Monday, January 7, 2008

Anger, Campaigning, and Body Politics

An email friend reminded me recently that some things still belong to white males only. We can tell which by the vast difference in the reception they receive and others receive when they usurp the privilege--as in the privilege of unmasked anger. That's still reserved for white men. Not that others can't show it. They can, but when they do, the reaction they get will be tinctured by our projections based on who they are or who we think they ought to be.

For example, John Edwards, white and male, can build an entire campaign around in-your-face anger at the establishment, corporate greed, the gutting of the American middle class. But Hillary cannot show a similar anger. When she (or any woman) even approaches cresting the hill of outrage, she is derided as a shrill bitch. A ball-buster. Harridan.Bad. Dangerous. With Vagina dentata no doubt.

And Obama cannot. No Black man can. Obama so much cannot that he has built his whole campaign around conciliation and nonpartisan cooperation. I won't say "collaboration" because it remains to be seen whether Obama has a cleansing vision and integrity inside that he can't afford to put on display just now. So when I say that he can't afford to show his anger, don't misunderstand. I'm not calling Obama a "Tom," an appeaser. (That remains to be seen, and that, I think, may be what is meant by "Is he Black enough?")

What I'm saying is that Black male anger is so profoundly threatening to whites that if he campaigned in the John Edwards style, Obama would be DOA. We wouldn't see in Obama the anger of a righteous patriot infuriated at the selling of America to Bush's cronies, or at the racist anti-immigration movement. We wouldn't be able to hear him. We would see the ghost of Nat Turner, of Malcolm X.

This needs to be kept in mind when we analyze his message and find it wanting for being too "why can't we all just get along." We may want the fire of righteous indignation, but not all the candidates can display it to their advantage.