Woke up. Defecated. Went back to bed. Got up again. Watched “Barney Miller” on DVD. Put acetate on a drawing so I could get it copied. Took 40 minutes to get the acetate on because it was so thin it kept bunching up like Saran wrap. Left the apartment. Went to Shaw’s to see if I had a drawing in the Herald. No. Went shopping. The cashier moved rrrrreeeaaaalllllllyyyyyyyyy ssssssslllllooooowwwllyyyyyyy. I got angry and frustrated. Desperately wanted to tell her to hurry up but couldn’t think of a way to say it that didn’t sound obnoxious. The people behind me were shaking their head and rolling their eyes. To get even, I handed her my money rrrrreeeeaaaallllyyyy ssssslllllooooowwwwllllyyyy, but, not recognizing her own slowness, she just though I was moving slowly because I’m slow and got angry and frustrated. Took the train to BATV, Brookline’s Public Access TV Station. Waiting for the D line at Kenmore Station, I thought back on what happened at Shaw’s and realized the cashier didn’t know I was getting even with her and I felt embarrassed. Went into BATV and booted up my computer. Checked my email. Something happened I can’t talk about. Urinated. Googled my name. Talked to some people in the hall about doing camera for a show. Went back on the computer. Realized, since probably a few dozen people read this blog, it would be a little better than nothing to post an oped article I wrote that the Herald turned down, so here it is:
Suggested title: Black and White is Not a Black and White Issue
by D.L. Polonsky
In the 1933 film “Rufus Jones for President”, a 20-minute short subject released by Warner Brothers, an impoverished African-American woman tells her young son (played by a 7-year-old Sammy Davis Jr.) that one day he’ll be President of the United States. “I don’t see why not?” she muses. “The book says that anybody born here can be President.” She falls asleep and dreams that the African-American boy is nominated, elected and sworn into office – all at his current age of 7!
Every offensive, repugnant racial stereotype is trotted out (his first acts are to appoint a “watermelon investigator” and to tackle the largest problem facing the country: gamblers with loaded dice).
In the 1930s, the idea of an African-American President is considered so ludicrous that it could only be fodder for a surrealist fantasy, and the makers of the movie made sure it would be seen that way by making the Commander in Chief a 7-year-old boy.
The film makes its agenda clear in its final moments when, after she wakes up from the dream, she admonishes her little boy to “stay on your own side of the fence and no harm will come to you”, an ominous threat actually directed at anyone in the black audiance who dares think of crossing the line of segregation.
In 2009, of course, the premise of the fantasy within this ancient little film became reality, but the final irony is that the real African-American President doesn’t act stereotypically black at all, neither in a positive nor negative sense. In fact, much of the public, including myself, yearning for the change he promised during the campaign, are disappointed that, at least so far, he doesn’t have the positive traits of boldness, radicalism and fierce opposition to the status quo of past African-American leaders and activists like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. Truthfully, if his actions so far can be seen as characteristic of any race, it would be the white politicians of our nation’s history.
Media analysis of President Obama’s performance in terms of his ethnicity is unfortunately necessary in determining public opinion if only because a large portion of the world still persists in making race and physical appearance the predominant factors in forming opinions about people, from a stranger on the street to a political leader on TV. Of course, there are many complex factors that determine the President’s actions, particularly his need to collaborate with the current growing Republican regime, though I must say I feel intuitively that he could find a way to keep his promise to get the troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq if being re-elected in 2012 wasn’t such a powerful motivation. It’s a case of political ambition subverting higher motives.
Maybe one lesson to be learned from the presidency of Barack Obama is that how a political leader acts in office has less to do with his or her ethnicity than the intoxicating and often corrupting effects that immense power has on the ego, and that’s something to which those of all races are susceptible.
D.L. Polonsky is a film-maker, artist and writer from Allston, Massachusetts.
Went out to lunch. Ate a veal cutlet sub. The pickles and onions were too cold and the veal was too hot. Went back to BATV. Checked my email again. Wrote this blog.