Thursday, April 23, 2009

President Obama, the Handshake, and the Politics of the Playground


So the GOP is up in arms about President Obama shaking the hand of Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president, at the Summit of the Americas. Somehow the President’s gesture of civility has been spun into a show of weakness and naiveté. As if his sheer expression of politeness somehow signals to America’s foes that we will fall for the okey doke and open ourselves up to attacks. But seriously, what would Newt Gingrich and his cronies have suggested Obama do? Snub a fellow head of state? Greet Chavez with a slap to the face? Or take the George Bush approach and say something really, really “smart?”

President Obama extended his hand because he knows what many of us have always known; It is better to make friends than enemies. And in order to accomplish what you want, you need to play nice with others. For the first time in years, America’s staunchest foes are lining up for a few minutes with OUR president. Take that Dick Cheney! All the chatter surrounding the infamous handshake made me think about the lessons I try to teach my son about being nice and kind to others.

Before my son settled comfortably into his terrible twos, he was a brawler. I would cringe when we went to the park because he was that kid. You know, the one that takes others’ toys and pushes them off their bike so he can ride it? Yeah, my son was that kid. No matter what I did—time outs, hand-spanking, and lots of long talks—he stared at me blankly with his big brown eyes and commenced to terrorize the playground as soon as his time out was over. Although I was angry with him, all of my pre-pregnancy research prepared me for that phase, when everything is “mine,” even when it's not. So I kept up the time-outs and the talks, and prayed God would speed up his terrible year.

When my son was about two and a half, something changed. His reign of playground terror ended, and he was all of a sudden sharing his toys with others. The first time I saw him sharing, I wanted to shout, "Hallelujah!" Of course, I praised his good deeds, hoping he had officially outgrown his that kid status. After a few relapses, it was official: He had successfully transitioned into a nice kid.

Today, when we go to the park or The Little Gym, my son plays very well with others. Even when he is pushed, or things are taken away from him by other kids, he doesn’t lose his cool; he merely finds something else to play with. Which brings me back to our President. We all know what President Obama means to little brown boys like my son. He shows what is possible, even when there are seemingly insurmountable odds against you. Like President Obama, my son is being raised by a single mother and a host of extended family. My son’s village constantly instills in him how he should behave in different situations. He knows how to say “please” and “thank you,” he knows how to sit still in church (well, most of the time), and he knows when to be loud and rambunctious and when to tone it down. At three, he has mastered the subtle nuances of behaving in different situations.

Even at this stage my son has leaned a lesson that will allow him to traverse several different social circles throughout his life. He has learned that being the nice guy gets you want you want. Being nice means you can play with others, keep your toys, and get little surprises from your mommy. As he grows older, being polite will give him access to scholarships, jobs, raises, and other advancement opportunities. Life will not be easy for my son, but he will be able to carry what we, and other prominent Black folks like President Obama, have taught him throughout his life. And at three, I think my son can teach Newt Gingrich and the GOP a few things about manners.

About our MyBrownBaby contributor:
The Prisoner's Wife blogs anonymously about her experiences raising a son while his father is incarcerated. She is a teacher, writer, and avid music junkie, and mothers over 100 brown babies a day in her classroom before coming home to her own. Check out more of her incredible writing and poetry at The Prisoner's Wife.

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  1. Great article. No one ever got very far by stealing all the toys or hitting others with them.

  2. Stay strong Ms Lady. You are doing a great job. Raising a little man all by yourself while teaching and mentoring to others.

  3. I don't know why everyone is mad. I like that we have a President that is polite and stern at the same time. Keep up the good work with your little man.

  4. You know he got a lot of flack a few weeks ago for bowing to a Saudi Prince. The old cronies were in an up roar. I like a president who makes nice with our enemies he is opening up communication with countries that do not like American's. I believe when he said change he meant it on whole other level. He needs to continue to bow and shake and get these countries to negotiate and talk with us for a change:) (I'm just sayin')

  5. I just want to say that I am proud of President Obama, and he isnt even my President! I happen to live in the Country that held the Summit of the Americas and i feel very proud that the 'handshake seen around the world' happened here. Only good could come of it.

    Love this blog, found it over at Nikki's.

  6. Love your blog too! I found you at parentingpinkblog! Your article is so encouraging and inspiring. I am a mommy of two (6 and 4) and my sweet 6 yr old daughter has always just kinda done the right thing...on her own. (not perfect by any means) but our 4 yr old son is crazy and wild and rude at times, doesn't like to share and whines.....but, but, but, he has a wonderful heart and loves to snuggle as is a total mama's boy! I am blessed with two great kiddos. I just throw my hands up sometimes because, in order to get through to our son, it requires CONSTANT everything. The minute I let my guard down, he see's weakness and zeros in on it! hehe. I have a hard time with discipline anyway, but he has been through a ton with severe food allergies and Eczema and I have always just felt bad for him. Overcompensating with giving him what he wants. My husband says "creating a monster." God love him! :) Recently he started on Vidazorb probiotics and it has changed his life so much. He now feels so much better, and acts better too! So now, I must let go of the sympathy and figure out how to lovingly discipline and guide him into the man he will become! Thank you for your discussion on raising a boy. Blessed mommy of two, Caroline

  7. Thanks so much for writing about this! Years ago, our country was respected across the world. The more powerful & wealthy we got, the more impoverished countries were distainful. The USA has been this 'palace' with 'orphans' looking in the window. Those orphans are growing up now. Thank God Obama won and the Presidency has a human touch in a time when we desperately need it.


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