January 20th, 2009


Obama Inauguration

There's no shortage of people writing and saying stuff about Obama's inauguration. I don't have anything unique to say about it except this:

One thing I noticed about women in public in Paris -- the Parisian women -- is that there was a certain public mask they put on -- the "don't fuck with me, you don't exist, move along" face -- no eye contact, mouth set in a straight line. The only women in Paris who smiled at me on the street were prostitutes. I think the average French woman has had to contend with an atmosphere where sexual harrassment is more common than it is in most American cities, so they armor themselves against it.

I can't begin to understand the black experience in the United States, though I can imagine and empathize with it. I can, however, observe, and what I've observed is that black folks in the US have a similar public face they put on, especially in situations where they're surrounded by mostly white strangers. It has a more complicated message than the Parisienne mask, but it's calculated to keep them out of trouble and help them avoid unpleasantness.

What I saw on the TV coverage was completely the opposite -- a mixed race crowd packed check to jowl, and again and again the sort of beaming, open-hearted smiles on the faces of black folks -- that public mask completely shattered.

It's a certainty the euphoria of this moment won't last, but it is important to try and savor it for what it is.