Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Give me some time before I unite, okay?

We have a new president now, and I'm fine with that. I feel like such a minority sometimes, being middle of the road. I like Obama, really. I also like McCain. I don't like the Clintons, but thank goodness that didn't have to come into play. I surprise myself with how dispassionate I feel about politics. In fact, more and more people who get all wound up about it irritate me, no matter what party they are. If supposedly Obama has gotten people more involved in the political process, I find myself growing more laissez-faire about it.

The election didn't surprise me - after 8 years of a Republican the country was bound to swing the other way. I didn't see it as a big "race" or anything, I figured the outcome. And when talking to some coworkers, a couple who are very politically-minded, I was kind of surprised, I guess, that they felt it necessary to be all passionate and working the polls. How strange for a Social Studies teacher to feel that way.

I think that Clinton and W. Bush were such polarizing figures... love to hate 'em, and how easy it was to feel that way if you wanted to. Obama is certainly saying all the right things, and the patriotic spot in my heart finds itself getting woken up every once in awhile from his speeches. If the media would just give me some time, I will probably consider uniting for Obama. Well, at least for education & the economy. But there's one big sticking point that raises my hackles. And that's his race.

I don't have a problem with the fact he's black. But it's the broader question - is he? Are mixed-race citizens having to identify with one race? Is it a card he played to help get votes? Is he belittling his mother's and her parents' influence? I understand the significance, of course. But he's not the same as African-Americans who are descended from slavery. Sure, the civil rights era played a major role in his life. Sure, he suffered the same way other blacks did (and do) socially, I'm sure. But as much as the media and everyone else celebrates our first black president, I'll tell you when tears will be in my eyes - when a man or woman, whose ancestors were sold in Africa by rival tribes, chained aboard a ship, and resold into bondage in this land - when THAT person ascends to the highest office in the land, I will believe we've achieved the goal of equality. I know that others need to put cracks into walls before it finally breaks, but I'm saving my emotion for that day.


WMW said...

I do get what you're saying about someone who can trace their ancestry to slaves taking that office--indeed that will be another remarkable milestone. Of course Michelle Obama does fit that description. I don't see Barack Obama's story as any less authentically American black, though--to be black in America means so many, many different things. So many black Americans are children of immigrants too, and almost all of us carry the blood of other races than the one we look like.

So why does everyone say he's black? Because he says he is--we all get to decide how we self-identify. He generally says he's African American because that's how he sees himself because that's how the world sees him, the life experience he's had. Until he became famous it didn't matter that his mother was white; he was just another black guy watching a cab pass him by. His life experience led him to explore "black culture" as a young man and that's where he found community and identity that he embraced. Sure, he could say he's biracial and sometimes he does, but he calls himself a black man because, well, he wants to. He feels like one.

It's kind of like how I somehow feel German and would say that's what I am, even though I'm at least as much British. You're Dutch, right? But if you're not 100 percent, then that's just how you choose to self-identify. Who knows how our kids will one day describe themselves...

I don't think he intentionally downplays his "white side"--he often references his white mother and says his grandmother was the most important person in his life. But perhaps since those relatives are not living, that side of his history is not as visible. It's a shame none of them did make it to today. Indeed the media does sometimes oversimplify things and their presence probably would have added nuance to the discussion.

We definitely haven't reached that final goal, though--so I'm celebrating today but I will also join you in continuing to look ahead. :)

Er, sorry for the length! My $.02 turned into $20, eh?

Amy said...

Ack! Not Dutch! It's that husband of mine who makes it seem that way! :) (wmw, i'll send an email off to you!)

WMW said...

Oh, right, DutchMAN in your house! My bad!