D-bate

img_0873Never before in the history of our country has male sexual privilege and priority been so nakedly on display.  The second presidential debate will not be about the close listening that Clinton has done to those who supported her Deomcratic rivals, nor will it be about Clinton’s sponge-like absorption of the real issues facing black and brown communities around policing in this country and how her own connection to that past makes them struggle to see her as a solution.  Tonight will not showcase her insight, or years of experience on the international stage, nor will it display her failings of private greed and ambition.  Tonight will be entirely about how two cis-gender men define their sexuality in relationship to other women. The debate will begin under the cloud of one candidate having made public what is probably his usual private foul mouthed way of talking about anyone or anything he objectifies (which is most of the world); it will then play out with the reminder of another man’s dismissive, careless and usurious way of treating women (and also the world) as a weapon.  Hillary Clinton could actually stay home tonight, and if this were the 1950’s, that’s actually what would be expected of her.

But in some crucial ways, we are still living in the 1950’s.  Donald Trump should have been disqualified from running for office based solely upon his financial record…if not for that then when he started making blanket statements about ethnic groups.  The level of outrage being expressed NOW seems WAY too little WAY too late.  But then when I hear a Mike Pence, (who is the worst thing to happen to women’s rights on their own bodies since chastity belts) or any other male in this situation speaking about how having a wife and daughters is the main reason they are so offended, I am reminded what’s really going on.  Whether it is Donald Trump’s ability to grab it because he’s famous or Bill Clinton’s ability to hide it at the dry cleaners or Mike Pence’s ability to legislate it because of his narrow view of God, this is all about the male gaze and male power over women.  We don’t need the statue that’s been traveling around the country, Donald Trump and all ther rest of the men who can’t see women beyond their own pleasure are standing right in front of us, stark naked. Even for this gay man, the sight isn’t pretty.

I do not believe that all men are pigs.  But Donald Trump is a pig. Bill Clinton is also a pig.  Hopefully, Hillary Clinton will thoroughly char the barbecue at tonight’s debate.  Then she should seize the opportunity to change the game by pushing that dish aside and diving into a substantive meal of policy, solutions and actually focusing on the business of governing…leaving the boys to be boys.

Thank you gentlemen…you’ve reduced our democratic process to a game of “I bet mine is bigger than yours.”

-ALD

Hillary For President Because…Diahann Carroll

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Diahann Carroll in “Julia” (1968)

In the summer of 1995, I was standing back stage on board the cruise ship Legend of the Seas. It was my first week as Production Manager and the guest star for this cruise was about to go on stage. The phone rang and with less than five minutes to curtain, I was inclined to ignore the call, but I answered anyhow.

“Hello, this is Vic Damone…may I speak with Diahann?”

It was a reality check that I will never forget. At that moment, I had a legendary Hollywood star waiting in a dressing room and another legendary star (her ex husband) on the telephone calling shore to ship from Los Angeles to wish her well. What’s more, the star in the dressing room below was a groundbreaking actress on stage, film and television. And even more than that, she had been a symbol of black pride, beauty and the future of blackness throughout my youth. She was part of why I became who I am. I was about to introduce, Miss Diahann Carroll.

I asked our stage assistant to bring Miss Carroll up from the dressing room to receive her call. We would hold the curtain for as long as it took.

My time on board that week with Miss Carroll was not idyllic. I was new in the position and still trying to understand my authority; the ship was new and still technically under construction; Miss Carroll was nervous about appearing in her first live performance in several years plus being in preparation for taking on the role of Norma Desmond in the musical Sunset Boulevard. Ironically, the only thing that was flawless that cruise was the Alaska weather. Still, despite all of the potential and actual angst, I came away from my interaction with Diahann Carroll completely besotted and with a greater understanding of just how important someone like her has been to the world. She was a game changer. We need more game changers.

When Diahann Carroll appeared in the title role of the television show Julia in 1968, she was the first black woman to lead a national network television show that was not variety or one where she played a maid.

The question is what kind of game changers do we need in the world? This election cycle, there has been a lot of talk about how Bernie Sanders and The Dump represent “out of the box” thinking. They are both painting themselves as non/anti-establishment candidates who are presenting alternatives to political business as usual. But are they really game changers? The Dump talks a very aggressive game. He says things that politicians don’t say; he does things that politicians don’t do. His unorthodox campaign is successful in terms of garnering him people’s votes as well as media presence as well as stirring up xenophobia and racism (even if he is by political standards financially broke). But I would argue that he is not a game changer; he is putting on a show. He is simply applying to politics the same dreadful histrionics he has used in business (one could call them theatrical robber baron or huckster tactics). As he always has, he is leveraging both his whiteness and his maleness to be given a pass as a “bad boy” where any non-white non-male would have been submerged (or put in prison) a long time ago. That is definitely business as usual.

Sanders is a bit different. He is talking an innovative game. Sanders brings vision and inspiration and soaring aspiration to the campaign that is desperately needed. He voices the real goals and concerns of “the people” and does not lose touch with that crucial connection. He is authentic and extremely wise. This is exactly what he has done for 25 years in Congress. He has not been afraid to present radical ideas and independent thinking. He has been a vocal opponent of the establishment, big business government, hawkish politics and he has been a consistent and dedicated voice for his highly independent constituents. But with all that, he has played entirely by the rules. Many people forget that the rules of the United States Government allow for dissent…radical dissent even. He has been vocal and sounded the rallying cry, but Sanders has not dismantled any systems or successfully blocked any of the usual way things are done in our government. Bernie Sanders may be using radically different colors, but he is still very much so drawing within the lines.

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Scenes from “Julia” (I’m Dreaming of a Black Christmas)

When Diahann Carroll appeared in the title role of the television show Julia in 1968, she was the first black woman to lead a national network television show that was not variety or one where she played a maid. Her role was a professional nurse, and she was the star. It was also a show that spoke upfront about race in the middle of the most violent years of the Civil Rights Movement. Take for example the episode “I’m Dreaming of a Black Christmas” that opens with her young son arguing with a little white boy about the whether Santa Claus is black or white (see clip here). Prior to this, Miss Carroll had appeared opposite white actor Richard Kiley as a fashion model in Richard Rodgers’ No Strings on Broadway where she was also his love interest, breaking the color barrier in musical comedy. Because of her other powerful performances (Porgy and Bess, Carmen Jones, House of Flowers, etc.) she was a highly sought after guest on musical television programs with Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Sammy Davis, Jr. and other major white stars. She was not a ‘sex kitten’ a ‘blues mama’ or a domestic. Diahann Carroll was presented as a legitimate, mature artist who’s stunning voice, acting chops and statuesque beauty could not be contained in the racist attitudes of the day and could easily rival Doris Day or Barbra Streisand. In the 1950’s she had married white producer Monte Kay who was also 14 years her senior. imageIn the late 1980’s she stood toe to talon with Joan Collins in Dynasty.  She was powerful without being a cliché of black womanhood. Diahann Carroll was always true to herself which meant that she never played by the rules of her era. She was a real game changer.

Hillary Clinton insisted that the role of First Lady (both of Arkansas and then of the United States) was not simply to play hostess. Building on her role model Eleanor Roosevelt, she saw herself as both an extension of the President’s political power and effectiveness and as an independent player with a clear political agenda. Clinton then went completely against the grain of former First Ladies and opted to run for and win a seat in the US Senate instead of devoting herself to her husband’s legacy. Following a highly volatile battle for the Presidency against Barack Obama, she then went on to serve as his Secretary of State. We can and should argue about her record in each of these roles and we can find fault and favor with her decisions and motivations in certain circumstances, but it is undeniable that she has rewritten the resume of qualifications for people seeking high political office, particularly women. She has actually changed the game.

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Diahann Carroll today

We need game changers. This is the rhetoric that The Dump and Sanders are using. Sometimes you have to play outside of the box, or draw outside of the lines. But there is only one candidate who has consistently done this throughout their career. In fact, she has drawn an entirely different picture of what it looks like to find a path to the White House. One could argue that she has performed no better than any other white male politician. But I think you would be hard pressed to find any other politician with her public service pedigree and I believe we are a little to quick to assume that the playing field is so level that her being a woman doesn’t matter.  No one seems willing to use gender to Clinton’s advantage, but all too many are willing to use it as a weakness (criticism of her hair, clothes, voice, etc.) We need to invest in her as a whole and uniquely qualified person…a woman, an international statesperson, a Senator, a First Lady and an attorney…a game changer…and more importantly we need to insist that she see herself this way as well. She is the true radical by raising the bar for qualifications of all Presidents who follow, male or female.

The 2016 presidential election will not be won by the status quo, but in our current climate of ethical volatility, most people are focused on lofty ideology. It would serve the voting public to shift that focus more toward actual skills, political caché and battle tested durability that will be necessary to move the immovable object of the US Congress to action. This election should be won by the person who opens up a completely new way of thinking about what it means to be President of the United States and what that means to the context and relationship between our three branches of government. This next administration may not be as much about policy as some would have it as it is about the person. Just as the producers of Julia must have realized they had a unique opportunity, Hillary Clinton can be our nation’s Diahann Carroll.  What’s wrong with a black Santa Claus anyhow?

Living in the 90’s?

SandersClintonOn the eve of Super Tuesday, I should be finishing a paper that is due tomorrow, but I’m preoccupied.  I can’t get past the image from last week of UNCC activist Ashley Williams confronting Hillary Clinton[1] in the middle of a private event reminding the candidate about her 1996 statement about “super predators”.  I applaud Williams for her highly effective act of awareness-raising.  This statement from Clinton was ugly and non-productive language that perpetuated the image of the criminal inner city black person.  Granted, it was 20 years ago in a speech that also makes reference to the importance of community policing[2]…but I digress.  Overall, I am grateful for this particular action because it highlighted exactly how important it is for Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton to substantially address racial violence and inequity in our country with a much more aggressive and public stance.  She needs to do this, fearlessly, with a much clearer understanding of the impact that the 1990’s Clinton administration had on today’s racially biased system of justice.  But she is in the unique position of having to manage her direct association with a previous administration in which she had no official political role.  This is unknown territory; we’ve never done this as a nation before.  We’ve never had to psychologically separate a potential president from their role as First Lady and it is an insult to Hillary Clinton to reduce her candidacy to her marriage.  But this is made more complex because Clinton actively took on the job of re-claiming the role “First Lady of the United States” as someone who wasn’t just arm candy to the president (sorry Jackie).  She fashioned a new presence for the First Lady much on the lines of her hero Eleanor Roosevelt*.  But Hillary is no Eleanor yet. Acknowledgement and accountability for her active support and presence in the previous Clinton administration plus thoughtful public consideration of how she was complicit would go a long way with voters this cycle.

But what has me preoccupied is historical context. I would like to respectfully point out that unlike the 23 year old Williams, Clinton lived through the 90’s as an adult.  And unlike both of them, I lived through the 1990s as a black man in his mid/late 20 in New York City.  I remember very, very clearly that despite graduating from an elite university, in order to get jobs or housing, I had to distance myself from any kind of image or association with anything even vaguely “urban” (code for black/African-American). It was still the “Huxtable” era and public figures like Oprah Winfrey, Jesse Jackson, Eddie Murphy and Whitney Houston were redefining what black success, marketability, upward mobility and general social acceptability were all about.  And we all bought into it. The “Buppy” (Black Urban Professional) was an image that was in stark contrast with that of blacks who were stuck in poverty, struggling with drugs and battling crime first hand.

Shamefully, the dominant solution wasn’t focused in significant ways on restoration or reform.  We all spent too little time solving the real reasons why we faced drug problems in black neighborhoods and those of us who could were more focused on achieving financial mobility with the Clinton economic wave.  Socially, we were still trying to get past the senseless Reagan era labels like “welfare queens” and the completely out of touch “Just Say No” bullshit to have a baseline of legitimacy in the public discourse on prosperity.  From someone who was a 20 something voter at the time, we young blacks of the 1990’s were deeply invested in redefining our mainstream racial identity and we were pretty desperate to see the end of drugs and crimes that were devastating our communities and (in 1990’s language) “keeping us down”.  All of which brings me to my historical obsession.  In today’s heated and necessary battles over race, we forget that our black congressional leaders were also among the supporters of the “war on drugs”. The legislation that most people are pointing to during this election cycle is the draconian Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994[3]. It was handed to President Clinton with approval largely along party lines (Democrats in favor Republicans against.)  It also had the “yea” votes of 23 of the 34 black members of the House of Representatives[4] plus Senator Carol Mosely-Braun[5].  I do find it prophetic, however, that key black leaders, Charles Rangel (NY), Maxine Waters (CA), Cleo Fields (LA), and John Lewis (GA) opposed the bill.

Hillary Clinton, as First Lady had no vote.

My goal here is not in any way at all to defend the results of this law, or to say that the “war on drugs” was/is a good or correct thing or to blame our black leaders. I am only trying to point out that we are all getting lost in historical amnesia.  I am tired of hearing the national discourse obsess over the political records of both Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders like it is the exact guidebook for how they will govern as President.  Barack Obama was not elected based on his political record.  He was elected based on his political potential and his plans, which he has lived up to in both good and disappointing ways. What I believe we should be trying to determine this election cycle is who will actually be able to make targeted and lasting changes in our system of government so that the legislators (who are the ones who actually make law based on their constituents) have the negotiating room and tools to make better laws and repeal the ones that hurt us all.  Our priority needs to be electing a president who will focus on getting Congress unstuck.  If we look only at history, Sanders has never represented black people in any significant number[6] and Clinton was First Lady to the administration that sealed the fate on today’s mass incarceration.  On the other hand, Sanders has never wavered from support for LGBTQ issues and Clinton has more national and international experience than any other politician in the history of our country.  But, the real question is who are they now and what are their actual plans to be the leader we need today and moving forward. Which one will convince Senate Republicans to stop acting like petulant 6 year olds and actually follow the law of the land?  Who has a plan to codify the changes that will end the racial profiling and mass incarceration of black and brown people and what does that plan look like?  Who will not tolerate another year without equal pay for equal work?

I have yet to hear a Republican candidate other than John Kasich, speak about race.  What is more, most of them have not said a word about women in politics that hasn’t been either demeaning or downright offensive including their terrifying remarks against a woman’s right to choose.  If the Democratic party loses this election, it will not be the fault of either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.  The responsibility will sit squarely on the shoulders of the voting public that got caught up fighting with themselves over who remembers history better.  Meanwhile, the folks on the other side of the aisle who could care less about women or people of color (unless it means votes) will waltz into the Oval Office. The Republican candidates represent a political system that is not yet prepared to see equity in government or in public life.  They are determined to normalize hate speech and xenophobia and they falsely claim God as their witness to do so[7].  The entire voting public, regardless of party, has a responsibility to elect a president who will actually govern the entire US population and not just the people who have, as former KKK leader David Duke said endorsing the Trump campaign “the same kind of mindset you have.”[8] Both Clinton and Sanders believe in governing all of the United States, now and in the future. So let’s press them on the details of their policies.  I have no interest in electing either 1990’s Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton.  And really, were any of us all that great in the 1990’s…except for maybe Oprah or Whoopi Goldberg?

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Not Hillary (or Oprah or Whoopi)

*Eleanor Roosevelt had her own “super predator” moment when she originally supported President Roosevelt’s internment of the Japanese.  But she pivoted from this stance.  Below is a link to the text of a speech she delivered as part of that evolution.  Many would consider her break, though mild, treasonous during a time of war. http://www.nps.gov/articles/erooseveltinternment.htm

 

[1]  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2016/02/25/clinton-heckled-by-black-lives-matter-activist/

[2]  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j0uCrA7ePno

[3] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Violent_Crime_Control_and_Law_Enforcement_Act#Legacy

[4] http://clerk.house.gov/evs/1994/roll416.xml

[5] http://www.senate.gov/legislative/LIS/roll_call_lists/roll_call_vote_cfm.cfm?congress=103&session=2&vote=00295

[6] http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/50000.html

[7] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-wallis/its-embarrassing-to-be-an_b_9326650.html

[8] http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/onpolitics/2016/02/25/david-duke-trump/80953384/

Antonin Scalia (1936 – 2016) – RIP

ScaliaI’m a gay man and I’m saying don’t spit or dance on Antonin Scalia’s grave. I believe in prison abolition and radical police and justice reform including being staunchly against the death penalty and I say don’t curse his name. I am black and very aware that affirmative action is still very much necessary and I say do not remember him only as an ignorant or backward bigot. I believe in every woman’s right to choose what is best for her body (as men choose every day…often against women’s will) without coercion or politicians and with the full support of a sane civil society with universal health care and I say do not write Antonin Scalia off as a religiously motivated woman-hating zealot.

I say this because, if the current antics on the Presidential campaign trail are any indication, we are headed into an astoundingly complicated time in the history of this country. We face a field of candidates still dominated by whites and men while the five states with the largest numbers of voting delegates (California, Texas, Florida, New York and Illinois) are already or are nearly majority people of color.[1] The Democratic Party seems poised and eager to completely devour Hillary Clinton, a product of the party and arguably one of the most qualified women and one of the most experienced politicians* in the history of Presidential politics. Black Lives Matter protestors are interrupting infrastructure, Ta-Nehesi Coates has re-mounted the call for reparations, all the while the first black President, the son of an African migrant, is presiding over some of the broadest and most aggressive sweeps and deportations of undocumented people of color in the history of the nation. In short, we are in a time of confusing, stark, sometimes lethal and always uncomfortable contrasts.

Beloved community is formed not by the eradication of difference but by its affirmation, by each of us claiming the identities and cultural legacies that shape who we are and how we live in the world. – bell hooks (killing rage: Ending Racism – 1995)

These words are our challenge today. I hear the challenge in conversation about justice reform: How do we assure peace in our communities and hold the keepers of that peace accountable without inhibiting their effectiveness? How do we assure that thieves pay for their crimes when those same thieves are stealing so they don’t starve? How do we oppose the death penalty in the same breath that we claim deep religious values and insist on total retribution for the murder of children? How do we restore the victim of rape to wholeness and peace in themselves and justify restoring the rapist to community? These seem impossible to reconcile. But if we are to listen to bell hooks, the answer must exist somewhere in our ability to affirm our differences without obscuring one another. Now more than ever, we must acknowledge the basic equity of humanity at the foundation our existence. With this acknowledgement, we might actively increase our capacity to embrace and live with difference…and work with it. We might find a way to actually stand in the same room with our ideological enemies without shouting them down or simply walking away. This is new. This is uncharted. We do not have language for it yet. I, for one, certainly don’t know what it looks like. But recalling some of Scalia’s vitriol and then watching the President offer a tribute to him while reminding us that before politics, we must take time to comfort and to mourn, might be heading in the right direction. – RIP

Watch or Read: Obama On Scalia

[1] US Census – http://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/00

*No other candidate for President of the United States has been a former US Senator, United States Secretary of State, First Lady of the United States, First Lady of a US State (Arkansas), and an attorney.