Saturday, March 8, 2008

The Struggle to Discuss Race, Class, Gender & Politics in the 21st Century

More is often taught by a jest than by the most serious knowledge
~Baltasar Gracian, Maxim 22 (1647)

If you happened to catch Friday night's episode of "Real Time with Bill Mahr" you saw the segment in which he conducted a "man on the street" interview asking members of a Latino community which candidate they were supporting in the Democratic primary. In his own politically incorrect style Mahr had fun with the fact that the media is reporting that Latino voters are overwhelming supporting Clinton instead of Obama and that there is a growing divide between the African American and Latino communities.

Bill Mahr did a similar segment during a show that aired the Friday before the South Carolina primary in which he poked fun at the fact that the black community was going to overwhelming vote for Barack Obama in that state's primary election. In each of these segments very few of those interviewed ( thankfully there were exceptions ) could name one vote or policy issue that shaped their decision.

Both segments were very humorous despite being a little sad. But of course, even though Bill Mahr's show can be a great source for political information, we know that Mahr is a comedian and a satirist whose goal is to make us laugh as well as think.

In their own way, the political satirists like Mahr, Stewart & Colbert, , are reminding us that in the midst of one of the most important political campaigns in nearly half a century the last things being discussed by most of the mainstream news media are the issues impacting the future ALL Americans.

I don't doubt that in a celebrity obsessed, reality-TV, extreme fighting culture, coverage of "who called whom a monster" and "who sent out a picture of whom" will garner more viewers than coverage of CEOs testifying before Congress, change in the political leadership of Russia, or the leader of Iran visiting Iraq. The former will grab the headlines during the primetime coverage while the latter is relegated to the Sunday morning new shows. But which stories are really the most important?

Over the past few weeks, while watching media pundits discuss the "battle" between Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton I've envisioned David Duke sitting somewhere laughing his head off. I've also imagined little old white men taking bets on whether it will be the uppity liberal white women or the uppity black man that will receive the knock out blow.

Sadly, I am also starting to envision Martin Luther King Jr., Robert F. Kennedy, Ann Richards, Molly Ivins and Barbara Jordan shaking their heads. I'm sure that they understood that we had to go through these growing pains but could they ever have imagined the media coverage? I'm sure that the constant focus on what divides us instead of what we have in common is more than a little disappointing. Can't you just imagine Molly Ivins wanting to reach down and smack us while saying "Snap Out of It."

Media coverage of the US presidential primary elections has given us a wealth of demographic statistics on voting patterns. But it has also given us a barrage of broad generalizations that can easily be spun into stereotypes.

Yes, obvious voting patterns have emerged during the primary elections. And yes, reporting those patterns is news. But the steady repetition of statements like:

  • "the majority of college educated people are voting for this candidate";
  • "the majority of this race is voting for that candidate";
  • "one racial group community won't vote for this candidate"; and,
  • "one racial group may leave the Democratic party if Obama is not elected"

may not just be revealing the state of America but perpetuating its divisions. And the latest phrase, "the white male vote is going to be the deciding factor", while holding an element of truth, is more than a little disturbing.

Over the past few months, coverage of the US primaries has increasingly moved coverage of the Iraq war, immigration, wire-tapping US citizens, out-sourcing, the mortgage crisis, corporate corruption, US foreign policy, climate change, education, un-safe imported goods, crime, a broken infrastructure, the middle class decline, rebuilding New Orleans (remember that US city that was completely devastated ), escalating conflicts in Darfur and in Gaza, impending water shortages in US cities, and more to a backseat behind coverage emphasizing the racial, gender and class divisions in our society.

There is nothing funny about that.

As the blogger PunditMom recently point out:

" For some reason, the Washington Post has decided that it's going to try to alienate its women subscribers. I can't really think of another reason why its editors would decide to run two articles attacking women voters as dumb and fickle in its Sunday Outlook section. Between We Scream, We Swoon. How Dumb Can We Get? and For Hillary's Campaign, It's Been a Class Struggle, I found my self shaking my head and wondering, why do we do this to ourselves? "

In a recent post for "The Nation". guest blogger Samhita Mukhopadhyay wrote the followng in her article The Black, the Female and the Invisible :

" Ironic that the same voices that demand we end the battle of identity politics are the ones that are most reliant on it. So while (Maureen) Dowd is worried about which candidate looks like they are having "fun" those of us that are dealing with the issues in personal and practical ways have a different perspective. Both race and gender matter in this election not because Clinton is a woman and Obama is black, but because racism and sexism still exist and have profound impacts on policy. So while some continue the battle of who had it worst and who deserves the seat first, those of us working at the grassroots are very aware of the actual lives of people that are suffering from housing foreclosures, expansion in prisons, lack of access to health care, poor education and no jobs. For us, it is a matter of who will actually make decisions that most support our communities.

It is a key time to talk about race and gender in ways that matter. The mainstream media suggests we see the issues as just black and white, male and female, but we need a thorough recognition of the ways that all of our identities interact and the different places that puts us in the political spectrum. It's wishful thinking to hope a Clinton or Obama victory will somehow "erase the blemish" of sexism and racism and the people most directly hurt by racism and sexism are fully aware of this. "

Yes, America does need to have serious discussions about race, gender and class divisions. But those conversations cannot be conducted by leaving broad generalizations hanging in the air during coverage of an election.

It's time for the media to get back to a discussion of the issues and leave the rest to the comedians.

1 comment:

  1. I hope we can have that conversation some day. But it doesn't look promising at the moment.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.