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Obama’s Cairo Speech

Well, I’ve wanted a blue marble speech from Obama for some time – a speech that speaks to the shared challenges of living on a delicate planet and that underlines the importance of coming together to meet those challenges – and some human dignity thrown in for good measure. All the 35,000 feet perspective, linked with some concrete measures would help too. I got one. Whatever his critics say in future, one cannot accuse Obama of lacking ambition. Ambition for mutual understandings, Rawlsian overlapping consensus building – ambition for young people, and ambition for what can be achieved in the 21st century. All that came out today in Obama’s Cairo speech.

I have a good deal of confidence in Obama, I hope that he can meet these challenging problems that have dogged successive administrations. I also hope that he will have partners, fellow statesman, but also civil society, NGO’s, international organizations, etc., that can further these goals. Who’ll be the next president of Iran? Will the EU admit Turkey? The foreign policy process, the international system, is a wholly interactive process. Though the Potus has a great deal of power, many levers at his disposal, many carrots and sticks – the process is still fundamentally an interactive one. Obama could be a shining example of liberal internationalism/cosmopolitanism and still fail utterly in realizing this ambitious agenda.

I also hope that long time horizons allow for moving beyond the inevitable stumbling blocks of the weeks and months to come. I mean, the Israeli-Palestinians conflict alone has more reversals, betrayals, and cycles of violence than I care to remember – and that’s just counting the last 15 or 20 years. I also have to recognize that there’s an aspect of this speech that papers over some serious hardship, some serious conflict that Obama artfully reconciled. Tradition and women’s rights, sustainable democracy and tradition, globalization and identity, inter-religious dialogue and tolerance/understanding – there are loads of longstanding tensions that Obama bracketed.

If I put my conceptual analysis/deconstructionist hat on – there’s a whole lot of remembrance and forgetting going on that allows for some pretty sharp-elbowed concepts to coexist in Obama’s presentation. Also, putting the US up against some of the standards he’s articulated could yield some uncomfortable deficiencies in American behavior in the not-too-distant past.

But for the moment, I’ll bask in the fact that I got my wish of a blue marble speech – and delivered with gusto too. Perhaps more later.

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is the title of a book by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva. He attempts to answer two questions,

How is it possible to have this tremendous degree of racial inequality in a country where most whites claim that race is no longer relevant? More important, how do whites explain the apparent contradiction between their professed color blindness and the United States’ color-coded inequality?

He contends an ideology of color-blind racism emerged in the late 1960’s displacing Jim Crow’s in-your-face racism with new ideology of color-blind racism – arguing that these purportedly color-blind contours serve much the same oppressive, racist purposes. He identifies the frames (“set paths for interpreting information”) through which color-blind racism operates: abstract liberalism, naturalization, cultural racisim, minimization of racism. The frames,

comfort rulers and charm the ruled…. Whereas rulers receive solace by believing they are not involved in the terrible ordeal of creating and maintaining inequality, the ruled are charmed by the almost magic qualities of a hegemonic ideology.”

That is to say it is the only way I can process the phenomenon of racially segregated proms in 2009. The NY Times Magazine’s “A Prom Divided” and the accompanying audio slideshow with four students and a white parent. These students were probably born in 1991 and 1992.

Black members of the student council say they have asked school administrators about holding a single school-sponsored prom, but that, along with efforts to collaborate with white prom planners, has failed. According to Timothy Wiggs, the outgoing student council president and one of 21 black students graduating this year, “We just never get anywhere with it.” Principal Luke Smith says the school has no plans to sponsor a prom, noting that when it did so in 1995, attendance was poor.

Students of both races say that interracial friendships are common at Montgomery County High School. Black and white students also date one another, though often out of sight of judgmental parents. “Most of the students do want to have a prom together,” says Terra Fountain, a white 18-year-old who graduated from Montgomery County High School last year and is now living with her black boyfriend. “But it’s the white parents who say no. … They’re like, if you’re going with the black people, I’m not going to pay for it.”

“It’s awkward,” acknowledges JonPaul Edge, a senior who is white. “I have as many black friends as I do white friends. We do everything else together. We hang out. We play sports together. We go to class together. I don’t think anybody at our school is racist.” Trying to explain the continued existence of segregated proms, Edge falls back on the same reasoning offered by a number of white students and their parents. “It’s how it’s always been,” he says. “It’s just a tradition.”

Tradition, it’s worked, the kids are perfectly fine with it, this community is fine like it is… That’s the recurring theme from the interviews with the white participants. “It really is hurtful.” Is nearly the first sentence from a black student, another black student remarks, “I wish color wouldn’t be such a big factor in Montgomery County period.”

Scandalized twice in one day. I wasn’t planning on going for some sort of record.

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