I’ll Take the White Guy with the Guitar Please: What Happens When America Votes

American Idol logo 2008–2011

American Idol logo 2008–2011 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My husband was devastated. Having seen a few of the episodes during the season, I couldn’t blame him. The show is called American Idol. And maybe that’s in the first ten seasons, four young guitar playing men have taken home the coveted title, beating out a score of talented women and men of various backgrounds. Is it the fact that the guitar masks the quality of the vocals or the fact that we’re impressed by someone who can multi-task that makes this the winning combo? And by we, of course I mean t-we-ens, those girls and guys with endless supply of time on their hands and text/cellphone credits courtesy of Mom and Dad.

Okay, you think I have an ax to grind. Last week, I pointed out how easy it is to categorize people through the flatness of the internet. No, I’m not obsessed with discrimination or an “angry brown woman” (how many people describe the standard Denzel Washington role except darker and male).

The WGWG phenomena (white guy with a guitar) as some were calling the victory of Phillip Philips over Filipino -American Jessica Sanchez, the teenager who sang her heart out on nearly every time she took the stage, interests me because it is one of the few times that the general public is willing to talk about race in such an open way. No one is accusing anyone of using the race card as often happens and we saw so painfully in the 2008 election or even more recently in the Republican primary with Herman Cain. We gear up for another presidential campaign in which people will hopefully not say that “it’s called the White House for a reason.”

Catalyst's Sloss Docks Party >> Watching Taylo...

Catalyst's Sloss Docks Party >> Watching Taylor Hicks on American Idol (Photo credit: curtis palmer)

After all, it’s healthy to talk about race. I’d forgotten this while living in the politically correct climate of the United States. Not that I’m only complaining: After growing up in the ’80s, when even my closest friends would wrinkle up their noses at the sight or smell of the food packed in my lunches, I benefited more than most when multiculturalism became a buzz word. In all the frenzy to embrace Kawanza and emphasize people’s hypenated identity, something else happened as well. Instead of encouraging acceptance, we started accepting tolerance, which is like biting into a piece of tofu, expecting chocolate. When we tolerate, we allow our attitudes to go underground. They aren’t challenged or transformed: They persist.

Half of my stand up comedy routine is about the jaw dropping assumptions people make when they see our multi-ethnic family out in public. The New York Times did a piece on our burgeoning comedy group and the various issues we address through humor.

From start to finish, I point out the ironies of race in life on this peninsula on the Arabian peninsula. My recent book, From Dunes to Dior, is the serious version; a meditation on race and gender in this polyglot of a society that is Qatar.

Go ahead: ask me anything. Why I’m dark or why my son is light: why my husband has a crystal clear American accent, or where we’re really from. In the asking, we begin a dialogue.

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One Response to I’ll Take the White Guy with the Guitar Please: What Happens When America Votes

  • S P Mount says:

    “When we tolerate, we allow our attitudes to go underground. They aren’t challenged or transformed: They persist.” Dead right.

    Racism might always exist even in multicultural societies – which most are in this melting pot world – but I do have to say that I’ve noticed it seems prevalent in the States – at least from ‘certain’ areas of it, anyway.

    I’m from the UK, living in Canada, and while not without certain issues themselves, I don’t see these matters constantly being brought to the forefront in general debates – over the Internet, or in politics.

    It seems together with religion, and sexual preference, that it can be the basis of the people’s reaction to nearly every news article on the Internet, relevant to the issue at hand or not, and inevitably turning into a hate-fest swept along by a tsunami of anonymity, and furthermore, played on for those, ignorant, votes by its politicians.

    For a culture by its own admission (it seems; at least judging by such things as making sure we all know that every little detail of their success on reality shows etc; is attributed solely to God) is largely, God fearing, the hypocrisy and the intolerance that I’ve seen go on from the same people that call themselves, ‘this or that’ in His name, astounds me.

    As for AI – I think we all know that the teenage girl demographic ‘rools’, not only that, but ‘everything’… TV, books… ‘whatever’… mainstream. They don’t necessarily vote for talent, but for a (male) pretty face (and yes the guitar helps, I’m sure) and sometimes, even because of a quirk that the contestant has; simply brainwashed by something popular:- e.g. calling out ‘Ru-ben’… as the audience all did back then, or Taylor Hicks’ ‘soul patrol’ thing, jumping on the bandwagon; not really knowing why and not really voting for an ‘idol’ at all. The true talent, like Jessica, will shine through eventually.

    Thanks, interesting post. (looked at following, but don’t want to connect it with FB App, as the Networked blogs thing demands, so I’ll subscribe instead)

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