Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Why Can’t We Talk About Race and Gender?

I do realize that I probably don’t have my finger on the pulse of the nation, that I’m often out of sync with prevailing attitudes, however, is it just me, or is there not something odd about America entertaining its first viable black and female presidential candidates, but they don’t want to talk about race or gender and we (the public, the media, whoever) aren’t supposed to either. Why? I understand that Obama wants to be viewed as a candidate, not the blackcandidate, and that similarly, Clinton rejects being seen as the womancandidate. But given our national history, won’t the first black or woman president bring something distinct and unique to the job, an awareness, sensitivity and (you should excuse me) agenda that white men have generally lacked?

In my ministerial capacity, I’ve conducted two gay commitment ceremonies – but we called them weddings and no one mentioned the word gay; it was a deliberate choice, to emphasize the idea that love is love and no one is served by making distinctions between gay and straight. But the 2008 presidential campaign is not a symbolic ceremony, it’s our national democratic process in action, and whoever becomes president will have to deal with significant issues that are undeniably tied to race, gender or both.

I expect a woman president to be particularly sensitive to issues that have a serious impact on women: preserving the right to choose and ready access to birth control information and products; promoting increased parity in health care, insurance coverage, higher education and employment; addressing domestic violence and rape in a truly meaningful, authoritative way; and both nationally and as a foreign policy priority, confronting sexual slavery, rape as a tactic of war, female genital mutilation, and the dearth of human rights for women reflected in honor killings and other culturally entrenched forms of subjugation.

Likewise, I expect a black president to be especially attuned to issues that have a serious impact on racial minorities: discrimination in employment, business development and housing; the wildly disproportionate number of prisoners of color; outrageous levels of poverty; the crippling impact of hard drugs and family instability in communities of color; the massive education problem; and the disturbing influence of “ghetto culture” music and mindset that devalues learning and upward mobility.

Indeed, I would like to see any president, of any race or either gender, address all of the pressing problems listed above. And at this historic juncture, isn’t it legitimate, hell, imperative, that unprecedented candidates confront long-ignored social issues with status-quo-disrupting determination? I would like to hear Hillary Clinton say that women and children in America (and around the world) can depend on her being a consistent advocate on their behalf. I’d like to hear Barack Obama say that on his watch, the American racial divide will be bridged and Africa will no longer be the continent left behind. I dearly want both of them to initiate a much-needed national dialogue on race and gender – but first, they have to be willing to say the words.

No comments: