Keeping Up with the Jonzee

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Monday, April 14, 2008

The Great 'Keeping-It-Real-Around-Your Way' Hustle

Identity politics is what this presidential race has largely come down to. Yes, it seems obvious. And it is. But it's deeper meaning, in many context flies under the radar in many ways, especially as it pertains to us thinking critically about the message and messenger, as they "keep it real" with us.

Identity politics is one of the greatest political hustles known to man. In our major cities, a number of mayors have one election on the "keeping it real" ticket. In cities like Detroit, Newark, Memphis, and New Orleans (to some extent), current mayors have campaigned on the "I'm one of you, I'm from 'round the way, I keeps it real." sort of bent. They have lambasted those with solid policy ideals, vision, and the ability to build coalitions as "elitists", and have appealed to our need to "feel like we know them...like they are our friends." Hence a fool like G Dub can win office not only once but twice largely because many of us felt in our core that we could "have a beer" with him. And when people start identifying elitism with your choice of orange juice over coffee or a Coke over a beer? Well, then we all need to check our biases and our sheer and utter lack of ability "...of thinking of better shit to do with[our]time."

All any of this type of discourse does is distract us from what we really want to feel like we can expect from our political leaders--competence, vision, and ability to push forward an agenda that benefits our needs both economically and socially.

And this is particularly worrisome in this game-changing presidential election season. More so, because this time the identity politics is playing on a national stage in terms of some of the most pervasive hot buttons in the country--Race, Gender, and Economic Status--and if nothing else the candidates have made it so that we have no choice but to face it.

Whether in positively building coalition across percieved interest groups or using the aforemention constructs to pull our biases out to cloud our better judgement.

As one of the writers for Jack and Jill Politics put it:

Hillary and McCain's attempts to cast Obama as "elite" is a classic example of what Taylor Branch called the "inversion of history," wherein the privileged become the oppressed. Obama was raised in a single parent working class home and despite his recent success, you don't get much more elite than earning 16 million a year from making speeches and a family of high level military officials.

The way this works on a racial level cannot be ignored. Hillary's supporters have worked for months to cast Obama as the recipient of some magical form of affirmative action, through proclaiming that his only appeal comes from his blackness and that Hillary "should be winning." These further invoke the myth of the unqualified black masses stealing jobs from hardworking whites. The twist of the knife is in the subtext, which is simply, "this black guy thinks he's better than you." Whether this is deliberate or not is irrelevant, this is the emotional level at which this argument resonates.

All of this resentment serves to obscure the obvious: That we want our presidents to be elite. We want them to be extraordinary, not ordinary, and Obama shouldn't have to apologize for being "elite" any more than any black kid should have to apologize for getting good grades.


Senator Obama's remarks in San Francisco put the already glaring issue of the pervasive nature of the division of class in an even larger spotlight--even if he could have said it better. The response shows the embitteredness we are all feeling about how politicians pander and patronize us--and then use the construct of race and gender to distract us.

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