Umbrellas, racialized images, and the small things of service

ATTENTION CONSERVATION NOTICE: Umbrellas are necessary in the rain.

Ah, umbrella-gate.

Neither you nor I have the time for me to go linking to various outraged posts or the various and sundry counter-outraged oh-this-is-all-Republican-contrived-aren’t-those-wingnuts-awful scandal links.

However, I do have to thank this particular tempest-in-a-teapot for digging up some amusing-to-me pictures of other presidents having umbrellas held for them and not, like my favorite of President Bush (senior) under a very girly beach umbrella. I’m not convinced this writer is correct, btw. Those don’t look like Marine uniforms to me; I’m thinking they’re German. Anybody know? Anyhoodily, one reason I like this photo: it rather illustrates my favorite thing about this particular president: good sense. For we all know that beach umbrellas are waaaaay superior to the tiny little rain umbrellas that keep your head dry but let your shoulders and backpack get all wet. (Not that I suspect he picked this umbrella, but a less sensible man might have objected to its whimsical appearance for the POTUS rather than simply, doing his job under a rather silly brellie.)

And then there’s this one of a bemused G.W. Bush and an recalcitrant umbrella. We’ve all been there, dude.

The universe of this controversy appears to be people for whom Mah-reens represent the big, important, and masculine–all terms for high status tasks…instead of the notion of service, which is seen as minor and demeaning.

We should probably just acknowledge straight up that one reason why some people got upset over the photo is that they had a gut reaction to a white man doing something they view as servile for a black man, and that’s not the right ordering of the universe.

The nice thing about all the various photos with presidents and their umbrella-holding marines and butlers and friends should be: that it is a polite thing to do to hold an umbrella for a person who has his hands full, and that a great deal of service, much of it very honorable, never gets you a medal and is, in fact, simply taking out the trash, digging latrines, and holding bumbershoots for visiting panjandrums. One does what one does because it simply needs to get done; there is honor in the small. Really.

It’s rather indicative of our political discussions that many people are willing to take a stand for or against the umbrella, but have no interest whatsoever in what the actual event involving the President (and the President of another country!) was about. Announcing a new treaty? A new policy? No, no, THAT’S irrelevant. Tell me about the accessories they somebody hold for them for a bit! (Presidents Obama and Erdogan were issuing a joint statement regarding Syria. Remember Syria?

This is not to say how we treat the people around us, like the President and the Marines, does not matter. It’s just not worth that pother that has gone into this question, nor should it eclipse discussing Syria. I was most annoyed by President Clinton’s behavior of asking state officials to ferry women to and fro, because it’s both demeaning and icky, even if I didn’t think we needed to be impeaching anybody. (i.e. you can still do your job even if you are an ass.) Yes, the staffers here should have thought through the weather better, but if you can’t imagine getting caught short on the weather, you’ve never lived in DC, where the weather pretty much sucks all the time, and defies prediction, despite it being a lovely city in many other ways.

The Marines, to me, added grace and dignity to the event, as they do at so many other events; they provided comfort and hospitality to a visiting dignitary. Those things matter, too, right along with whether our Marines are treated with the proper respect.

Terminal Lance has my favorite response to date:

As well, the day I give a shit about a boot Corporal holding an umbrella is the day I’ve forgotten what the Marine Corps is. Honestly, holding an umbrella for the President is probably the least demeaning thing I could imagine doing as a Marine, as opposed to the other bullshit I had to do every day. No one would think twice about asking a boot to police call cigarette butts across the entire base at 5am, but the minute this boot has to hold an umbrella for the Commander in Chief, people get upset.

He’s the President, he rates an umbrella.

Get over it.