Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Democratic Nominee--Barack Obama

It has been said before but I'll repeat it here: history has been made. Barack Hussein Obama (and yes, I'm invoking the middle-name deliberately to make a point) is the Democratic nominee for the 2008 Presidential election.

[pause for sustained applause and whooping and whistles]

I received a very enthusiastic email message from a friend who is out of the state right now who just can't believe that we are seeing this happen. And I've had similar conversations on the phone and in person with friends and family members who are over the moon about this state of affairs. And we are a mixed bunch, my friends and family. And I think that's important to note, because so much has been made of race by those outside of Obama's camp and supporters--about him being a "black" candidate who has a "Muslim" middle-name and family ties to Islam.

But imagine what this says, to the nation, to the world, but more importantly to the kids at your local elementary school: the Democratic nominee for the first time is not a white man. And in Obama's case his mixed-parentage, and very mixed-upbringing, is also something to take note--that he comes from a complex heritage and claims family across the globe of all different ethnicities.

There are a lot of pundits, talking heads, and reporters who are writing about what this means for the Democratic party, for the nation, for the world. One article I found interesting was in today's New York Times, "Many Blacks Find Joy in Unexpected Breakthrough." I think it's true that African Americans probably do feel a sense of pride and perhaps even surprise that a majority of white Americans (and Americans of color across the spectrum) are behind Barack Obama--that he garners so much cross-ethnic, cross-racial support. But the truth is, I think for any of us interested in anti-racist practices, Barack Obama's nomination is one that inspires a sense of hope--a renewed faith that WE can make a DIFFERENCE in the nation.

And I went back and looked through all of the posts I had written about Obama (there are several--you can type in his name in the search box and see), but I want to link to one I wrote nearly a year ago. It was written on June 12, "Walk for Barack", right after I had participated in the Saturday, June 9 "Walk for Change" that Obama's campaign orchestrated. This is when my support for Obama became concrete--because you don't knock on doors in 90 degree humid weather in the South if you don't feel a sense of passion and commitment.

Here is an excerpt from what I wrote then--the context is that I was relating a conversation that I had had with an older African American man who expressed skepticism that Obama was electable because he questioned whether this country was ready for a black president:

I don't know if the average American voter wants to elect a black president. But what I told this gentleman and what I believe, and what got me out on a 92 degree afternoon, knocking on people's doors, volunteering for the first time in my life to canvass for a cause or a person--what I believe in my heart of hearts is that I want to and need to believe that we, as a nation, are ready to move ahead in terms of racial politics. That we want to learn from the past and we want to learn from each other. And while I know that racism will not be erased so easily by a few ethnic studies classes or multicultural fairs, I also know that I am supporting Obama because I have to have faith. I have to believe and to envision the country I want rather than the country I suspect I have. I have to actually practice what I preach rather than bemoaning the state of race and politics that we currently live in.

All I have to say now, a year later, is YES WE CAN!


CVT said...

I am so scared to hope. Terrified.

Because for all that this will mean if he can actually win, it tears down so much if he cannot.

What I mean is this: if he wins, it takes all the distrust, and lack of faith I have in white America and turns it all on its head. It gives me hope (for the first time in so long) that maybe things really ARE getting better (and not just better-hidden). It says that I can start believing in chances to break down my own racial barriers, and that the kids I teach can feel the same way - and maybe NOT get let down in the future.

However, if all my fears are true, all my distrust so rightfully earned, then a loss would only make it worse. If he loses, it will validate all my fears and lack of faith - heavily. It will also cause white Democrats to feel that he lost BECAUSE of his race (which would be likely), therefore causing them to be even MORE hesitant to nominate a person of color in the future - knocking us back a few decades and keeping a follow-up from happening for decades more.

And so it terrifies me. There is so much at stake here. So much. And I don't to get too excited and then find myself even more bitter and hurt come November. I want to believe - I really do.

But I don't.

Here's to the hope that the world changes in six months.

Jennifer said...

I really hear you--and share some of your fears/anxieties about Obama's candidacy and run for the President.

But I think I'm a bit more hopeful/naive, so for what it's worth, let me offer some further observations.

I truly NEVER thought that I'd live to see a viable African American or female nominee for the White House of one of the two major parties. And I always assumed that if I did, it'd be a Republican (ie: Someone like Condie or Kathryn Harris or Colin Powell) with a more conservative orientation who would disavow the role of race/gender or any combination thereof in their lives.

The fact that Obama IS the nominee of the Democratic party is something that makes me VERY PROUD and HOPEFUL and GRATEFUL, regardless of whether he wins or not.

Although, like you, I fear what his loss could signal--as a symbol, as an actual statesperson, as a figure of unity/tolerance, I DO NOT see Obama as a post-racial figure--which means, even if he is elected I don't think it means we're done with racism by any means or that we're closer, necessarily to a level playing field.

I do understand the power of symbolism--and what his candidacy could and does mean to your students--but I guess I'm wondering/hoping? that regardless of whether he wins, or not, the fact that he is RUNNING can be a symbol of hope and inspiration for your students (and yourself?).

If Obama loses, I think it's impossible not to think that it will be because some people couldn't let go of their racism/privilege--examined or unexamined, conscious or unconscious. But what I HOPE is that it will mean that we will work harder to make sure that either Obama runs again and/or that other politicians of color get motivated to run and do SOMETHING.

Finally, let me offer this to you, and anyone else fearful to hope or believe: I'll do it for you. It's like the scene in Don DeLillo's WHITE NOISE. The protagonist encounters a Catholic nun, and makes some platitude about faith to her. And she is dismissive to him and basically says, "You want to believe that I believe to make yourself feel better" and that's what Jack (the protagonist) recognizes--that he, an atheist, does not believe in God, but he feels BETTER that there are others, like this nun, whom he assumes has ultimate faith.

I have faith. I NEED to believe. I NEED to believe that we can elect an African American president--not that it will wipe away the past or the present. Not that it will signal an end to racism and white privilege. But the idea that the U.S., a country intimately involved in systemic racism and white privilege--the idea that we can work through our dysfunctional race issue and elect a black president or work as hard as hell to elect our first non-white, African American, openly mixed-race transnational president--hell, that's SOMETHING to be proud of!