Eve of change
Posted November 4, 2008 2:45 am (about 3947 days ago)I don’t tend to write about electoral politics much, mainly because I often don’t feel well-versed enough to add anything new to the conversation. However, on the eve of Obama’s potential victory I need to throw in my two cents.
First, I haven’t watched many of the videos that have been flooding my inbox, but here’s one I’m glad I did. It had me laughing out loud, yet is super serious. It wasn’t the only reason, but I finally found myself getting excited about the race, just two nights before election day. Mind you, I’ve read some of Obama’s writings, watched the debates, followed the campaign, helped with a fundraiser, attended a rally and even drove by his house a few times the last time I was in his neighborhood. I’m just not one who tends to get drawn into hype. Yeah, people were wearing shirts and hats or whatever, but how would his election actually change people’s lives? As an example, the youth violence in Oakland is out of control, but while it’s easy to have rallies, and wear a t-shirt, what about the mentorship, the volunteering, the job creation, and other things needed to actually help prevent violence? It’s easier to say we want change, and wait for a messiah to save us, than for us to take control of our lives. Yeah, I’m just a bit cynical about human nature and of course I’m generalizing, but I’m about action, not just slogans. Besides, I've been so caught up with work that I just haven’t been able to give the campaign a true emotional investment.
Having said all that, now that the time is actually here, I’m caught up in the excitement. This could actually happen! When Michelle Obama said that this time was the first time she felt proud to be an American, I finally got it. I didn’t realize how alienated I felt from mainstream America. This IS my country and as I’ve devoted my life to education so I obviously want to make it better, but I’ve just gotten used to being relatively invisible to the average American. I don’t question my ability or intelligence, it’s just a matter of not having a voice or representation in the mainstream. Do I want a hankie to cry? No, I just didn’t really expect to see someone I could relate to actually be in this position. I’m proud that someone “like me” has the opportunity to be in charge. Beyond Obama, it gives me faith in the PEOPLE. I’ve never been anti-American and I appreciate what this country offers. In how many countries can a family go from being migrant workers to having three advanced college degrees in a family of four within one generation, like my family? Yet I’ve often felt that those of us (immigrants, ethnic minorities, poor, etc) who’ve experienced some success have done well in spite of the system. The U.S. has made some amazing contributions to humanity, but I don't wear rose-tinted glasses either. Obama’s victory challenges some of my leeriness about this country.
This is partly about race and ethnicity, but it’s more complex. Anyone who knows history knows that there have been people of color running for president for decades and there are at least two other African American presidential candidates in this election alone. As has been pointed out, if every person of color in the U.S. voted for Obama, he still wouldn’t win, so obviously many White people support him as well. He has more universal, wide-spread appeal than some on the right want to give him credit for. For me, it’s the fact that his identity supercedes race, without ignoring it. At a very basic level, I feel like I can relate to him. Seeing him with his maternal grandfather makes me think of my German grandfather and all his dark Mexican kids and grandkids. Seeing Obama in Asia with his family reminds me of my own family in Taiwan and other countries. His multi-racial roots, with family both in the U.S. and abroad fits my family profile. His American ties to the Midwest fit my own family and friends in the Midwest, including Hyde Park. I respect his intelligence and ability to succeed in institutions of power, including Harvard and the Senate, yet I appreciate the fact that he embraces his Blackness and I love the fact that his wife is Black. I don’t mean in her physical appearance. I mean her world views and experience. Throw in her intelligence and charisma and what’s not to like? I love the fact that their girls are like little kids I know or grew up with. The Obamas don’t have to “act” Black, they just are. But again, they’re more than that. Sounds like a contradiction? Let’s just say that anyone who can be who they are without forgetting their roots, yet still connect with people of all backgrounds, is powerful. Obama is Black, multiracial, American, son of an immigrant, educated, and so forth, all in one. Our identities are fluid and not everyone can adapt so easily. It feels like he does. Taking this a step further, if he was just a “regular African American,” I’d be excited, but not nearly as much simply because national discussions usually center around Black and White folks. I’ve been around enough of both to know that people usually consider us “others” to be different shades of Black or White. Our views and needs usually get put on the back burner. No matter my closeness to African Americans, we’re not the same! So while race does matter, it’s so much more complex. If you don’t get what I’m saying, I probably can’t relate to you beyond a certain level, which is part of my problem with McCain and Palin.
At a personal level, they seem like nice enough people. One of the most powerful pictures I ever saw was with McCain and his Bangladeshi daughter. Patronizing? White guilt? Who knows, but all I know is his family took in a little girl from “my world,” when most people just talk about it. I respect many things about him, but when it comes to our perspectives and life experiences, I just feel like neither of them understand the experiences of folks like me and the people I care about. For me they represent an America that keeps people like me on the fringes. It’s such a part of the norm that most people still don’t even acknowledge it. How can you address a problem if you don’t even recognize that it exists in the first place? As with Obama, I’ve done research, listened to interviews, read various articles, and listened to the pundits. The more I learned, the more I leaned towards Obama. Granted, I didn’t go to Harvard like Obama, I can’t afford a crib in Hyde Park, and both Michelle and Barack have a wider vocabulary in one pinkie than I have all together. Yet, knowing where all involved parties have come from gives critical insight into how they’ll handle public policy. I know the president is one person and can’t change the system, but an Obama victory has enormous symbolic value and the presidency has always been larger than the individual. And quite frankly, anyone who gets to that level of power is part of the system.
Still, I’m excited. I’m proud that I live in a country where an Obama can get elected. Last night I tossed and turned as I wondered how to express my happiness if he wins. Should I drive around in my car, honking at everyone? Hug random strangers as I waved an American flag? I even had an image of shooting an AK 47 over my head (not that I even own a large knife). But what if he doesn’t win? Well, I’m not leaving the country. The people I care most about are HERE. Will I still vote? At the local level of course, but I’ll feel pretty burned by the presidential race. I’m not necessarily a sore loser, but I can’t believe that all these polls that have him so far ahead are THAT wrong. Will something shady miscount happen? Will Americans show that they aren’t ready to move beyond the politics of the past and give us more of the same? Will I feel more cynical?
Hopefully I won’t have to find out!