Sunday, November 9, 2008

Some Of Her Best Friends

People say I'm the life of the party
Cause I tell a joke or two
Although I might be laughing loud and hearty
Deep inside I'm blue

So take a good look at my face
You'll see my smile looks out of place
Just look closer, it's easy to trace
The tracks of my tears
I need you, need you.
-Smokey Robinson
The Tracks of Our Tears
By MAUREEN DOWD
Published: November 8, 2008

All over the country, Barack Obama’s election is starting a new dialog on race amongst Americans. Maureen Dowd notices the zeitgeist:
I grew up in the nation’s capital, but I’ve never seen blacks and whites here intermingling as they have this week.

Everywhere I go, some white person is asking some black person how they feel.
And what sort of people are getting asked, and more importantly, what sort of places does Maureen go to?
I saw one white customer quiz his black waitress at length at a chic soul food restaurant downtown, over deviled eggs and fried chicken livers, about whether she cried when Barack Obama won.
{snip}
I saw three white women asking a black bartender at the Bombay Club, across Lafayette Park from the White House, if he was happy and what he thought about Jesse Jackson’s flowing tears at Grant Park, given his envious threat to cut off a sensitive part of Obama’s anatomy.
{snip}
I saw a white-haired white woman down the block from me running out to strike up a conversation with a black U.P.S. delivery guy, asking him how he felt and what this meant to him.
{snip}
I heard my cute black mailman talking in an excited voice outside my house Friday, so I decided I should go ask him how he was feeling about everything, the absolute amazement of the first black president.
So there you have it, as Maureen Dowd goes out to chi-chi soul food places, toney nightclubs, or just spends her days looking out the window of her Georgetown townhome, she sees black folk of all economic positions: waitresses, bartenders, delivery guys and even mailmen. But not if they see her first.
[The mailman] shot me a look of bemused disdain as he walked away. I suddenly realized, with embarrassment, that he was on his Bluetooth, deep in a personal conversation that had nothing to do with Barack Obama.
So who does Maureen have to talk racial issues with? She mentions Howard University, just a short bus ride away from her, but it would be too much trouble to interview an actual African-American professor or lawyer or businessman. Instead she just ruminates if maybe this is too much trouble.
But is it time now for whites to stop polling blacks on their feelings?

I’ll have to call my friend Gwen Ifill tomorrow and ask her how she feels about that.
Gwen, being the African-American correspondent for PBS’s News Hour With Jim Lehrer and moderator of the vice-presidential debates and working on a book about Barack Obama’s campaign surely has nothing better to do than enlighten the poor benighted Maureen. Perhaps they can meet for brunch over waffles and chicken.

I am imagining dozens (well, at least a couple) of easily umbraged bloggers taking Maureen to task for this lazy approach to racial relations. Buy they would be missing the subtext of the column. All the service industry people Dowd eavesdrops on answer their over-reaching white patrons thoughtfully, and dare I say, articulately. Dowd is mocking the white people that need to get a black person's, any black person's validation. It is the rest of us that need to think through our reaction to, well, what exactly is he?
Was Barack Obama the first or the second black president, or alternatively, the first half-white, half-black president?
We have years to ponder and discuss the social and psychological implications of Barack Obama's election. Just don’t go chasing the guys on the recycling truck down the street to get their opinion.

1 comment:

weboy said...

Sadly, I think MoDo lacks the subtlety to make the point as effectively as, well, you have. In her hands, it looks mostly, as patronizing as the people she's tweaking... which is to say, if she was that concerned about race relations in a city with as many problems as DC... perhaps the time to note this dissonance was, well, sooner.