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Blog Entries tagged 'obama'

The Making of a Man, Newsweek

newsweek

The Making of a Man

The election of 2008 broke many barriers, not the least was its demolishing the cult of masculinity.

By Rebecca Walker

Barack Obama’s journey to the White House was punctuated by watershed moments: Obama addressing untold thousands in Berlin, and millions more in his televised speech on race. Obama sending love to his wife and daughters via the big screen at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Michelle Obama symbolically crashing the gates of the White House in her stunning red dress. Then there was the final presidential debate, when Obama showed the world what it means to be a man in America, circa right now.

At Belmont University, McCain played the confrontational “tough guy,” bringing the pain to back up his pre-fight taunt to “whip Obama’s you-know-what.” But as McCain waxed pugilistic on issues of abortion, taxation and Joe the Plumber, Obama talked about “sacred sexuality,” and expressed concern for middle class Americans losing their financial footing. Audience polling called the debate overwhelmingly for Obama, and David Gergen, with trademark nonpartisan gravitas, said McCain looked angry. Obama was the voice of reason. But something else was going on. Two tropes of masculinity were battling for dominance.

The skirmish was as much about re-writing the narrative of male power as it was about winning the election. Think John Wayne vs. the Dalai Lama, Bernard Madoff vs Martin Luther King, and George Bush vs Al Gore, all over again. Who would prevail? The man who would prosecute an ongoing ground war against mortal enemies, or the one who would attempt peaceful resolution? The one who would empty the coffers of charitable foundations, or the one who would fight for all Americans to be recognized as whole human beings? The one who would drill in the arctic, or face an inconvenient truth? A third generation military man with seven-make that eight-homes, or a multiracial Harvard Law graduate and community organizer with one house, a Ford Escape and a bike?

It was the next chapter in the great American story of individuals breaking out of restrictive stereotypes based on race, class and gender.

Thirty years ago women demanded freedom from oppressive ideals of femininity. Today more and more men are refusing the toxic role of “being a man.” The debate was a turning point in a larger reckoning, a tacit acknowledgment that John Wayne, the standard- bearer of American masculinity for over five decades, may not have been good for America.

The rules of traditional heterosexual masculinity are still so pervasive in American culture, almost any male over twelve can tick them off with ease. Don’t cry, or even feel. Don’t engage in complex strategic processing; take the easier road and slug disagreements out instead. Win those skirmishes, or be tagged “gay”-the worst kind of slight in a homophobic male environment defined by sexual conquest of women, the more powerful the better. Regardless of race or class, real men should make a lot of money and have the power to hire and fire, like Fifty Cent and Donald Trump, as proof of their dominance. Some African-American men display their resistance to white male dominance, and thus their own brand of male power, by embracing an anti-intellectual, “too cool for school” posture, a perfect example of a masculine trope undermining the success of the person be hind the mask. And even though Asian-American men are often emasculated in our culture, they can lean on the mythological martial skills of their ancestors to claim a kind of uber-dominance. Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Lao Tzu, and Mao Zedong are some of the most famous fighters in the world.

There are other criteria, but the underlying message is clear: follow the rules of the cult of masculinity and you will live to see another day. Slip up and be humiliated, or worse. Just ask the stay-at-home dads struggling for the respect of their peers in corporate America, or the gay and transgender men beaten up on any given night by groups of men yelling “faggot.”

Enter Barack Obama, who rose to the highest office expressing a willingness to meet with America’s known enemies. On the campaign trail, he shared his feelings openly. On election night, he was photographed holding the hand of his mother-in-law, Marian Robinson. When Obama talks about people losing their homes and being unable to afford to send their kids to college, his words seem to come from the heart, the compassionate place marked “for women only” for so long.

Obama’s ideologically diverse cabinet is another indicator that he doesn’t believe in a top-down, top-dog approach, or that the best ideas will come from the man at the head of the table. Solutions are expected to come as a result of dynamic interactions between exceptional individuals. He’s not afraid to articulate a vision that includes the safety and well being of the LGBT community, and he doesn’t shy away from supporting a woman’s right to make difficult, and often heart-wrenching, choices about what to do with her body, be it terminate a pregnancy or act as a surrogate for another woman’s child. Obama’s value as a man isn’t in his bank account; it’s in his openness to changing the game and identifying the players necessary to do it successfully.

Finally, there is Michelle Obama, the coup de grace. Wife, best friend, and his “rock,” as he said in his victory speech. Michelle is Barack’s secret weapon, and he consistently acknowledges that their relationship is the engine of his success. When Obama told Barbara Walters that he figured out long ago that “if mama ain’t happy, no one is,” a lot of couples laughed out loud at home. It spoke to a certain truth about successful heterosexual partnerships: that cultivating interdependence with a woman is a much better idea than trying to dominate her. Obama’s fatherhood, too, seems as important to him as his public policy.

The genius of it all is that Obama appears to have supplanted many of the traditional elements of masculinity without sacrificing his virility and clear intention to protect American interests by any means necessary. He plays a competitive game of basketball and pulls off a wicked poker face while making stealth moves behind the scenes.His sex appeal is palpable, as the millions of viewers drawn to the recent vacation photo of him shirtless in Hawaii prove, as does the intimacy the Obamas display everywhere they appear.

Obama’s unique blend of openness and strength has tremendous appeal to men seeking to liberate themselves from an archaic and ineffectual model of masculinity without sacrificing their swagger. He stands for the millions of men who have always defined their manhood on their own terms, but have never had this level of cultural support for their choices.

For those looking for a role model for their children, Obama is also a welcome change. Nathalie Hopkinson, co-author of “Deconstructing Tyrone: A New Look at Black Masculinity in the Hip-Hop Generation,” speaks for many parents when describing the shift she’s seen in her seven year old son over the last months. He’s become President of his class, taken to wearing a tie and blazer to school and traded in his backpack for a briefcase. All of this bodes well for a nation plagued by increasing violence and falling test scores, but we will have to wait and see how Obama’s style plays out as he goes head to head with Dmitriy Anatolyevich Medved, Hu Jintao and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. To be deemed an acceptable mode of leadership, Obama’s “enlightened masculinity” will need to restore some semblance of peace in the Middle East and faith in American markets abroad.

As men abandon dominance as a way of moving in the world, women will have to continue to evolve their identities as well. Thanks to the women’s movement most American women today see themselves as equal, if not superior, to men. But women still have to continue to shed the powerful, if sublimated, fantasy of a knight in shining armor coming forward to protect and defend. After giving
a recent speech on contemporary masculinity at St Louis University, I met several women who said they lost respect for boyfriends who expressed vulnerability, and men said they felt pressured to prove their manliness by protecting their girlfriends from the advances of other men.

Truth be told, the final presidential debate was about women, too. We watched, calculating how quickly we could evolve. Would we be safe with a President who shares his feelings and doesn’t get spitting mad? What kind of fundamental changes would we need to make in order to be congruent with the new paradigm?

If Michelle Obama is any indication, we will need to become more comfortable playing all possible roles-mentor, wife, mother, defender, “rock”-while being defined by none. Her willingness to be a true counterpart, secure in her power and flowing between roles, rather than an adversary competing for the top spot or a self-sacrificing and resentful subordinate, means that our new First Family provides Americans of both sexes a model for reaching beyond outdated ideas about gender. This is good news in difficult times, because ultimately, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, upon whose bible Obama will take the oath of office, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

February 4th, 2009

Obama on Al Arabiya: We Are Family

January 28th, 2009

What It Looks Like

From the New Yorker:

On May 26, 1996, Mariana Cook visited Barack and Michelle Obama in Hyde Park as part of a photography project on couples in America. What follows is excerpted from her interviews with them.

MICHELLE OBAMA: There is a strong possibility that Barack will pursue a political career, although it’s unclear. There is a little tension with that. I’m very wary of politics. I think he’s too much of a good guy for the kind of brutality, the skepticism.

When you are involved in politics, your life is an open book, and people can come in who don’t necessarily have good intent. I’m pretty private, and like to surround myself with people that I trust and love. In politics you’ve got to open yourself to a lot of different people. There is a possibility that our futures will go that way, even though I want to have kids and travel, spend time with family, and like spending time with friends. But we are going to be busy people doing lots of stuff. And it’ll be interesting to see what life has to offer. In many ways, we are here for the ride, just sort of seeing what opportunities open themselves up. And the more you experiment the easier it is to do different things. If I had stayed in a law firm and made partner, my life would be completely different. I wouldn’t know the people I know, and I would be more risk-averse. Barack has helped me loosen up and feel comfortable with taking risks, not doing things the traditional way and sort of testing it out, because that is how he grew up. I’m more traditional; he’s the one in the couple that, I think, is the less traditional individual. You can probably tell from the photographs—he’s just more out there, more flamboyant. I’m more, like, “Well, let’s wait and see. What did that look like? How much does it weigh?”

BARACK OBAMA: All my life, I have been stitching together a family, through stories or memories or friends or ideas. Michelle has had a very different background—very stable, two-parent family, mother at home, brother and dog, living in the same house all their lives. We represent two strands of family life in this country—the strand that is very stable and solid, and then the strand that is breaking out of the constraints of traditional families, travelling, separated, mobile. I think there was that strand in me of imagining what it would be like to have a stable, solid, secure family life.

Michelle is a tremendously strong person, and has a very strong sense of herself and who she is and where she comes from. But I also think in her eyes you can see a trace of vulnerability that most people don’t know, because when she’s walking through the world she is this tall, beautiful, confident woman. There is a part of her that is vulnerable and young and sometimes frightened, and I think seeing both of those things is what attracted me to her. And then what sustains our relationship is I’m extremely happy with her, and part of it has to do with the fact that she is at once completely familiar to me, so that I can be myself and she knows me very well and I trust her completely, but at the same time she is also a complete mystery to me in some ways. And there are times when we are lying in bed and I look over and sort of have a start. Because I realize here is this other person who is separate and different and has different memories and backgrounds and thoughts and feelings. It’s that tension between familiarity and mystery that makes for something strong, because, even as you build a life of trust and comfort and mutual support, you retain some sense of surprise or wonder about the other person.

January 26th, 2009

The Big Blue Marble

And, in the spirit of the day, the opening sequence from one of my favorite shows from childhood:

Courtesy of one of my dearest Facebook friends.

January 20th, 2009

Barack Hussein Obama Sr.

Barack Hussein Obama (1936 ? 24 November 1982) was a Kenyan senior governmental economist, and father of former Illinois Senator and President-elect of the United States Barack Obama.

Obama Sr. was born in Kanyadhiang village, Rachuonyo District on the shores of Lake Victoria just outside Kendu Bay, Kenya, at the time a colony of the British Empire, and raised in the village of Nyang’oma Kogelo, Siaya District.He was the son of Hussein Onyango Obama (c. 1895-1979) and his second wife, Akumu Habiba.

His family are members of the Luo ethnic group. Obama Sr. was born into a Muslim family, but was an atheist before he came to the United States.Before working as a cook for missionaries in Nairobi, Onyango had travelled widely, enlisting with the name Onyango Obama in the British colonial forces and visiting Europe, India, and Zanzibar, where he converted from Roman Catholicism to Islam. Onyango had at least three wives; Barack Obama Sr. was the son of Akumu, the second wife. However, he was raised by Onyango's third wife, Sarah, after Akumu left her family and separated from her husband in 1945. Obama Sr. was married in 1954 at the age of eighteen, in a tribal ceremony to Kezia, with whom he had four children.

At the age of 23, Obama Sr. enrolled at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, leaving behind a pregnant Kezia and their infant son. He had already turned away from Islam and become an atheist by the time he moved to the United States. On 2 February 1961, Obama Sr. married fellow student Ann Dunham in Maui, Hawaii.Obama Sr.'s and Dunham's son, Barack Obama II, was born on August 4, 1961. Dunham left school to care for the baby, while Obama Sr. completed his degree. He graduated from the University of Hawaii in June 1962, leaving shortly thereafter to travel to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he would begin graduate study at Harvard University in the fall.

Later that summer, Dunham and the year-old baby Barack stopped to visit her friends in Mercer Island, Washington, the Seattle suburb where she had grown up, before joining Obama Sr. in Cambridge. However, mother and son soon returned to Seattle, where she enrolled at the University of Washington. Dunham, missing her family, then moved back to Hawaii and filed for divorce in Honolulu in January 1964. Obama Sr. did not contest, and the divorce was granted. He visited his son only once, in 1971, when Barack was 10 years old.

January 17th, 2009

10 Absurd Conservative Myths About Obama's Recovery Plan

By Sara Robinson, on Alternet

Here it is: our moment of economic truth. We're standing at that historic fork in the road where the nation decides, now and for the foreseeable future, whether it's going to hang on to the catastrophic assumptions of the free-market fundamentalists and rely once more on the nostrums that have so far failed to fix the mess, or take a bold step down a new, more progressive path that will finally re-empower the American people to build an economy that works for us all.

As usual, the conservatives have absolutely no conscience about what they did to create this mess. If they did, they'd all be holed up in their gated communities or on their private islands, embarrassed into silence at best and terrified of peasant uprisings at worst. Instead, they're jetting into D.C. en masse in a last-ditch attempt to head the country off -- or at least make sure that any money that does get spent ends up, as it always has, in their pockets.

To that end, the self-serving myths are starting to fly so thick and fast that the staff here at CAF has been working full-time to keep ahead of them. Here's some of what they're flinging in this latest B.S. storm -- and what you need to know to fire back.

1. The proposed recovery package is too big.

False. Most progressive economists agree (and Paul Krugman is downright emphatic) that it's going to take a minimum of a trillion dollars of well-placed investment to pull our economy out of this ditch. This is no time for half-measures, blue-ribbon committees, pilot projects, or trial balloons: this is a life-or-death crisis that requires immediate and massive intervention.

More

January 9th, 2009

The End of White America, excerpted from the Atlantic

What do you think?

By Hua Hsu, for the Atlantic:

"Today, hip-hop’s colonization of the global imagination, from fashion runways in Europe to dance competitions in Asia, is Disney-esque. This transformation has bred an unprecedented cultural confidence in its black originators. Whiteness is no longer a threat, or an ideal: it’s kitsch to be appropriated, whether with gestures like Combs’s “white parties” or the trickle-down epidemic of collared shirts and cuff links currently afflicting rappers. And an expansive multiculturalism is replacing the us-against-the-world bunker mentality that lent a thrilling edge to hip-hop’s mid-1990s rise.

Peter Rosenberg, a self-proclaimed “nerdy Jewish kid” and radio personality on New York’s Hot 97 FM—and a living example of how hip-hop has created new identities for its listeners that don’t fall neatly along lines of black and white—shares another example: “I interviewed [the St. Louis rapper] Nelly this morning, and he said it’s now very cool and in to have multicultural friends. Like you’re not really considered hip or ‘you’ve made it’ if you’re rolling with all the same people.”

Just as Tiger Woods forever changed the country-club culture of golf, and Will Smith confounded stereotypes about the ideal Hollywood leading man, hip-hop’s rise is helping redefine the American mainstream, which no longer aspires toward a single iconic image of style or class. Successful network-television shows like Lost, Heroes, and Grey’s Anatomy feature wildly diverse casts, and an entire genre of half-hour comedy, from The Colbert Report to The Office, seems dedicated to having fun with the persona of the clueless white male. The youth market is following the same pattern: consider the Cheetah Girls, a multicultural, multiplatinum, multiplatform trio of teenyboppers who recently starred in their third movie, or Dora the Explorer, the precocious bilingual 7-year-old Latina adventurer who is arguably the most successful animated character on children’s television today. In a recent address to the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies, Brown Johnson, the Nickelodeon executive who has overseen Dora’s rise, explained the importance of creating a character who does not conform to “the white, middle-class mold.” When Johnson pointed out that Dora’s wares were outselling Barbie’s in France, the crowd hooted in delight.

Pop culture today rallies around an ethic of multicultural inclusion that seems to value every identity—except whiteness. “It’s become harder for the blond-haired, blue-eyed commercial actor,” remarks Rochelle Newman-Carrasco, of the Hispanic marketing firm Enlace. “You read casting notices, and they like to cast people with brown hair because they could be Hispanic. The language of casting notices is pretty shocking because it’s so specific: ‘Brown hair, brown eyes, could look Hispanic.’ Or, as one notice put it: ‘Ethnically ambiguous.’”

“I think white people feel like they’re under siege right now—like it’s not okay to be white right now, especially if you’re a white male,” laughs Bill Imada, of the IW Group. Imada and Newman-Carrasco are part of a movement within advertising, marketing, and communications firms to reimagine the profile of the typical American consumer. (Tellingly, every person I spoke with from these industries knew the Census Bureau’s projections by heart.?"

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January 8th, 2009

Oscar Grant: Wake Up America

"Those who eulogized Grant did not address the shooting, which was captured on video by at least two BART riders and has stirred outrage among those who believe the incident was tantamount to an execution. At virtually the moment the service was getting under way, the lawyer and union representative for the officer who shot Grant, Johannes Mehserle, were submitting his resignation to BART officials."

January 8th, 2009

Grieving the loss of Ismael, Lama, and Hayya

And I am thinking about Ayda, and wondering what I or anyone else can do to help the mothers of murdered children everywhere. 

from the New York Times:

But there were several children in another intensive care unit on Tuesday. Among them was Ismael Hamdan, 8, who had severe brain damage as well as two broken legs, according to a doctor there. Earlier that day, two of his sisters, Lama, 5, and Hayya, 12, were killed.

“I prepared them breakfast that day in the garden,” said their mother, Ayda, 36. “They had the tea, bread and thyme. Lama wanted a second pita, but we all teased her saying, ‘Keep it for lunch.’ She told us, ‘Don’t worry, God will provide us with bread.’

“She made all of us laugh,” the mother said. “I cleaned after them and collected the garbage. Ismael volunteered to dump the garbage, but Hayya and Lama joined him. The garbage can is in front of the house, a five-minute walk away. All of a sudden I heard the news from a neighbor, and I ran barefoot to the hospital. A relative collected the bodies of Lama and Hayya on a donkey cart.

“The neighbors ran trying to save Ismael, who was the only one breathing,” she said. “They say my kids flew 40 meters before hitting the ground.”

Ismael died Wednesday night.

January 1st, 2009

From Newsweek: The Global Elite

Interesting piece in Newsweek on the history of power and the new global elite. 

The Top 10 of 50:

 
Who would you add? 
December 28th, 2008