Monday, March 24, 2008

The cry of the entitled: "I want it now!"

I want the world
I want the whole world
I want to lock it all up in my pocket
It's my bar of chocolate
Give it to me
I want today
I want tomorrow

I want to wear 'em like braids in my hair
And I don't want to share 'em
I want a party with room fulls of laughter
Ten thousand tons of ice cream
And if I don't get the things I am afterI'm going to scream!

I want the works
I want the whole works
Presents and prizes and sweets and surprises
Of all shapes and sizes
And now
Don't care how
I want it now
Don't care how
I want it now

- From "I Want it Now," performed by the character Veruca Salt
in "Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory"

Remember ghastly Veruca Salt from the 1971 classic film "Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory?" The spoiled, entitled little thing who wanted what she wanted when she wanted it, at any cost? The "bad egg" who received comeuppance for her hubris when she was dropped down the shoot in the Golden Egg Sorting Room? Since Super Tuesday, the 2008 Clinton campaign has taken on the demanding, aggressive, arrogant, take-no-prisoners approach of a full-on Veruca Salt tantrum. And like Miss Salt, who took her long-suffering "Daddy" down with her in the kiddie classic, Hillary Clinton seems destined to take the Democratic Party along in her slide to ignominy. That is, unless Howard Dean and the Democratic leadership take action soon.

Remember when Hillary Clinton was the inevitable candidate--anointed so by media, polls and pundits alike? So convinced was Clinton of her own press that she failed to plan for a primary campaign that lasted beyond Super Tuesday. And that, maybe, was the rub. While Clinton was celebrating her "assured" nomination, the zeitgeist changed. A Democratic electorate weary of war, incompassionate conservatism and the thuggery of the Bush administration, began feeling less like Clintonian centrism and more populist. The word "change" began to be thrown about.

No matter. The Democrats possessed a strong slate of qualified candidates, all of whom mainstream progressives would have gladly voted for. In particular, Barack Obama, the junior senator from Illinois, began to enliven the Democratic base, exciting young voters and others long disenfranchised from the party. Clinton was unbowed though, predicting Dec. 30 on ABC News that the race for the Democratic nomination would be over by Super Tuesday.

But then the unthinkable happened. Barack Obama won the Iowa caucus. And he kept on winning: 29 states and territories (including Democrats abroad) and 1,622 delegates in all, compared to Clinton's 17 states and 1,485 delegates. Now media and pundits are saying there is no reasonable way for Clinton to win. It wasn't supposed to happen this way. And like Roald Dahl's entitled brat Veruca, Hillary Clinton and her campaign threw a tantrum of epic proportions: leveraging the worst kind of identity politics, floating accusations of media bias, engaging in sly and not-so-sly race baiting, trying to stretch and bend party rules to her favor, praising the Republican nominee while denigrating a fellow Dem, and exhibiting an ugliness not generally seen in primary elections between leaders allegedly on the same side.

Don't care how
I want it now
Don't care how
I want it now

Remember a year ago when everyone was sure there was no way the Democrats could lose the 2008 presidential election? Remember when we Dems sniggered at the Republicans and their lackluster roster of misfit candidates? We're not laughing now. The Democratic base is angry and fractured. Many feminists, rightly angry at sexism in the campaign, inexplicably put the blame on Obama and/or see the election as a tooth-and-claw relay in the oppression Olympics. They vow not to vote for Obama if he is the nominee. Many black Americans are astonished that a candidate, long thought to be a "friend" of the community, would trade on racial tension as a means to win the nomination. And we are even more disappointed that leaders of the party blacks have been so loyal to, are silent as we are maligned. Many of us have vowed not to vote for Hillary Clinton if she is the nominee.

Women are angry at men. Black feminists are mad at white feminists. Older voters are mad at younger voters. Florida and Michigan are mad at everybody. And the Republican nominee for president has been chosen and has already begun his (bumbling) campaign for the White House (Quick--somebody tell John McCain the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite.) How ever did we get here? When I connect the dots, I come back to Hillary Clinton and the Clintonian "win at all costs" ethos.

This isn't new Clinton behavior. (See The Nation's article about Bill and Hillary Clinton's efforts to undermine Howard Dean's role as head of the Democratic National Committee.) And I imagine Hillary Clinton and her enabler, Mark Penn, the poor man's Karl Rove, are pretty sure this behavior will (again) be forgotten. After all, Democratic strategist and Clinton supporter Harold Ickes, when asked about possible disaffection of black voters in this election, said that we'll get over it:

“There will be some hurt feelings initially,” Ickes said. “But in a very tight election, Barack Obama will swing in behind Hillary Clinton and black people will vote for her and she will be able to bring in Hispanic voters also.”
Not so fast, Harold. I'm not so sure that the Democratic Party will be okay this time. I'm not so sure the base will fall in line. Plenty of folks, like me, are too appalled at the actions of the Clinton campaign and the acquiescence of the Democratic leadership to do that. Plenty of us are ready to leave a party that is, more and more, appearing a lot like the Republicans we often accuse of being bigoted, selfish, unfair and disinterested in regular people.

I would like to believe that Hillary Clinton, behind Barack Obama in pledged delegates, states won and the popular vote, would concede for the good of her party. But I know that she won't. The Veruca Salt's of the world don't give up like that. So, I am calling on the Democratic leadership to end this. Howard Dean: Speak up about the misbehavior of the Clinton campaign. Superdelegates: Align today behind the Democratic candidate who is ahead--Barack Obama. Let us begin recovering from the dissension created by this campaign. Let us begin uniting again as a party. Let us begin our battle to take the White House.

I am a black woman and a liberal, who is greatly disappointed in the Democratic party. For the first time in my life, I am considering not voting with the party to which I have been loyal since I cast my first vote--for Bill Clinton. I want my party to show that it respects me and people like me. I want my party to show that it is committed to democratic (small d) values and the will of the electorate. I want my party to show that it is better than those Florida voter-purging, election-stealing Republicans that many of us feel so superior to. I want my party to show that we are an inclusive party--not just when it is convenient, but also when trying to appeal to white, working-class voters. I want to know that my party is the party that appeals to people's best interests, not their worst.

And, you know what? I want it NOW!

Sign the "Concede now, Hillary!" petition:

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Women's History Month blog carnival

Dear Judith Townsend*,
by Deesha Philyaw

You probably don't remember me. I'm that colored girl that you tried to cheat out of job opportunity in your school district in the mid-90s. Ring a bell?

No? Let me refresh your memory. After graduating with a 3.4 GPA from an Ivy League institution in your home state, I took a corporate job but quickly became disillusioned. I wanted to do work that mattered, so I leapt at a fellowship opportunity to have your school district pay for my Master's degree in teaching while I simultaneously did my student teaching and served as a substitute in your district. The program was designed to attract highly-qualified "teachers of color" to your incredibly lily-white, affluent district. An admirable goal, and I was thrilled to be chosen to participate.

As the head of human resources for the district, you were my primary point of contact regarding employment matters. For a year and a half, I checked in with you about the process of transitioning from the fellowship program to full-time employment. There were no guarantees; everything hinged on available positions, and I wanted to make sure that I had all my ducks in a row when interview time came.

As the 1994-1995 school year drew to a close--and I was set to graduate with my M.A. in teaching with a 4.0 GPA--I called you more frequently at the urging of the principal at the school where I was serving as a long-term sub for a teacher on maternity leave. (You know, the one "poor" school in the district where most of the colored kids go?). This principal confirmed my presumption that hiring for the upcoming school year would take place before the present school year ended, and she seemed surprised at your telling me that you doubted there would be any new teaching hires for the upcoming school year. But each time I called, you told me that, so far, none of the elementary schools in the district had any openings.

Imagine my surprise--shock, horror, rage--when one afternoon, just a week before school ended, the principal's secretary ran out onto the field where I was helping referee Field Day, with a phone message for me. One of the other elementary school principals had heard great things about me from the principal where I'd done my student teaching, and he wanted me to come interview for a 5th grade teaching position. Today. After school. Today was the last day of interviews, and he had assumed that I would have been amongst the candidates that you, Judith, would have sent over to see him. But since I wasn't, and since he had been underwhelmed by the other candidates, he thought he'd give me a call and offer this last chance.

Surrounded by six-year-olds, I didn't scream, Judith. I refrained from calling you every kind of bitch my brain could conjure up. I exhaled--we colored people have to do that, a lot--and I asked the secretary if she would watch my class while I went to the office to make a phone call.
In my t-shirt and shorts, grubby with little hand prints, I called that principal and pleaded--my people are no strangers to that either, Judith--pleaded with him to extend the interviews just one more day. I wanted to the opportunity to present myself as the other interviewees had--poised, prepared…clean.

He hesitated, but ultimately, he said yes. Thank God, he said yes. Despite of you, Judith, he said yes.

And I got the job.

But maybe you do remember all of this, Judith. Maybe your brow wrinkles involuntarily on occasion when you recall One of Them that slipped through. Maybe you are still haunted, confused, by that time when people who looked just like you undermined your efforts to piss on someone who looked like me.

All these events took place well over a decade ago. I've moved on, certainly, no worse for wear because of your bullshit. But your deceit has stuck with me all these years for this simple reason: I am a daughter of the South, Judith. My mother drank from "colored" water fountains, and my grandmother was on a first-name basis with Jim Crow. But not until I arrived in your Northeastern town and dealt with you, did I ever personally experience such blatant, direct racism. You managed to out-cracker the crackers, Judith. What a feat.

*By the way, you know and I know that Judith Townsend is not your real name. I've used this pseudonym not so much to protect your privacy, but rather to represent the fact that behavior like yours is common. Racist and sneaky?--You could be just about anybody. How's that for irony? Aspiring to maintain a bastion of racial purity and elitism by acting common. I just shake my head at that.

If you don't remember me, you probably don't remember how, once I was hired, you had to sign off on various personnel documents, and you dated one of them "1965." You wished, Judith. You wished it was 1965. It pained you to admit defeat, to have to throw in the towel on your underhanded scheme. I relished calling you up and telling you that you would need to re-sign the document. "Because it's nineteen-ninety-five," I said cheerfully. And Freud laughed.

You probably don't know that the day I went to interview for the job you did not want me to have, was the day your school system made national news. Not for any noteworthy academic achievements on the part of the students, or anything like that, but because some boys in the senior class at the high school decided to encode racial slurs into the captions under their yearbook picture. Upon publication, the code was cracked, and white people were shocked--shocked--that kids from your town, Judith, would do such a thing. I wasn't the least bit shocked, but as I drove to the interview, hearing the news report triggered the tears I had previously refused to shed. I was determined not to let you make me cry.

But you know how that story ends, Judith. By the time I sat down for the interview, I'd fully regained my composure and claimed the job you didn't want a colored girl to have.

You may not know that some of the teachers and administrators in the district regarded you as a relic, an unfortunate leftover from a bygone era. They assured me that, while you definitely had it out for me because I was black, you were an equal opportunity bigot, extending your iciness to Jews and Italians as well. Folks in the district viewed you as a necessary evil; you stood between them and their paychecks and their continuing ed credits. But they did not respect you, Judith. Unlike you, some of them at least gave lip-service to anti-racism and progressive thinking.

You probably don't know that the students I taught and their parents loved me, at every school where I subbed, and at the school where I had my own classroom. Even though I challenged their outdated and uninformed ideas about black people, about history--they still sang my praises.

But maybe you do know that. Maybe you kept tabs on me, salivating at the possibility that the colored girl--since this was 1965, after all--would fuck up. But that day never came, Judith. I'm sure you celebrated when I left the district after only two years of full-time teaching, because my then-husband got a better job offer in a different city. But guess what? Some of your precious white babies still reach out to me via the Internet, as college students, thanking me, saying that I'm the best teacher they ever had.

I'm sure you don't know about the little 3rd grade girl whose class I subbed for once, who held my hand practically the whole day. Her teacher had left a note explaining that her mother had abandoned the family, and so she tended to cling to mother-figures. On the playground during recess, we held hands, and this little girl asked me, "Why are black people bad?" I turned the question back to her, asking why she thought that. "Because," she explained, "my daddy says he hates black people because they take too long to cross the street when he's trying to drive." I explained to her that in the world there were people who sometimes acted in bad ways, and people who acted in good ways, but that skin color had nothing to do with it. That seemed to relieve her, and she held my hand even tighter. I wish someone like me had had a talk like that with you in the 3rd grade, Judith, to counter the lies your daddy told you.

I was told by some colleagues in the district that you are very proud of the fact that you can trace your ancestors back to the Mayflower, a group of freedom-seekers. And yet you would deny me certain liberties, because my ancestors can be traced back to different ships, to voyages made not of their own volition. Do you really believe that if someone cuts me and someone cuts you, that your veins will bleed blue and mine red? Do you really believe that your people were here first?

Judith. You would not have done what you did if you weren't afraid of me. And if your blood is so superior, why fear me?...Unless I embodied the sudden realization that you'd been lied to all your life, about your alleged superiority. I can imagine that smarts. It's like believing that you are the next Van Gogh because your mother hangs all your artwork on the refrigerator. Well, if that's the case, your beef was with the folks who lied to you, not me. They deserve your shock and awe, not me. I deserved a fair shake. Nothing more, and certainly nothing less.

You are probably in your 70s now, retired, or being gently nudged to do so. Or maybe you've passed away. Behind that steely demeanor, there always seemed to be something frail about you, something sickly. I remember thinking (after I learned of your attempts to sabotage me) that you were like a wounded dog, lashing out, out of fear and your own misery.

I'm glad I got the chance to succeed, in spite of you. I'm glad that my mere existence fucked with you. But day-in and day-out, I didn't give you a single thought. You no longer posed a threat. Instead, I thought about our ancestors, yours and mine, Judith. My American Dream was your ancestors' nightmare.

Did I do my ancestors proud during those years in your district? Did I pursue the ideals they subscribed to--justice, perseverance, and freedom for all? I can answer with a resounding "yes!"

Can you?

There's so much you don't know about me, Judith, about people who look like me. And in a way, that's cool. The most important thing you need to know is that, except for the privilege your white skin affords you, protecting you from being treated the way you treated me--except for this, we're not so different. But that's a big exception, one that I suspect you'll go to your grave never fully grasping. However, if I'm wrong, and if you do "get it", everyone in your circle of influence will be blessed. Most especially, you.

Deesha Philyaw has written for Essence magazine, Wondertime magazine, and reviewed books for The Washington Post. In addition to freelancing, Deesha is also working on non-fiction book projects and a novel. She is a mom of two, and blogs at Mamalicious!.


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