A New Silence of the Lambs
by L. Arthalia Cravin
Between last Tuesday’s Iowa caucuses and today, six days later, I have spoken with ten people, either by phone or email. (This column was penned before the New Hampshire primary) Not one person has mentioned Barack Obama’s victory in Iowa. This silence is in contrast to all the talking heads on television and radio who can’t stop talking about Barack. I am going to take a wild guess as to the reasons behind the silence of those in my inner circle.
Let me start by mentioning another recent media event. A few weeks ago a young man went on a rampage and killed several people at a Denver and a Colorado Springs church. Within hours after the shooting I received a phone call wondering if the shooting was near me. Conversations that occurred days later via email and phone calls still mentioned the shooting—along with wonders about what is happening to the world if a person is not safe at church. Obama’s big win in Iowa has not brought similar expressions of concern—on any level. The reasons? First there may be the “shock and awe” factor—people are simply stunned that Miss Hillary did not emerge victorious. Second, there is the apathy factor. There are not too many people willing to discuss politics. As the old saying goes if you want to preserve a friendship never discuss religion or politics. In the Obama case, I think silence is a way of preserving judgment on what is feared to be a “Johnny One Note” syndrome—let’s just wait and see what happens when he crosses the Mason Dixon Line. Third, there is the “fear factor.” I remember when I ran for public office in a deep southern town a few years ago and faced the same type of initial silence. The silence was a combination of concerns for my sanity and my safety. To this day, my closest friends openly express their delight that I lost the election because of their fears that I would be shot by southern bigots. I remember getting the silent treatment from close friends until one finally asked me, “Who put you up to this”—meaning “who told you to run for mayor of anything?” Fourth there is the “white man’s politics” factor that most African Americans understand, from a historical perspective, to mean that no matter who we support we will get shafted in the end with little or no economic recompense for having participated in the process. The result is a decided lack of interest in who’s running.
There is also something else in work when it comes to silence about politics. The Saturday after Obama’s win in Iowa, I went to a local post office and stood in a long line to mail a package. As usual there was only was only one clerk working so there was plenty of time for small talk among those standing in line. I was the lone African American in line. As I stood waiting, I could sense that my queued comrades were itching to hear my thoughts about Obama. But no one dared broach the topic, instead we talked about the fierce winds and the prospects for snow—and why the post office had taken away the jazzy music that was usually playing over the intercom. Avoiding political talk is off-limits in most settings because no one wants to expose their political beliefs. Except for a few “bumper sticker” folks, most of us just want to wait and see, cast a private vote, wait for the outcome, and live with whoever wins. There is little reason to blab on about any candidate since most of us believe that not a one of them, Democrat or Republican, will make too much difference in how we live, how much we earn, or how much we will pay for a gallon of gas.
For most of us, political campaigning is simply a process involving a vacuous bunch of hoopla that we are forced to endure for longer and longer periods, and which we all understand, we are just pawns in the process. Tip O’Neill, the late Speaker of the House of Representatives, is credited with the statement, “all politics is local.” If we understand politics to mean “influence,” then increasingly most of understand, on any level, from city hall to the white house, that it is the rich (the moneyed influencers) who call the shots and get all the benefits. For most of us, our silence is just one way of distancing ourselves from a process that we deem inherently unfair at best and disgusting at worst. So, the silence regarding Obama’s rise carries within it an inherent cynicism that, in spite of his rabble rousing lip service, he had already shown who is buttering his bread, and, it is clear that, if he wins, he will play the game the way it has always been played. Maybe the silence I’ve noticed is due to a lot of folks simply biting their lips.
© Copyright 2008 – L. Arthalia Cravin. All rights Reserved. No part of this commentary may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.