to discount gender or racial discrimination but what it does do is beg the question where we spend our resources in this society?

I live in Oak Park, Illinois. If you go six blocks east of where I live you are in the middle of Chicago's Austin neighborhood- an area that was until the 1970's was a White Ethnic middle class area that today is one of Chicago's poorest areas, 10 blocks south of me is Cicero where former Bohemian areas have become totally Mexican and four blocks east of me are the rich Oak Park intellectuals with their Frank Lloyd Wright homes.

The reason I write this is because I live in one of the few places in America where all the social
upswelling of today are occuring side by side. What I see around me is not gender or race discrimination- what I see is what Barack Obama represents- fusion of the races and experiences. Within a mile of where I live Mexicans, European Immigrants, African Americans and others are living side by side in a dynamic mix that is on the whole ok. But there is a discrimination infrastructure that is challenged by Barack Obama. He does not fit into easy categories but he is the future of our nation and world. It is not going to be easy to separate people by race or gender in the future- the real test is social class. Obama understands this and has dealt with it his whole life. Obama bridges gaps and makes it possible for real dialogue to begin about the real state of our world behind the labels.

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