I realized that my inability to be excited about this for too long at a time is coming from more than my family. A conversation I had last night bothered me more than I realized, and the more I think back on it, the more I see why. I talked to the only two people at the election party that weren’t happy about Obama winning. They were gracious losers, but I was curious and I asked the more vocal one what his issues were, why he felt the way he did. So we started talking, with the other person occasionally chiming in. The other person, by the way, is a close friend of mine who I had assumed was for Obama. So the guy explained that he was for small government, but he was also for protective tariffs. Not really a libertarian thing – he seemed to be libertarian but only for the US, he didn’t appear to care much about other countries. I’m sure he’d rather them not starve to death, but unlike me, he didn’t seem to see a connection between history and current poverty, whether inside or outside of our borders. He used the “I’ve never met a slave” line. So I started on my spiel about wealth being passed down – or not – through generations. He said that the Southerners lost their investment when slaves were freed and I said yeah, but the slaves didn’t get any money either, and they didn’t have anything to begin with, and he said “They got freedom.” I pointed out that everyone else already had freedom, and I still don’t understand what his point was with that.
UPDATE: I think I see part of what threw me off there. The financial situation of the former slave owners did not prove anything about the financial situation of the slaves. For him to bring that up as if it was a contradiction of what I said, and as if the slaves getting freedom took care of anything that was owed to them (WTF%*$#@), gives me the impression that he saw this from an us vs. them perspective rather than feeling detached from either group and just looking back and what was fair and what wasn’t. And anyway, the slave owners had already gotten returns on their investment in people before they had to free their slaves.
I asked him if he thought we lived in a meritocracy and he pretty much said that he realizes we don’t, but. So the buts were like, he thinks black culture is what causes the problems in black communities, rather than racism or poverty. I asked what he meant by culture. He said drugs, and we agreed that drugs – especially being illegal – create a weird dynamic that’s dangerous. He’s not saying yay war on drugs, he said they should probably be legalized to eliminate that dynamic. You can’t accuse him of being a fundie, which I appreciate. Then he said, also rap. I said I think rap is a reaction to something. The other person said, no, it used to be, but now they just make money by selling albums to white suburban kids. I don’t see how that shows that rap is responsible for the failure of black people…and I still think rap is a reaction to circumstances, even if it’s not as much of an optimistic or invigorating reaction as it originally was. To explain what I meant, I talked about the argument that a blog (Feministe? sorry I have terrible source amnesia) pointed out on Alas, A Blog, that black teens might get pregnant at such high rates because it’s actually a rational decision given their circumstances (lower opportunity costs, earlier peak of health, etc). He pretty much blew that off.
When we talked about drugs, I said legalizing them would be nice because it would mean less imprisonment of black men, which is a huge part of the problem. He replied “We put people in prison because they commit crimes, not because they’re black.” At the time I just tried to explain my issues with prison, starting with the idea that nonviolent crimes shouldn’t be punished with prison, which he seemed to agree with. But later I realized that’s basically a denial of racism in the criminal justice system, which is a pretty big denial. I’m shocked he would say that, and I’m shocked by how the other person seemed so eager to jump in and prove, from time to time, that black people’s problems are their own fault.
I know these issues are complicated, and I certainly know there are always individuals who will “prove” any sociological trend wrong. I know that a person’s philosophy of what government’s job is can differ without it making them a bad person. My friend hinted, actually both of them did, at us Obama supporters being fanatics. Maybe I shouldn’t have taken that personally, but I was taken aback. I criticize the Democrats. I don’t put Obama’s face all over everything I own. I see complexity and I tell people when their way of disagreeing with me is a valid one. What I don’t do is ignore the past and the inequality of opportunity that affects our country in order to better support a particular worldview. I could do that, it would be very easy and very beneficial to me. I wouldn’t be divided from my family, I would be fighting to keep my own money, I’d get to shrug off any guilt about benefiting from privilege. So when I argue against everything that protects my privilege, I must have a pretty compelling reason. It’s because I know that we do, at times, put people in prisons because they’re black, and that on several occasions, the US has incurred debts to black people that have never been repaid, and if you’re looking for a reason for the state of the ghetto, PERHAPS racism and poverty should be among your suspects.
Overall they’re cool people and it was by far the most rational debate I’ve had in a loooong time. But that’s the thing, they’re so smart and so rational and it freaks me out a little bit that they seem to be denying the role of racism in these issues. It’s sort of Twilight Zone-ish for me, especially because it went so against my expectations of my friend (which isn’t her fault of course, just a quirk of the situation). And it just made me feel so much more alone, because she’s one of the few people who got me before I changed all my beliefs and sort of changed along with me, and gets me now, too. Or at least I thought she did. Between that and a family member giving me false hope (again, not her fault) by sounding really moderate when she asked for my views and then ending up really conservative, I just feel like I’ve got no one on my side…even as I walk around a campus literally covered in Obama’s name.
Well, I’ll be spending the next couple of hours with non-citizens, so maybe I can just get away from all of this for a little while.
Also, how disappointed am I about the gay marriage bans? Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised, but I really didn’t think they’d get enough votes, considering it had to be more than a simple majority. Really takes the oomph out of this win for me. But at least the next four years will be different.
PS – If you want to see what racism looks like, look at the automatically generated link Violence in Black Culture or whatever it’s called.