I’ve been hearing about all the Republicans throwing their hats in the ring for the presidential primaries. Eight have declared and about seven more probably will? That’s a whole lot of ego to choose between. Out of pure curiosity, I googled around and found an article that gave a photo list of folks who have Announced and folks who are Likely to Announce. Other than Fiorina (female) and Carson (black), it’s the usual collection of doughy-faced, middle-aged white men. Carla heaves a sigh as she shakes her head sadly.
They all look the same to me, by the way. If you haven’t already read about the incredible unreliability of cross-racial identifications by eye-witnesses, you should go and do that. Just google it and all manner of scholarly work comes up. I first learned about it in law school and it has never stopped bothering me. It’s astounding, really, when you think about how many peeps have been sent to prison based on eyewitnesses pointing fingers at them.
I’ll just go ahead and admit that pretty much all middle-aged white men kind of look the same to me. I have trouble distinguishing Ted Cruz and Scott Walker, for instance. They look like the same person to me. If I saw one of them committing a crime, I could easily finger the other one in a line-up, quite innocently. Santorum and Ryan, same thing. Political candidates make it even harder by all wearing the same stupid blue suit and red tie and waxing their hair identically. What do they do, have SuperCuts parties once a month?
I’ve hypothesized that it’s because I’m half-Korean and spent the first ten years of my life in Korea. I used to think that would mean I’d be better at ID’ing both Korean and white faces, but my reality seems to be the opposite, especially when it comes to middle-aged men. All middle-aged Korean men kind of look the same to me, and all middle-aged white men look even more the same. Also all young Hollywood heartthrobs look the same to me. Exactly the same. They probably all use the same surgeon. Or maybe it’s the cross-racial identification thing. I don’t know anymore.
Why am I talking about this? Oh. Doughy candidates. When I see that sea of white faces, one of whom will be the presidential nominee (because let’s face it, Ben Carson doesn’t have a real shot), I feel in my bones why President Obama is so passionately hated by ultra-conservative racists in America, why they call him “Osama” instead of “Obama,” why they need to believe he’s not an American citizen, why they need to call him a Muslim. It’s plain and simple fear of what’s different. Because President Obama looks just like every black man these peeps have ever feared. All black men look the same to them.
This is hardly a novel thought, I know. I think about it these days, though, and I feel a bit sad that we’re heading back to the days of a not-demographically-symbolic (thank you, Wayne Lapierre for that tasty tidbit) white guy as president. I know, I know, Hillary might still win, but I’m not really optimistic about that. I think some white guy will beat her. Then we can start calling the White House by its proper name: The White Guy House.
Jesse was just three years old when Obama ran for the presidency the first time. Jesse would roll down her window as we drove through neighborhoods and loudly chant “OH-BAH-MA! OH-BAH-MA!” whenever she saw a yard sign for his campaign. When he won, I was super excited for a whole slough of reasons, but a three-year-old doesn’t really get most of that stuff. I liked most of Obama’s platform for reasons having nothing to do with his race, though I surely didn’t mind that he was a minority. But I didn’t grasp the true scope of what a black president meant culturally until one day when Jesse and I walked past a black teenage boy somewhere. He was just some ordinary kid. Jesse stared at him and asked me, with the pure innocence only small children can muster, “Is that President Obama?”
I can tell you without shame that I cried because my heart was so full. Kids in America grow up connecting black faces to gangsters, drug dealers and drug addicts, criminals, car thieves, thuggish pro athletes, and all other manner of negatives. Yet here was my daughter, an American-born mostly-white kid, looking at a young black man, and what she saw was the president of the eff-ing United States. If you need me to explain why that’s huge, then it wouldn’t make a difference if I tried.
The Obama presidency created what I believe (or desperately hope) is a seismic paradigm shift in the mythology of race in America. Let’s hope that shift doesn’t just snap back to the past, despite the symbolic demographics of the nominees we’ll likely be voting for this time around.