Tag Archives: obama

flesh-colored glasses

“If President Barack Obama wins, he will be the popular choice of Hispanics, African-Americans, single women and highly educated urban whites. That’s what the polling has consistently shown in the final days of the campaign. It looks more likely than not that he will lose independents, and it’s possible he will get a lower percentage of white voters than George W. Bush got of Hispanic voters in 2000.
A broad mandate this is not.”  
-from: politico news

It was in college that I first learned about the ‘scandal’ of Crayola crayons – something, prior to that, I associated with happy, innocent, playful childhood. I mean, crayons are like puppies, right? Who can not like crayons?

self-portrait, Seoul Korea
© 2012 erin dunigan

The incident was around a particular crayola in the box – the one with the name ‘flesh.’ I remember looking at the particular crayon in question and being confused. What was all the fuss about? Why the drama? What was wrong with the name? The crayon was called flesh, and when I looked at my own white skin, I could confirm that, though this particular color was a bit peachier than mine, more or less it looked basically the same.

That is, of course, the problem, isn’t it?

That my being born, through no act of my own obviously, into the dominant group of my particular country at this particular point in time, completely blinded me from being able to see the world through the eyes of someone not just like me, whose ‘flesh’ might happen to be a somewhat deeper hue than the color on that particular peachy crayon.

There are those, I’m sure, who would be quick to point out – it is just a crayon. Why are you getting so worked up about a crayon? What’s the big deal? Isn’t this a bit of an overreaction?

But, of course, as the article from today’s politico news points out – it is not just a crayon.

That one small crayon is a microcosm of a much larger, more pervasive, more pernicious and ugly secret that threatens the very fabric of this ‘great nation’ that we claim is based upon the equality of all people, that welcomes the tired, the poor, the weary, the… It is the fact that, when it comes to issues of race, as Slate Magazine recently put it,

The defining part of being white in America is the assumption that, as a white person, you are a regular, individual human being. Other demographic groups set themselves apart, to pursue their distinctive identities and interests and agendas. Whiteness, to white people, is the American default.

It is precisely that belief that can lead Politico’s Vandehei and Allen to claim in an article that President Barack Obama has support from “Hispanics, African Americans, single women and highly educated urban whites” and yet claim, as though it is plain to see, that there is no ‘mandate’ in that – thus, apparently insinuating that for there to be a ‘mandate’ it must also include, presumably, white men, married (white?) women, and white people of, apparently, ‘average’ education.

I am not saying that if you are voting for Mitt Romney that makes you a racist.

I’m not claiming that those voting for Obama are morally superior, somehow.

But what is troubling is the assumption that multiple people groups, in their entirety, do not ‘count’ simply because they are not the ‘dominant’ group. That some ‘Americans’ are more ‘American’ than others.

Only a few weeks ago I was given the opportunity to see a phenomenal musical called Allegiance. Set during WWII, it is the story of the Japanese Internment camps, as told through one Japanese American family from Salinas, California. As musical theater does so well, it is troubling, funny, insightful, educational and deeply disturbing all at the same time. It’s a must see.

After the musical was over, as I allowed myself to ponder it, what came to the surface was the only memory I have of learning about the Japanese Internment camps at home. The comment came from my father, now deceased.

I don’t remember what he said word for word, but it was basically that, as a teenager during WWII, his family had some Japanese (American) neighbors – and no one was ever sure whether or not they might have had a ham radio in the basement… Meaning, I realized, in its not so veiled reference, that the internment was a necessary precaution for the safety of ‘Americans.’ The fact that the US was also at war with Germany and Italy seemed to go unnoticed, somehow. Or, in the words of one character in Allegiance, as the Japanese Americans are being evicted from their homes forced to leave most everything behind: “What about Joe DiMaggio? He’s Italian…”

It is easy to point fingers when we see racism rear its ugly head in others – other groups than my own, other people than myself, other religions than the one I cling to – but it is less eager a pointing when the finger pointed is at one’s own self.

Recently I visited the Chinese embassy in Los Angeles to obtain a visa for a brief stopover I will have soon in Beijing. After finding a parking place, putting my belongings through the X-ray machine, and taking a number, I waited along with a roomful of others for my opportunity to present my paperwork and hope that my request would be granted.

A few days later, recounting the details to my mom as we sat together at her kitchen table, she asked, “Were they all Americans waiting there?” to which I, without thinking, replied, “No.”

As soon as the word was out of my mouth, I realized, and tried to take it back. But it was too late. Not that my mom cared – she didn’t realize what I had just revealed, with my answer, as she was not there at the embassy to know. I am not sure what she meant, asking if they were all Americans waiting at the embassy that day.

But I do know what I meant, when I answered. I meant that they were not all white.

Not all with blond hair and green eyes, like me. Granted, I assumed that the two black men in charge of security as we entered were Americans. But the waiting room itself? It was full of ‘Asian’ people – people whose citizenship, other than the man next to me whose US passport I saw, was completely unknown to me.

As I tried to recover from my revealing misstatement I began to think, logically, through the likelihood – of course they were, most likely, all American, or mostly. What else would they be doing at the Chinese embassy in Los Angeles?

But, unfortunately, the logic was not what was troubling. It was the gut level answer of no – the realization that, as much as I’ve done in my life to try to learn from those different from me, to listen, to examine my own privilege of growing up white in a society that still values whiteness as the ‘norm’ and anything else as an aberration, in a moment of candor I showed my flesh-colored bias for what it was – that answer of no left me reeling.

It’s easy to point the finger at others. It’s easy to see the fault in them. Our culture is full of name calling of all sorts.

What’s the most shocking, though, is when the name you call turns out to be your own.

feliz cinco de mayo

I happened upon this video of statements by President Obama and Mexican Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan in honor of Cinco de Mayo. I’ve heard from friends that the news has given the most play to  Obama’s awkward “Cuatro de Cinco” comment. It was definitely an ooops unscripted moment. However, what followed in the comments by both been was, I believe, a fantastic commentary on our two nations, what it means for us to be neighbors, and our shared culture and heritage. 

Day 25: Hemingway, Obama pizza, lost items, and the Sacre Coeur

Today was a full day of touring–and it’s after midnight, so we’ll see how coherent this post is!

Walking tour of Hemingway's Paris

Walking tour of Hemingway's Paris

We began the day with a walking tour of Hemingway’s Paris, in the Latin Quarter, where, in addition to seeing places Hemingway worked, drank and lived, we also heard a gruesome tale that was the basis of Sweeney Todd, which I didn’t realize was a true story…

Apparently there were these priests who really liked these meat pies from a particular vendor, who was good friends with a particular barber, who seemed to ‘lose’ his clients quite regularly. Well, even though the priests did not know that they were eating meat pies that were a bit too realistically the body and blood, they were excommunicated for having eaten human flesh.

Having no other income, they became beggars but one day a bishop came long their street, heard the story, and allowed them to open a market to earn a living. This street is still a market street today. Rather than take our chances, we decided on some delicious looking but definitely vegetarian pizza. 

The guy who gave us our pizza asked, “Where are you from?” When I said, America, California, his first response was, “What do you think about your president?” In every place I’ve been along my trip people have asked me that–one guy, a Frenchman sitting next to me on the plane from Bangkok to Cairo, even shook my had to congratulate me for helping to elect Obama. Well, when the pizza guy asked us, I said I was very glad, but admitted that my mom is less than enthusiastic. He proceeded to tell us his opinions on the subject, which I happened to agree with, but which were entirely unprompted. It’s fascinating how willing, and how eager people are to talk about subjects that might be shied away from at home. 

After our visit to the lost and found, we stopped for a rest at this cafe where the man next to me, 83 and with a heart transplant (at least that's what I think he said, in French) befriended us.

After our visit to the lost and found, we stopped for a rest at this cafe where the man next to me, 83 and with a heart transplant (at least that's what I think he said, in French) befriended us.

After the pizza and a nutella crepe for lunch, we headed to the Service des Objets Trouves, Paris’ lost and found. Apparently stuff actually does make its way there, as did we after a few metro transfers, only to find out that if my camera had been found on the bus, and turned in, it would take them a week to get it. Argh. I’m not overly optimistic that it will be found, but I figured I should at least check. So, looks like we’ll be back to the Service des Objets Trouves again on Wednesday before leaving town…

We finished off the day with a Rick Steve’s recommended bus tour, and dinner in Montmartre after an evening view of Paris and a walk through the Sacré-Cœur–a quick one, since we were hungry after so much walking, touring, and only a bit of pizza at lunch! 

The walk back to the metro from the Sacré-Cœur was thru the Pigalle area, including the Moulin Rouge as well as many establishments that my mom and I were not going to visit!

Day 7: man does not live by slogans alone?

Ironically, after making reference to Rush Limbaugh in yesterday’s reflections, I had a related conversation today.

I overheard one of the conference participants, a man from the US, talking about Obama and how terrible he has been for the United States. My dad used to be a big eavesdropper, and the joke was that once he almost fell out of his chair, he was leaning so far to overhear.

I couldn’t help but chime in, even though to do so would admit my own eavesdropping. I asked the man about his statement, and admitted that I actually have been quite supportive of Obama (in the interest of disclosure, I figured he should know why I was asking). 

His responses were fascinating to me. “He was the most liberal member of congress,” “he is making America into a socialist country,” “his campaign was deceptive” were a few of the reasons he gave.

It reminded me of a conversation I had during the primaries, with friends who supported Hillary Clinton. What struck me at that time, and again in this conversation, was that they seemed to be slogans that were simply repeated. These slogans were all things I had already heard in the media, both from those who were supporting Hilary Clinton, and those who were opposed.  There was no new content in them, and, for the most part, they were not explained or defined. They were just launched, like a grenade whose rhetorical impact could then be lobbed over to the ‘other side.’

I’m not claiming to be immune from this. I don’t mean to say it is only done by Republicans, or only done by Hilary Clinton supporters, or not done by me or people like me.

What fascinates me is that it seems to, thus, actually prevent any sort of real communication from happening.

The ‘meat’ of this conference is something called ‘manuscript study.’ I am in a group that is looking at the second half of the book of Mark. We take turns reading a passage to ourselves, discussing it at our tables in small groups, and then discussing it as a larger group. The question we are to keep before us, at all times, is ‘what did you see’ and then, ‘where did you see it?’

The point is to keep us rooted in the text. But even in these first few days I have seen how easy it is to ‘sloganize.’ In that sloganizing, I wonder, does it keep us from real communication?