Mixed Messaging

Today is a dark, windy, cold day with snow showers off and on. Still, the temperature remains above normal and we have yet to have a significant snowstorm this winter.

Yesterday we took a break and watched the presidential inauguration. We missed the parades but the fireworks over the Mall last night were splendid.

President Biden’s inauguration marked  a dramatic turning point in American politics, as did the two inaugurations prior. I wonder how many of us are experiencing whiplash. That we are already talking about next year’s mid-term elections does not lessen the fatigue, nor does the prospect of an equally divided country come 2024. Anyway, for now we can appreciate that a truly good man is in the White House.

I was relieved to hear that the president had quickly and decisively undone many of our prior president’s egregious environmental and human rights initiatives and directives. I was struck that he spoke directly to the problem of white supremacy and racism; he is the first to do so in my lifetime. I hope he will soon address the ongoing genocide in Amazonia, a project enthusiastically supported by his predecessor.

Amongst the many good and joyful moments in the inauguration were a few deeply disturbing ones. The first was the singing of “America the Beautiful” and “This Land is My Land”. Both songs have become anthems to American exceptionalism and ignore the fact that the country was formed on stolen land. They actively erase the genocide against Native peoples and the extensive use of slaves for economic gain. Later in the day were the parades, one of which prominently featured a marching band dressed in colonial garb from the time of the revolution. As in Australia, one groups founding moment is another groups tragedy, a complexity that should be addressed directly.

I imagine none of the planners thought about the ways these images undermined the overall message of the inauguration. Even as the new president called on the nation to unite and move forward, these images reminded sensitive viewers that too often calls for unity and healing have resulted in broken promises and the continuing marginalization of systems impacted people.

This imaging was strengthened by the general absence of disabled folks in the segments we viewed. It seemed  that Asians, Natives, and disabled people, were shunted into the feel good American Parade segment, further highlighting our marginalization; we are present but far from central. I appreciate that these events were pulled together under dire circumstances and my point stands.

The president’s championing of environmental and Native causes is a refreshing change, suggesting we might be able to exhale for the first time in four years, but one wonders whether these issues would have had traction had they not attracted attention from a large cadre of European-American supporters. Even his choice of Deb Haaland as the first Native Secretary of the Interior is made problematic by her apparent support for the exclusion of Black-Natives from tribal membership.

I imagine some of this mixed messaging arose as a byproduct of the new administration’s desire to foster unity and inclusion, but it also underscores the simple fact that sometimes one must refuse to give equal weight to conflicting narratives. Would it not be better to acknowledge the violent nature of American history and the theft, genocide, racism, homophobia, and systemic inequality that has produced the country as we know it? Might there then be space to shape a truly just, inclusive society? Of course, such a shift would require profound sacrifices from those who have profited most from that history, the ones who shape the images and narrative of who we collectively are.

13 thoughts on “Mixed Messaging

  1. I am just relieved to actually have a peaceful inauguration of power resting on the democratic process instead of finding myself living in a fascist dictatorship bent on slaughtering any and everyone that disagreed with their white supremacist rhetoric. This country is not and has never been perfect, but as long as there are people willing to engage in the effort to improve there is hope.

  2. Michael, this powerful post will stand in truth forever.
    I had a dream. Kamala, the new VP, had a TV program and she said, “This was a lie… but this is the truth.” We heard things we suspected… even conspiracies were covered and laid out.
    I know this will never happen but the idea gives me hope. With so many voices, someone in authority should take the microphone and put the many lies to rest.
    As MLK called them, the three isms.

    1. Lara, Thank you! I was speaking with a colleague the other day about the silence that almost always follows me saying something. She said, the group knows that I will say the truth and remind them of the deeper themes at play. Still feels like silencing to me.

      1. Lara, I am reading Mental Midgets, and hoping for a break from the insanity. This morning, hearing from Aboriginal folks in Australia, I am reminded that they have it much worse, if that is possible. Still, working for something better.

    2. Lara, Thank you! I was speaking with a colleague the other day about the silence that almost always follows me saying something. She said, the group knows that I will say the truth and remind them of the deeper themes at play. Still feels like silencing to me.

  3. It seems (being far away in the UK where one can never truly know) that there is still a long way to go, but a start has been made. I hope.

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