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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