Monday, August 18, 2008

Family Isn't Exotic

Okay, I was trying to stay away from the dreaded P-word. No, politics I mean. But, here I go.
First, a disclaimer, I am really grateful that I am not a radio or television commentator. Because stick a microphone in front of me and I am sure I would say stuff that people would pick apart. However, I think we can agree that Cokie Roberts is an experienced commentator, and while that makes her no less prone to saying something that didn't come out quite like she intended, I feel that she knows what she is getting into.
So, Cokie Roberts was talking about Barack Obama's visit to Hawai'i to see his grandmother. She said, "I know that he is from Hawaii, he grew up there, his grandmother lives there, but he has made such a point about how he is from Kansas, you know, the boy from Kansas and Kenya, and it makes him seem a little bit more exotic than perhaps he would want to come across as at
this stage in the presidential campaign." Now, my second disclaimer is that I happen to be someone who has family in Hawai'i, so I confess, it seems quite normal to me. But I understand that with the economy the way it is, and with plane tickets (and airlines) being what they are, that Hawai'i is not a place that everyone has had the good fortune to visit. (Although, as Jon Carroll pointed out, there are quite a few people for whom it is the state next door.)
So, I imagine that possibly what Roberts was trying to say is it seems exotic in the sense of extravagant. Exotic in the sense of wow, my life doesn't quite shake out like that.
But, of course, people, like me who have family in Hawai'i feel like visiting your family is not such a strange or exotic thing. And while I live inside the Beltway, as it were, and therefore resist the idea of a Beltway mentality, I have to say the claim that Jon Carroll and others have made about this statement seems pretty founded to me.
First, there's that whole thing that I think people in Kansas (and other places) are probably a little tired of being told they can't understand stuff. I'm sure people in Kansas (not picking on you guys) understand that visiting family is, you know, normal. And while we all might wish our family lived somewhere that was also a hot vacation destination, it's still family.
And then there is the unfortunate use of the word exotic. Now, I can't speak for Roberts, but I imagine at the time the words left her mouth she didn't see the unfortunate multiple meanings of that little word. Because exotic can also mean foreign. And Hawai'i is a state full of native Hawaiians as well as Pacific Islanders and those of Asian descent. So, it starts to sound like she's implying that Hawai'i was an unfortunate place for Obama's grandmother to be, because of the
proportionately smaller amount of white people. Again, I don't think that's what she intended, but again it made the statement all that more unfortunate.
I have been to Hawai'i quite a few times, and sure I've seen many of the sights there. I have also attended birthday parties and anniversary parties and holiday dinners and funerals. You know, family stuff. Because Hawai'i is a place that over six generations of my family have lived. It is the place that my father grew up and the place where we spread his ashes. It is the place that many of my aunts, uncles and cousins live. And it is the place that my grandmother lives.

Hat tip to the Rage Diaries on this.