Elect Me: Will Race, Class and Gender Define the Presidential Agenda?
by Arturo Aldama, Pancho McFarland and Mike Mosher
The US Presidency has been defined by a 300-year plus legacy of white male supremacy. The ways in which the stature and authority of the Commander-in-Chief have been measured are primarily in terms of his strength and resolute nature in war, empire building, and in protecting the interests of US-owned capitalism. In 2008 there seems to be a pivotal turn that seemingly casts the issues of race and gender into the mainstream of political discourse and popular culture. Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton fought for the Democratic nomination. Now Obama will compete with Senator John McCain for the presidency. McCain is a celebrated war hero, whose campaign promise is to "stay the course" in Iraq, and to not back down to what he perceives are global terrorists. McCain will also continue tax cuts for the wealthy and for US-owned corporations.
Meanwhile, a hand‑lettered sign in the Student Center of a midwestern university, on behalf of its Organization of Black Unity, plaintively urges students to vote with "Get out in God's Plan‑‑Vote Obama".
In thinking about race and gender in presidential politics in this rest of this hemisphere, we see some new developments. Chile elected, Michelle de Bachelet, a US trained female physician to be its Head of State. Argentina recently elected Cristina Fernández de Kirchner as the first female president in the Fall of 2007. In Venezuela, a descendant of African and Indian peoples, who historically have been relegated to the lower castes of society, is now President. And this President is waging a campaign of petro-power to redefine the redistribution of wealth in his country. In Brazil Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a son of dispossessed campesinos, a shoe-shiner, and a former socialist leaning labor organizer, is President. Bolivians elected Evo Morales, the first indigenous Aymara to occupy the presidency since the 16th Century Spanish conquest.
In other areas of the globe we find new, interesting, and not-so new electoral politics developing. From the democratic election of Hamas in Palestine, to the contested elections in Zimbabwe, and the departure of President Musharraf in Pakistan, a new crop of controversies arise at the executive level. Undoubtedly, these elections will have enormous impacts on all of us. It is the remaining questions of how and why that Bad Subjects begins to answer with the Elect Me issue.
We invited submissions that consider how race, class, gender, anti-colonialism, sexuality and related issues will or will not redefine the social structures of oppression, poverty, and indirect rule by global capitalist interests. In the case of the US, will having a Black man or a woman in the presidency cause a radical shift in the operations of power and social justice in the body politic? How did race and gender defined the presidential primaries? Why are Whites so outraged by the Jeremiah Wright exegesis on the violence of structural and daily racism in the US? Do the democratic candidates allow themselves to be defined by these markers of identity? Will creating a politics that aspire towards an appeal of universality or to all Americans neutralize any radical race, class and gender revisions? Or, will it be that a non-White or a woman at the helm will continue neocolonial, predatory capitalism with a seductive veneer of green politics?
In Latin America, we ask how subjects from the subaltern classes drive the national politics? Are the lives of women, the lives of campesinos, the lives of the working poor, the indigenous communities, and laborers of African descent faring better under these new heads of state? Will implementing a radical program--one that is driven by redressing race, class and gender inequities--cause an economic blockade, collapse or shift in how capital flows trans-nationally? How will the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East shape that region, and the world? Will new Presidents and parties solve problems of race, gender, sexuality, and violence or will it be business as usual? What, if any, shining beacons are on the horizon in electoral politics? How do we resist?
Although we hoped to get works more hemispheric and global in focus, we are pleased with the quality of the work that anchor on the issues of race, class and empire in the US Presidential race. Most of the essays have as a focal point a discussion of race politics in Senator Barack Obama’s race to the White House.
For example, The Flip-Flop Side of Change, by Claudia Villegas and Rodolfo Hernández queries how Obama's policy positions will impact the views and positions in terms of global politics and the hemispheric politics of the impacts of the US as a imperial nation state influence in Latin America and the Caribe. In specific they are concerned with how Obama will continue the US backed and driven neo-liberal policies that have placed economic pressures and strangleholds on local and regional economic autonomies in Latin America. They are also concerned with how Obama's will continue the biopower of the state by supporting the further militarization of the US/ Mexico border and argue that America should not be separated from the Amerícas.
Cecile Pineda's Convenient Distractions: The Role of Gender and Race in the US Politics looks at how race and gender has been constructed in the corporate media apparatus as a way to sterilize the violence of empire and silence the voices of those violated by US led wars and argues how having token women and people of color in high profile positions gives a window dressing of democracy and continues the demagoguery of the state driven by predatory capitalism and military violence.
Dean Franco continues the discussion of representational politics and the ways in race are almost de-racinated in the mainstream media from the colonial origins and neo-colonial structures of racial oppression and explains why U.S. Whites were so upset over the Reverend Jeremiah Wright controversy that dominated the news cycle for several weeks during the Democratic primary race. Using Ralph Ellison's classic novel, Invisible Man, and Charles Chestnutt's short story, "Wife of His Youth," Franco argues that Wright's "angry Black man" who seems to come from another less racially tension filled time disrupts Obama's moderate, gentle, "race without race" appeal to White voters. Obama's attraction to many stems from the hope and promise of a future in which race and our bloody racial past will be transcended. The author warns that such expectations that a messianic Obama will lead us out toward race relations utopia is foolhardy. Such a journey requires that we collectively fight racism.
Pancho McFarland echoes a wide range of concerns from communities of color, and from those engaged in bettering the lives of working class peoples. McFarland questions how Obama’s economic policies as he appeals to the middle- and upper-class mainstream will actually redistribute wealth among the dispossessed. His piece poetically argues that “Obama is not our Robin Hood who will take back from the rich and give to the poor and working classes who create wealth. Don't expect Obama to even think about (much less engage in) some Marxian redistribution of wealth.”
Peter Garcia’s piece discusses what he calls the new mestizo politics, and looks at the continued apartheid-like issues of race and poverty in New Mexico, where New Mexican Chicanos live in conditions of extreme poverty and joblessness. Garcia discusses how Bill Richardson's mestizo-coyote status as a white and a Mexican, and Barack Obama’s bi-racial status, mimics the mestizo subjectivities of Latin America. He queries how radical change in the social and economic well-being of los de abajo will occur.
Mike Mosher looks at a graphic designer whose moniker is Please Believe, and who engages with the representational politics of Senator Obama’s candidacy. The designer explores how media and popular culture work to create a politics of hype and cults of personality...but these may be a way for designers to sublimate or shirk responsibilities at individual and collective levels to work towards a betterment of one's own community. In a sense, what Mosher sees as Please Believe's semi-satirical stance is how we are collectively interpellated into a system where we place responsibility for our destiny into the hands of one man. The campaign provokes humor in the visual realm, from Please Believe's skeptical t‑shirts, to Pauly Bunyansky's personifications of voters' fears, to our own choice of decorative and quasi-illustrative graphics for this issue's articles. Cheery and patriotic advertising line art of fifty years ago inevitably appears ironic, even when skin tones are adjusted to more accurately reflect our multicultural nation.
A nation of over three hundred million voices that cry, as do the rest of the planet's multitudes: Elect Me!
Arturo Aldama serves as Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies at CU Boulder and author of several books in Chicana/o-Latina/o cultural studies.
Pancho McFarland is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Chicago State University. He is the author of Chicano Rap: Gender and Violence in the Postindustrial Barrio .
Mike Mosher is Associate Professor of Art/Communication & Digital Media at Saginaw Valley State University, and a Bad Subject since 1994.