Politics of Ignorance, Fear and Discrimination

Most people who know me well, know that I am a political junkie. So with all the excitement over this year's U.S. Democratic presidential nominees, I confess I am literally glued to all the news stations, following every development. Never in the history of the U.S. has there been a woman and a man of mixed heritage running for the highest office. In so many ways this is hopeful and encouraging as to the type of equality and opportunity that should be afforded to all people, no matter of gender, color, ethnic background. Unfortunately for me, this political race has also highlighted very prominently the ignorance, racism and xenophobia that is present not only in the political tactics used but amongst American society.

Since Barack Obama is currently viewed as the Democratic front runner, his opponents on both the Republican and Democratic sides are attacking his record and his character with extra flourish. However, since Obama has had a somewhat different cultural upbringing than most prior presidential candidates, the attacks he is confronted with sometimes reek of xenophobia and racism. Starting with his middle name "Hussein" - he was named after his Kenyan father. While it is perhaps ethnically more colorful for many Americans than Hillary Clinton's middle name Diane and John McCain's middle name Sidney, the amount of air time and repetition his middle name receives and the way it is used to scare voters points directly at the xenophobia that is present in American society. The fear of anything that is different.

Obama faces another challenge in the fact that his father was raised a Muslim. Obama has had to constantly clarify that while that was the religion his father was born into, Obama himself is Christian. The attacks from the Right and rumors over the internet have become so pervasive trying to derail his success, that Obama handed out pamphlets at his own rally in Texas stating that he is indeed a Christian, a member of the Trinity United Church. Now obviously, if opponents are making false statements about who he is, Obama has every right to distinguish what the truth is. That is not my issue. My problem is that the use of these kind of tactics clearly point to an underlying belief within American society that being a Muslim is something horrible, a detriment, a terrorist. And there is no attempt in this country either in the media or amongst the enlightened political or social leaders to differentiate between the actual religion and acts of terrorism. (When the I.R.A consisting primarily of Catholics in Ireland perpetuated terrorist activities - the acts of these individuals did not deem all Catholics terrorists. For some reason, Islam has not been awarded the same distinction). And so this ugliness and provincial ignorance continues to flourish unchecked.

My last point has left me puzzled for years, especially with the rise of mixed-race individuals all over the media. Tiger Woods has also expressed frustration over this issue of archaic race classifications. Asked once, if being identified as solely "African-American" made him uncomfortable - Woods said it did and preferred to be identified as "Cablinasian", as in Caucasian-Black-Native American- Asian. This comment however, caused a firestorm in American society. In this country if you look somewhat black - you are black, regardless of your ethnic make-up. It is like the "One drop rule" from the early 1900's never went away. Being mixed-race myself, my diverse heritage in unison is critical to how I define my identity today. I could not or would not want to disregard any part of it. Which brings me back to Obama. All through this political race, I have repeatedly heard all the pundits discuss whether Obama can get the White vote "being African-American." Well Obama's father was Black and his mother was White - so doesn't that make him as White as he is Black? Or is society so narrow-minded and backward that such a concept of racial or ethnic unity is still too hard to grasp? Or must we continue to pigeon-hole people, only viewing individuals through narrow prisms of race, culture, ethnicity?

My American husband tells me that I should remain hopeful. Although, he does acknowledge that this race for the Democratic presidential nominee has shown some of the best and worst aspects of America, he asserts that Obama's success so far, demonstrates that most Americans know better and are not influenced or moved by these petty and ignorant tactics to divide.
I hope he is right.

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