Wide Awake in Wonderland

We’re only dancing on this earth for a short while

It’s a small world, after all November 5, 2008

Mural in Belfast, Northern Ireland

Mural in Belfast, Northern Ireland

Having spent the last three months in 21 countries, I can unreservedly testify that America had lost the respect of the world. George Bush had become a symbol of hate and greed, and these qualities were extended to the whole nation and its citizens. What everyone else thinks of us may not matter, but it still pleases me to see the international impact of the election of Barack Obama.



In the last several months I have met many people, from Iceland to Istanbul who said that America – a country founded on slavery – could not and would not elect a black man as President. Bear in mind, they all wanted us to, they just saw America as a nation far too divided to come together in that regard. It’s no exaggeration to say that everyone born in this country has grown up in the shadow of racism. Terrible injustice is part of our country’s founding, and although no one alive today had a direct hand in slavery and most of our ancestors didn’t either, it is a burden we all carry.


In New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink, he talks about an idea called “institutional racism”. Essentially, the argument is that we’re all subconsciously racist – even civil rights activists, minorities, and the mixed-race author himself. This tendency comes to a great degree from implicit information we receive from the time we’re born – i.e. countless movies and TV shows where a young black man is a criminal. Essentially the argument is that these feelings can exist despite our conscious ideals or emotions (and if you’re intrigued to test yourself, you can take the implicit association test online at www.implicit.harvard.edu. I just went out there to make sure the link was still valid, and found that they added an additional election-based test as well.)


I took it again and got the same results as last time: For whatever reasons it turns out that I am not unconsciously or subconsciously prejudice (I tested as ‘Your data suggests no automatic preference for White people or Black people’ – I dislike everyone equally. KIDDING!). On the election test, I rated as “Your data suggests a strong automatic preference for Barack Obama over John McCain.”

I’ll be frank and say this surprises me, only in that I once lived in a really bad Crip (gang) neighborhood and had some deeply terrifying experiences. In my head I’ve never experienced a prejudice directed at any race, but I kind of worried some of what happened got into me and may have made me so. Anyway, I am glad to see that along with my own lack of pre-judgement, perhaps our national institutional racism is a little bit less? Or if not, last night’s election results will push the scales in that direction. Despite all the political propaganda, extreme allegations, general fear mongering, and Mr. Obama’s extremely unfortunate middle name, he was elected. I, for one, am proud of America.


And the world is, too. I ran across an AP article (http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20081105/ap_on_re_as/us_elections_world_view) with feedback that made me proud of us:


People across Africa stayed up all night or woke before dawn to watch U.S. history being made, while the president of Kenya — where Obama’s father was born — declared a public holiday.

Many expressed amazement and satisfaction that the United States could overcome centuries of racial strife and elect an African-American as president.

Poland‘s Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski spoke of “a new America with a new credit of trust in the world.”

Venezuela and Bolivia, which booted out the U.S. ambassadors after accusing the Bush administration of meddling in their internal politics, said they were ready to reestablish diplomatic relations, and on the streets of Rio de Janeiro, people expressed a mixture of joy, disbelief, and hope for the future

“What an inspiration. He is the first truly global U.S. president the world has ever had,” said Pracha Kanjananont, a 29-year-old Thai sitting at a Starbuck’s in Bangkok. “He had an Asian childhood, African parentage and has a Middle Eastern name. He is a truly global president.”

“This is the fall of the Berlin Wall times ten,” Rama Yade, France‘s black junior minister for human rights, told French radio. “America is rebecoming a New World. On this morning, we all want to be American so we can take a bite of this dream unfolding before our eyes.”

Me in front of the Belfast mural back in August

Me in front of the Belfast mural back in August



These comments really brought home the reality of what a tiny planet this is in so many ways, and what everyone who doesn’t live here believes: What befalls America befalls the world – financially, politically, and personally. Even if he wasn’t your first choice, I hope that you can take solace in the tremendous step forward this is for our nation. We have an almost clean slate, and yet another opportunity to get it right for the good of the world, and I deeply hope that we do. And if not, let’s elect a black woman next time and REALLY get things straightened out.

Oprah, you out there?  😉


Please tell me it takes more than a pretty face November 3, 2008

I’m by no means a news junkie. That’s how, a little over seven years ago, I managed to get up, work out, shower off, get dressed, and drive myself to work without knowledge that the greatest American tragedy of my lifetime was unfolding. And as my coworker turned to the TV behind her to point out the footage of planes crashing into the Twin Towers, I vowed to at least try to have a clue about the world around me whenever possible.


As a result, I often flip on CNN or some other 24-hour news channel for five minutes each morning, just to make sure the world isn’t ending. And, as you know, I have been largely removed from the world that is America and everything going on here. I managed to see a couple of the Tina Fey Sarah Palin sketches, but out of context, it wasn’t even funny. I had never seen the real Sarah Palin, so I didn’t ‘get it.’


Thus, it was intriguing to me to flip on the TV yesterday morning and find her there delivering a speech in Florida. It had just gotten started, and she thanked the governor for the kind introduction. But then, without any hesitation, she introduced and went into a ten-minute digression about her husband, the “first dude” of Alaska, and how he is a fisherman and something else. And how he is a four-time world champion in tractor pulling or snowmobiling or some such thing. And I don’t know about you, but it was just WEIRD.

And I don’t mean the politics. I don’t even want to go there. I think (hope) that we can all agree that ANYONE screaming out in a crowd that a political candidate should be killed or assassinated is wrong. I hope we unilaterally consider that un-American. If anything came out of my last three months overseas, it’s a real pride in this country and who (at least on a one-on-one basis) we are.


A European friend of mine shared a stress-reduction technique she’d been taught by a therapist: You are to go for a run or walk, while screaming at the top of your lungs for “Fido! Fido!” as if you have lost your dog. You haven’t, it’s just an excuse to scream and get rid of your pent up stress or aggression.

“You go out and scream for a lost dog?”


“And people don’t come outside and try to help you find it?”


“Well, don’t try that in America, because if you were outside my house yelling for a lost animal, I would put on my coat and come and try to help you find it! You’d have the whole neighborhood looking for ‘Fido’!!!”


And I believe that. I think – on the whole- we’re good people. And we’re genuinely nice. And we genuinely care. And we truly try to help when and if we can. So bear with me when I say my critique of the whole Sarah Palin thing is not about Republican or Democrat or the specifics therein (although I think you know me enough by now to know that I have opinions that line up more on one side than the other).


What I have a problem with is, what does this say about what it takes to get ahead as a woman in the US? I have never seen a male candidate head out on stage and proceed to decorate their wife for her sewing abilities and meatloaf recipe. That kind of pandering behavior would be laughed at, if not completely ridiculed. And I worry that what has helped Ms. Palin get this far is that she has somehow managed to work a very backwards, old fashioned, “I’m nothing without my man” pretty little thing stereotype.


I REALLY want to see women get ahead in this country, but not on these terms. I remember during the debates empathasizing with Hillary. Groaning a little, even, at the familiarity of it. The fake smile she had on her face all the time? I KNOW that smile. I INVENTED that smile. That’s the “must maintain neutral pleasant expression so as not to offend” smile. I would affect that same smirk when I disagreed with a male colleague or said something controversial, but I knew I had to be ‘nice’ and ‘soft’ and ‘polite.’ I’ve had female bosses teach me how to set up a room for a meeting and scold me for being too forward. I once had one suggest that I open my ideas with the line, “Well, I’m just a girl, but…”


Since I never put that suggestion into practice, nine times out of ten, it was nearly impossible to voice a dissenting opinion on important business decisions without being labeled a bitch. I remember (in my 20s!) people calling me a “dragon lady”! ME!!!!!


As for the whole Sarah Palin thing, in trying to get a sense of what’s been going on here in this country the last three months, I ran across this article in the (I admit it, more liberal than not) International Herald Tribune (global edition of the New York Times) from October 19. But if even one shred of it is true, it really disheartens me. The following was with respect to men attending Palin rallies across the country (apparently a fairly consistent 70% male/30% female split).


“She’s beautiful,” said a man wearing a John Deere T-shirt in Weirs Beach. “I came here to look at her,” he said, and his admiration for Palin’s appearance became more and more animated. Sheepish over his ogling, he declined to give his real name. “Just call me ‘John Deere,”‘ he said. She is beautiful, but people showing up just to look at her!?!? Even if George Clooney ran for President, I wouldn’t show up at a rally just to look at him. That’s perverse. And what does it matter anyway? What shred of relevance does being pretty or beautiful or even gorgeous have with respect to getting us out of this financial mess and figuring out what to do about Iraq and our dependence on fossil fuels and everything else that must be addressed?


If that wasn’t bad enough, there was this guy: “They bear us children, they risk their lives to give us birth, so maybe it’s time we let a woman lead us,” said Larry Hawkins, a former trucker attending a rally at Elon University in North Carolina late Thursday. WHAT!? That’s the reason we should lead!? What about emotional intelligence or adding some balance to a generally male discipline, or big picture thinking or plain old smarts or the fact that there are more women in this country AND on the planet or a thousand other things I could list. It’s almost like why don’t we put Angelina Jolie and Halle Berry on the ticket and they’re a sure thing? They’re hot and they can make and adopt babies…and that’s all we really want from a woman anyway!


It just feels like a twisted form of misogyny. It’s patronizing, and it’s the complete and total wrong reason for a woman to finally hold the second highest power in our nation. And I know there’s more to it than that, and some people vote for their party regardless of specifics and on and on, but I also doubt that Margaret Thatcher ever had men with their shirts off and their chests painted showing up at her speeches. I’m sorry, but you cannot convince me that this isn’t a really sad moment in American history.


In other news, here’s a little bit of unexpected encouragement: I went through my mail today – or as much of it as I’m willing to address. Anything vaguely related to my 401Ks or stock portfolio is not being opened. Why bother? Without even looking, I know that it’s nothing I want to see or lay awake at night thinking about. Ignorance is bliss.


However, I did open everything that was personal (birthday cards and letters), related to a bill I owe, or a mystery. And in one mystery envelope from a guy named Marty at the ‘mother ship’ of the company I used to work for, I found a $5 bill and a short note that it had been found in my computer bag when I turned it in, so he was returning it to me. It’s nice to see people be so honest over something so small. Moreover, I feel that unexpected windfalls (no matter how tiny) are a reminder of the abundance available to us if we only believe.


So onward and upward and here’s to leaders that lift us up and help us to be the wonderful America and the united America and the best that we can be, whether they’re black, white, red, yellow, gorgeous or homely. I, for one, look forward to someone leading us out of the jam we’re in.