So God Made a (White) Farmer

Relax white people – we should respect farmers, but no need to steal thunder from marginalized and underappreciated Latinos.

First thing’s first – hats off to the Richards Group and Chrysler for putting together a gem of an ad. It is masterfully crafted and manages to be simultaneously understated and in your face. And Paul Harvey’s words really are remarkable. Unfortunately, the ad is a warped distortion of the country we currently live in.

There are 35 photographs used in the commercial. Twenty one of them have people in them, of which 16 have some visual indication suggesting race/ethnicity (the rest are either zoomed out or show pictures of hands only). Of the 16, there is one black guy, and anywhere between one and three with Latinos. Now normally, a commercial with a bunch of white people doesn’t bother me. In many ways, white is still the “normal” and it’s not surprising that companies want to take the safest route in terms of marketing. But I draw the line at farming. Nearly 80% of farmers in the US are of Hispanic/Latino heritage. When it comes to crop workers, the figure is 83%. It’s like making a commercial about basketball in America and showing only white players.

If this commercial was your introduction to farming in America, you’d get the impression that most of it is carried out by white people. Continue reading “So God Made a (White) Farmer”

Why Obama Won

All the conservative talking points about demographics are an excuse for not coming to terms with being out of touch.

Republicans have been doing a lot of soul searching following Tuesday’s election and have come up with various explanations as to why their candidate lost. The consensus for now is that the country is changing and that the party is out of step with this change.

Rather than meet this change in a responsible and realistic manner, so many prominent conservatives have resorted to lamenting the passing of a golden era, the death of “real America”. The most common statement thus far been “Obama only won because of demographics” which is a lot like saying “I only failed the math test because of numbers”. Similarly heard is “Obama only won because of the Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, women and urban residents”. Conservatives are pretending that these people are nothing more than special interest groups – as if they don’t already constitute a vast majority of the country.

In other words, when a Republican wins an election, it’s because the country as a whole voted for him – end of story. When a Democrat wins, a black man at that, the electorate is dissected so as to lay blame on those pesky minorities and women.

It should come as no surprise that the Republican establishment is mourning the end of an era in which White men ran the show. Personally, I think this is premature because White men still overwhelmingly run the shows that matter. But still, the times they are a changin.

Here is my favorite excuse from the aftermath. 

You heard it, but have a closer read. “It’s a changing country. The demographics are changing. It’s not a traditional America anymore. And there are fifty percent of the voting public who want stuff. They want things. And who is going to give them things? President Obama. He knows it and he ran on it. And whereby twenty years ago, President Obama would have been roundly defeated, by an establishment candidate like Mitt Romney. The White establishment is now the minority. And the voters, many of them, feel that the economic system is stacked against them and they want stuff. You’re gonna see a tremendous Hispanic vote for President Obama, overwhelming Black vote for President Obama and women will probably break President Obama’s way. People feel they are entitled to things and which candidate between the two are going to give them things?”

So there you have it. White men made the country and now women and the coloreds are destroying it. Rather than thinking about ways to appeal to women and minorities, conservatives are blaming them for not seeing the light, for wanting things, for not working hard enough. The self-victimization never ends.

Jon Stewart describes the conservative resentment most accurately: “They’re really only entitlements when they’re something other people want. When it’s something you want, they’re a hallmark of a civilized society.”

MrCyriac Returns From Kenya

Dear readers, I am back after a two week hiatus. I saw lots of lions, smelled lots of hippos, drank lots of Tusker and had a few interesting conversations.

Young President Obama and his grandmother

When I told my mother that I was going to Kenya, she thought for a moment and asked “Isn’t that where Obama is from?” “No mom, he’s from Hawaii. His dad was from Kenya”. “Yeah, OK fine. Send my regards. Tell them he’s my guy”.

As a tourist, I had little access to what could be considered the “real” Kenya as lived by its own people (but I, like most people, came primarily for the animals). Every time I tried to talk to someone about something other than animals and the local tribal dances, a wall of politeness and training stood in the way of any potentially sensitive discussion. The disconnect that exists there between visitors and the staff at the hotels I stayed at was no accident –  it was designed to be that way.

One topic that consistently garnered a response was President Obama. Continue reading “MrCyriac Returns From Kenya”

What’s a Hispanic?

The non-Hispanic White population is declining whereas that of White Hispanics is increasing. The difference between the two, or lack thereof, will hold the key to determining mainstream American identity over the coming generations.

As with any conversation on race, last week’s post on the relative decline in the population of White America sparked some interesting questions. What does it mean to be White anyway? And most importantly, in the American context of racial and ethnic demography, what exactly is a Hispanic or a Latino?

The boundaries between racial and ethnic categories are always fuzzy and it doesn’t get much fuzzier than the American invention of the word Hispanic. To get the heart of the matter, one must discern the difference between the American conceptions of race and ethnicity.

Let’s lay out at the outset that race is a construct and that the categories are fluid and not based in genetic classification. Race is, however, seen as having to do with geographic origin, phenotype and identity. Ethnicity, on the other hand, is almost entirely based on culture and identity. The US Census uses the following racial categories:

  • White: having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa
  • Black or African American: having origins in any of the Black racial groups of Africa
  • Asian: having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent
  • Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander
  • American Indian and Alaska Native
  • Other
  • Two or more races

Notice, there is no category for Hispanic or Latino. That is because the US Government considers these to be ethnic categories (not racial) and includes people of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race. For example, check out the following Hispanic Americans.

Most folks may not realize that Carlton Banks’ real name is Alfonso Ribeiro and that Charlie Sheen was born Carlos Irwin Esteves. Black and White, but both Hispanic.

I know many of you are already saying, but Charlie Sheen isn’t Hispanic – that he’s just a really weird White guy. That is just the point, White and Hispanic (just like Black and Hispanic) are not mutually exclusive terms. Let’s not forget that Latin America also received millions of European immigrants over the past few centuries. Argentina is arguably the Whitest country in the world. In fact, a majority of Hispanics and Latinos in the US are considered White by the government (but then again so are Arabs).

This begs the question, is it useful to have a Hispanic category if it includes the likes of Martin Sheen, Christina Aguilera and Andy Garcia? When demographers say that the US is going to be a majority minority nation in about three decades, they mean that the non-Hispanic White population will dip below 50%.

There is a possibility, however, that many Hispanics will assimilate into mainstream White and Black culture, as many have already done. This is why most Americans don’t consider Christina Aguilera and Charlie Sheen to be Hispanic in any real sense. By 2050, the US may be less than 50% non-Hispanic White, but since so many Hispanics are already White, this milestone may have little, if any real impact on American identity – it will depend largely on whether in the coming decades, White Hispanics see themselves as being primarily Hispanic or White. Let’s keep in mind that throughout American history, many European immigrants were not initially considered White – the term has been constantly evolving/expanding.

Also, there are already four majority minority states, including Texas and California, where the Hispanic and non-Hispanic White populations are almost equal. The non-Hispanic White community in these states still maintains an overwhelmingly disproportionate amount of political and economic power and cultural capital. So perhaps things might not be that different after all.

Obama Slings Mud – Republicans Offended

Using wartime accomplishments to castigate the opposition is disgusting and unpresidential (except when your own guy does it).

A year after Osama bin Laden was killed by US Navy Seals during a raid on a private compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, President Obama’s 2012 campaign released this ad:

If it makes you feel uneasy, you’re not alone. It’s boastful, celebratory and awkward. The ad goes on to suggest that a President Romney would not have  gone after bin Laden. If Obama’s opponents wanted to criticize him for crassness, that would be fine, as long as they weren’t guilty of the same crime on countless occasions earlier.

The entire Fox news machine has come out swinging. As usual, Jon Stewart calls out their hypocrisy by pointing out that “Republicans are unaware that the frontal lobe of the cerebral cortex allows people the ability to store and recall past events”.

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There seems to be a total lack of consistency in political language. To say that the discourse is dominated by ideology would suggest that the parties are defending firm ideologies, which I do not believe is the case. Other than the reflexive calls for fewer taxes and more God, most of what is espoused by the mainstream American right seems more like a dramatic battle with trivial roots. Sure they want lower taxes, but more than anything, both parties want their side to win – politics is increasingly becoming a sport.

Few fans have ideological reasons for supporting a particular team. Instead, they rely on random justifications such as place of birth, or favorite color or animal. This is fine for sporting loyalty, but in the political sphere, it makes for senseless conflict, both figuratively and literally. This is nothing new though –  almost 300 years ago Jonathan Swift lampooned this sort of discord in Gulliver’s Travels, in which the nation Lilliput is torn apart by the dispute between Big-Endians and Little-Endians, who fight over which end of the egg to crack.

The platforms of current political factions are so riddled with inconsistencies that I must conclude that they are based on something other than ideology. It’s common to hear that politics has degenerated into a horse race – a 24 hour public relations campaign that never ends. Obama’s ad was a bit much, but the criticisms offered by John McCain, Ed Gillespie and others are no more meaningful than moral critiques of horses.

Europe’s Enlargement Fail


European leaders prove once again that they have no clue on how to proceed with enlargement, integration and overall identity.

What is America? Who is an American? These are difficult questions that demand a certain level of nuance and a willingness to listen to people with whom you disagree. We often don’t agree, but something tells me that everything will be OK in the long run. When I think of Europe, I’m not so sure. I’ve recently come across two advertisements that have been in the news, both of which capture a certain mood and cultural outlook.

The first is the Chrysler spot entitled “Halftime in America” that ran during the Super Bowl. It features Clint Eastwood (life-long Republican) arguing that even though “division, discord, and blame made it hard to see what lies ahead…after those trials, we all rallied around what was right, and acted as one”. The commercial, in spite of its cheesiness and aggressiveness, has been well received – some Republicans have come out against the ad, claiming that it gives credit to the Obama administration’s auto industry bailout. Also, you can’t get much cooler than Clint Eastwood. Halftime was created by the same company (Wieden+Kennedy) that made a similar and equally famous ad with Eminem for last year’s Super Bowl. 

That brings up our next ad, called “Growing Together”, which was released by the European Commission (EC). The ad was taken down almost as quick as it was put up. See if you can spot why. 

Where to begin? Did they all make up in the end? Did she defeat them? Does it matter that it’s a woman and a bunch of aggressive non-white men? Are the men foreigners or immigrants? Is the EC rallying support for an invasion of China and India? Does Quentin Tarantino know about this? Is it OK that I find it ridiculously hilarious?

My initial feeling was that it was a hoax, but according to this official statement on the EC’s website, it’s the real deal. Part of me still doesn’t believe that the ad could be real, but assuming that it is, it unintentionally captures the anxiety and awkwardness of European identity as it expands, in spite of it’s already shaky foundation. It’s halftime in America, and in Europe, it’s the halftime show – zing!

At the end of the day though, these are just two commercials. Europe’s road ahead is much more challenging than America’s because the latter is already a politically integrated entity. It’s unfair to use these commercials, or any others as exemplars of American or European culture. On the one hand, it’s easy and fun to jokingly poke across the Atlantic, but on the other, I think a bigger and more integrated Europe is in everyone’s interest – if only the EC could figure out better ways to market it.