Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Guess Who is Blacker than Barack Obama: Rod Blagojevich

image It seems that the former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has taken a break from feeding his chia pet like hair to get down with the peeps.  Blagojevich was arrested last year after it was alleged that he engaged in corruption, which included the attempted sale of Barack Obama’s senate seat.  Clearly this a person for whom service and honour mean volumes.  

Since then, Blagojevich has engaged in a campaign to garner respect and to paint himself as a sympathetic victim.  He has repeatedly asserted that all of his actions were for the benefit of the people.  In a recent statement to Esquire magazine, Mr. Blagojevich chose to invoke race to certify his persecution.

Blagojevich, referring to the president as "this guy," says Obama was elected based simply on hope.

"What the (expletive)? Everything he's saying's on the teleprompter," Blagojevich told the magazine for a story in its February issue, which hits newsstands Jan. 19.

"I'm blacker than Barack Obama. I shined shoes. I grew up in a five-room apartment. My father had a little laundromat in a black community not far from where we lived," Blagojevich said. "I saw it all growing up."

Did you catch all of that?  He observed the poverty of some members of the Black community and he himself grew up poor and this makes him a defacto person of colour.  Today I have given a new name to racial cluelessness - Rod Blagojevich.

What Blagojevich fails to acknowledge is that despite the poverty that he was born into, he also had two major markers of privilege.  Blagojevich is White and male and this constitutes the most privileged group ever to exist in history.  Class may have mitigated the degree to which he was able to wield this privilege early on his life, however White masculinity ensured that he was able to receive and capitalise on opportunities that have never been available to Blacks.

I am further disgusted that he found it appropriate to suggest that poverty encapsulates the entirety of the Black experience in America. There can be no denial of the fact that there are far to many Blacks that live precariously based on the economic racism that they are subjected to, however there is still a Black middle class that is thriving and attempting to swell in numbers.  Even were this not the case, how exactly does a White man know what it is to be Black?

The idea that because some groups share similar experiences that they can ever truly understand what marginalization means to the targeted body is a reflection of privilege.  No White man is ever going to know what it is like to be called a Nigger.  No White man is ever going to understood what it is be considered a threat because of the color of your skin.  Because we have so overvalued Whiteness, it has the ability to act as a salve against some of the worst persecutions, meaning that even within groups that are targeted, there is still the existence of racial privilege which makes the body more socially palatable.

Blagojevich has since apologized for his commentary saying:

"What I said was stupid, stupid, stupid," Blagojevich said, using the word 16 times in a few minutes. "I deeply apologize for the way that was said and having said it. Obviously, I am not blacker than President Obama."

Before we start commending Blagojevich for apologizing, I think that it is important to note that Whiteness continually makes these sort of racist statements and then apologizes after the fact. The apology can never remove the harm that was done and when this sort of behaviour repeatedly occurs, it sends the message that the apology was not for the offense but for getting caught. Blagojevich is not a stupid man and he had to have known, even as he shot off his mouth, how offensive his commentary was; the issue is that he simply didn’t care. 

Many have ignored Blagojevich’s comments because of his current legal drama, however no matter how problematic the source, racism still needs to be acknowledged and firmly stamped out.  His commentary is not less valuable because he has been politically disgraced due to the fact that he still exists with White male privilege.  He is not some form of aberration simply because many would like him to disappear, rather he is indicative of the reasons why Blacks continue to be marginalized in this society.  If even the lowliest amongst White males cannot be held accountable, then who can?