Sunday, April 7, 2013

When The Best Thing To Say Is Nothing At All

Sometimes the wisest thing you can do on social media – or anywhere, for that matter – is to heed the advice of Michael Gary Scott: “Shut it. Shut. It.”
So it is, I think, with the controversy surrounding Pres. Obama’s now infamous remark to California Attorney General Kamala Harris earlier this week. The President took some flak for having called Harris not only “brilliant and … dedicated and … tough,” but also “by far, the best looking attorney general in the country.”
To which my reaction has been: Keep your trap shut, Dave.
Not because I don’t have an opinion. I do. I think it was a stupid thing to say. (Oh, damn! Sometimes I need to take my own advice. Or Michael Scott’s.) But the point is, in this case, my opinion isn’t really all that important.
Let me back up. In the interest of full disclosure, I only heard about the Obama-Harris controversy when two women I greatly respect – Imani Gandy of Angry Black Lady Chronicles, and law-student-turned-media-superstar Zerlina Maxwell – criticized the President on Twitter for commenting on Ms. Harris’ looks. So when I say I think it was a stupid thing for the President to say, I have to acknowledge that my perception of the matter is, to some extent at least, filtered through their initial commentary. Had I heard the President’s remarks without first hearing their negative reaction, I don’t know for certain how I would have reacted. I’d like to think I’d still have thought it was a stupid thing to say, but the truth is: I really don’t know.
And that brings me to the point of this non-commentary. The reason I don’t know how I would have reacted without first having heard their reaction is obvious. I’m a dude. I try to think about how things affect other people – and, in this context, “other people” means “non-dudes” – but  nobody has the ability to occupy other people’s minds. It’s a worthwhile exercise to try to imagine, say, how the President’s remarks on the physical appearance of a very successful, talented woman might affect women generally, how they’d feel about it, but I’ll never know for sure.
So the starting point is to … gasp! … shut up and listen. Specifically, to shut up and listen to women, in this instance.
I note, also for the record (lawyers love to note shit for the record), that I’ve seen a wide variety of different reactions to the President’s comments from a number of different women. Some say the President was wrong, period; some say he was wrong, but let’s move on; and some say President’s comments were no big deal in the first place. And you know what? That’s okay, too. I don’t expect women, or any other group, demographic or otherwise, to be monolithic.
But here’s the thing. In this instance, women are more directly affected by the issue – the issue being: Women being judged, at least in part, on their looks. Right? I mean, it’s not rocket science. In fact, it’s history. Generations and generations – centuries, really – of history: Of not being given a fair shake, of being treated as second class citizens … and of being judged on superficial bases like looks instead of character, talent, strength, ability, and so forth.
So it doesn’t matter if women uniformly agree on the President’s remarks; all those different views matter. We, meaning dudes in particular, should listen to all of them. Non-judgmentally.
Don’t worry, my dudes. I’m not saying you can’t or shouldn’t have an opinion. I’m just saying that in order to formulate that opinion, you first ought to listen to people who are directly affected by the issue. Because you never know; you might actually learn something.
[Cross-posted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles]


  1. Now please don't go jumping to any conclusions out there, but I've heard him compliment men about their looks, golf games, youth, athletic prowess, etc.,.....we're being too sensitive here. And if it doesn't bother her, why should it bother anyone else. I didn't hear any uproar when he complimented the men.

  2. Liza's right, of course. But I also wrote this issue up from my own historical perspective as a woman who came into the workforce in the late '60s:

    Good Looking Attorney General