Saturday, January 28, 2012

letter to a white liberal friend

Thank you, crunktastic of Feminist Crunk Collective for White Women’s Rage: 5 Thoughts on Why Jan Brewer Should Keep Her Fingers to Herself.

An associate of mine said that he didn't understand the article's use of both Obama's Jane Brewer moment and his bear-like embrace of Gabriel Gifford. Here is what I said:

i think the author is very intelligent and this article is brilliant in spite of itself. the author's grouping of Giffords with Brewer is very intentional, although it's hard to tell that from the very subtle and repressed way this intention is stated.

i do not think the author is saying it's "offensive" for Giffords and Obama to hug. i just don't see that in the text.

the author is closely examining the "logic of white supremacy"-- the "privilege"-- at work in both the Brewer and the Giffords photos. it is as though both instances are two sides of the same privilege. In either case, Pres Obama's black body puts him in a specific kind of relationship to white women's bodies. the author is saying that (1) that relationship is determined predominantly by the force that the white woman's body holds in american/western society, especially toward black men, and (2) the relationship these white women have toward Obama mirrors in some important ways the relationship that white men have toward these women. in other words, white women enjoy a kind of white male privilege toward black bodies.

like white men, white women are allowed to have rage toward Obama that he cannot show back to them in self-defense. if Obama HAS TO keep his cool in the face (quite literally) of such threatening white rage (as he must also do with all the extreme degree of obstructionism, the fetishistic interest in Michelle Obama's posterior, a tea party candidate threatening openly to kill him and his family, a sitting Congressman interrupting his State of the Union address, and the generalized distrust of him that is obviously based in antiblack racism), it is for the same reasons as those for which HE MUST greet Giffords with not just a simple hug and a smile, but the biggest, longest, bearhuggiest hug you ever did see from any president and former university of chicago professor. he is required not merely to be exemplary of mlk-meets-jesus-type forbearance and forgiveness in the face of AN UNPRECEDENTED wall of hostility, a mere fraction of which made clinton and newt and nixon and lbj howl in protest; he is also AND AT THE SAME TIME required to be exceptionally affable and comforting toward whites. lots of people would like to believe that that's just who he "is." he just "is" unbelievably forgiving of all the "ignorance" he has to face. he just has this great, irrepressible smile as part of his nature. (a political analyst was doing a piece on his smile just yesterday, and, of course, harry reid commented that obama talks just black enough but not too black.) and that's a common white/nonblack fantasy that manifests in how liberals speak of Obama but that nobody black really believes to be who Obama "really is." he endures the abuse no one else in his office has faced because he has to make white people feel safe. that applies to white women and men. they have a right to their rage. he must suffer and smile exemplarily.

it is true that this is beyond your personal realm of experience. that's no slight on you; it's just that you are positioned in precisely the realm of safety of which the author speaks, not in a position that has to witness that realm of safety by virtue of being outside of it.

in retrospect, i suppose i realize that it was ironic that i even took this much energy to answer a question from a white liberal friend. more about this another time.

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