Monday, September 01, 2008

Nominating a Black presidential candidate doesn't change everything

For the last week, Democrats have been basking in the hope and possibility of change... politically, ethnically, relationally. But make no mistake. Just because Barack Obama has been nominated for the presidential position does not mean all is well. We need to be careful to not get too complacent and comfortable thinking that we have arrived now that we have nominated a Black man into our country's highest position.

Let me tell you about three things I experienced this week that I think need to be brought to our consciousness:

1) While I was still in Denver, Hurricane Gustav began forming. As I listened to The Weather Channel, I listened to the man explain Gustav saying, "Gustav!...It sounds so much more scary than Fay!"

Why is that? Why do people get more afraid when they hear a name like "Gustav?" Do we think about what we are saying? Would he have said Hurricane George was scarier than Fay? I wondered how my friend Gustavo, one of the nicest and calmest young adults I know, would feel if he was told his name was "scary."

2) I sought to purchase memorabilia that might be worth something one day. I came across a Barack Obama action figure. I liked the idea of an action figure a lot better than I did a Barack Obama bobble head (they had those, too). I bought the action figure despite the name brand, Jailbreak Toys. Now I wish I hadn't.

Though the website has some other action figures of White people, it's inconsiderate and insensitive to associate Barack Obama, an African-American man, with "Jailbreak toys." I sought to figure out why they call it "jailbreak," but to no avail. I have written the company to find out, while also expressing my feeling that sensitivity and recognition of the message their name sends is very important to consider. You can do the same by emailing them at

3) I noticed that even Virgin Records had a political display of items so I thought I'd check them out as well. I ran across a book of Obama paper dolls. What a cool thing! I picked it up thinking I might get it for my niece and nephew or my friend's little girl. But as I flipped through the tabbed clothing, I had to double-take to make sure I was looking at the right book. The tabbed clothing had arms and legs that looked about my skin color.

I flipped to the front of the book and, sure enough, it was Barack, Michelle, Malia, and Sasha, but all four of them had a light ivory skin color. If anything, Barack's skin was shaded slightly darker than the other three. As I look at the Obama family (see photo above), each of them have different shades of skin color...and none of them have the appearance of light ivory. I plan to write the company (you can do the same by clicking here) to let them know that not all Black people look alike...and it is important to represent that. Our society needs to do a better job of recognizing that. It is not appropriate to ignore a person's skin color by portraying everyone as White. It's insensitive and offensive.

In the 1940s Dr. Kenneth Clark did a doll test with White dolls and Black dolls. The majority of the children preferred the White doll. Kiri Davis replicated this test and found the same results in 2005. We have got to assert our voice so that the test won't be replicated in another 50 years with the same results.

The reason I bring this up is not about being "politically correct." It's about being aware. It's about being sensitive to other people. It's about recognizing the message our language and our actions send. But we have to listen to people who are different than us in order to understand those different perspectives.

If this election can lead us to do that, no matter who becomes president, we will be stronger individuals and a stronger country as a result.
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