Monday, November 10, 2008

I Didn't Expect Victory to be Bittersweet

(sorry for the excessive comma-tization, crappy grammar and wildly swinging verb tenses of this post, but I'm still too horrified by the passing of Prop 8 to form a coherent sentence. But I'm posting anyway, because shame on us, California!)

I know you'd expect me to be exploding with joy about Obama's victory, and I am. I'm thrilled that this country will finally have some leadership that will care about every American, and not just the rich white ones.

I am overjoyed that this country has come far enough to finally elect a non-white President. But I can't help regretting the media's, and society's, need to incessantly label him as "black" first and an intelligent, talented, hard working man, husband and father second. Gender and race are valid things for individuals to be proud of, and to label themselves with, if they wish. That is their choice, their right, their decision, their pride and their convictions. It's when we who stand outside their groups apply those labels to them, and force them to be only that label for us, that it heads into dangerous and dis-empowering territory, even when the intent may have been the opposite. That is, I believe, an insidious form of racism and just assuming that it's inherently benign is a mistake.

The race and gender issues in the election were, and are, a topic and source of pride and rejoicing for so many out there. I'm proud to have been able to cast my vote for him, to see this milestone passed finally. My problem is with people making it THE topic, in every situation and every article. I'm not sure I read a single article where Obama's race wasn't mentioned, and in a few cases microscopically dissected - down to percentages of how much of each race are in his genetics. Are we really doing this in 2008? Seriously? And for those of you who think I'm being overly sensitive, please note that I never once saw them introduce McCain as "the white candidate", or "John McCain, the male candidate, will bring out the older white male voters..." It would have struck the eye and ear as just plain wrong. And I would hope that we could get to a day - hurry up, already - where the other labels we come up with to pigeonhole, limit and marginalize people sound wrong too. As if all someone has to offer us is their race or gender, and if they're not rich/white/male and you're still voting for them it must be because of that and that alone. As if I wasn't already excited to be able to cast my vote for - hands down - the best candidate I've ever had the opportunity to vote for in my entire adult life. And I'm really getting old here, folks.

All these discussions over the last months implying that you should vote for Hilary because she was a woman, and Obama because he was African American, and if you vote for him then you're not supporting women and how dare you, and visa versa, on and on, seemed to me to be trying to take away from their very real qualifications and achievements. They go from being the very best candidates this country has to offer, to being just SpokesCandidates for the label-de-jour. Which outrages me on so many levels. We're electing a President, not casting a commercial.

Those labels and assumptions are what I believe led directly to the Republican Party's apparent strategy, "Hey, let's get us one of those purty little women around here, and folks'll think we're all modern and progressive too! And without us having to join the 21st century at all! Buy her $150,000 worth of clothes, and we have our very own Republican Barbi3!" As if just the fact of gender makes Hilary Clinton = Sarah Palin on whatever scale you drop them on. Proof, if you needed it, that they just don't get it.

And then to wake up to the news the next day that Prop 8 had passed... I'm ashamed of California, and embarrassed that we now stand for bigotry and intolerance. I was a lot more comfortable with the crunchy granola and fake-tan label, myself. I expected better of us, I really did.

The one thing that has comforted me was seeing the stats for the votes. Voters 18-29 voted against it, by more than 60%. It was the voters over 70 who voted for it, by about the same percentage. Change is coming, and via those very same "young people" the haters used to smokescreen their bigotry, with their out-of-state-funded scare tactics about school curriculum. Until the religious out-of-staters (you know who you are) started their ad campaigns just a few days before the election, Prop 8 was losing in the polls. The blame, however, still rests squarely on the shoulders of the voters of California, for letting this happen. For going into that booth and using our hard won and defended freedom to vote by choosing to add hatred to the constitution of our state.

But I know that this won't last, this attitude of smug exclusionism and hatred hidden behind self-righteous religious excuses. The haters, and the generations that accepted it as just the way things were, can't live forever. And the young voters will raise families of their own, a new generation of voters who understand it's unacceptable to deprive anyone of their civil rights. But it should have been now, we should have been that generation. It is years too late already.

And a question for all of you who voted for Prop 8 - what happens when it's your civil rights they decide to take away next? I'm sure that will be different. I'm sure you'll be chock full of moral outrage then. Good luck getting anyone to feel sorry for you when that day comes.

In the same way that the very elderly relative who used negative stereotypes and slurs as a part of casual conversation at the Thanksgiving table was met as time passed with embarrassed silences and finally - thankfully - loud disagreement, we can hope the folks who legislate hatred and denial of civil rights will soon be relegated to muttering to themselves in a ratty recliner in the corner while the rest of us set a few more chairs at the table and welcome everyone to sit right down.

It should have been today.


At 7:24 PM, November 10, 2008, Blogger Calamity Jen said...

You don't know how pleased I was to read your post. I couldn't agree with you more. I've been having a rather heated debate in the comments section of my own blog about Proposition 8. If it weren't for the fact that I know my "anonymous" combatant happens to be my best friend's husband, I wouldn't have been so restrained.

At 7:29 PM, November 10, 2008, Blogger panda said...

Hey, if you want me to come by and lend a little "I actually live in California, and I'm horrified", I will. I usually stay out of controversies on other folk's personal blogs because I don't want to say something unforgiveable and problem causing to somebody's sister or godfather of their son, etc etc etc. Because I'm not the one who has to deal with the backlash, in the end.

At 6:24 PM, November 11, 2008, Blogger Calamity Jen said...

Come on by; I could use the support!


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