Tuesday, February 3, 2009

"Reflections on Obama"

I have an article on the Barack Obama inauguration over at Mstation.org:

The inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States is an event that the world watched, from the villages of Kenya to the bars of San Francisco. As such my lone views on the matter, as a 22-year-old American of no particular exception, aren’t the sort of item that will be overtaking headlines anywhere.

Nevertheless, I think I have what I think is a unique view on the matter. I had an upbringing in which race was stamped on my mind with more force than I believe it is most white people. I spent the first few years of my education at an overwhelmingly white elementary school, in which diversity was more a factor of what church one attended than what your pigmentation was. Due to a combination of residential changes and institutional policies on the part of the Seattle School District, I wound up at a school with a substantially large black population.

It was a daily occurrence at that middle school to hear race come up in some form. I’d be called white boy or some student would insist that the reason he was being pulled out of class or getting a bad grade was because of racism. Due to the stress and what I assume to be exhaustion from being called a racist every day, one of my math teachers actually quit in the middle of the semester. It was a few weeks before a permanent replacement came in.

I don’t think I would have gotten heavily into hip-hop and devoured books like The Autobiography of Malcolm X if it hadn’t been for that abrupt incursion into black culture. However much I may have hated and resented going there at the time, it helped me understand black culture in a way that most other Caucasians probably don’t.

That’s partly why I was moved by the Obama victory and inauguration speeches. When I saw Barack Obama speaking humbly, it was nice to see a validation of what I had always believed: Race is a meaningless physical characteristic, there merely as a result of our evolutionary adaptation to various climates and nothing more. Perhaps the children of the kids I knew who constantly accused teachers of being racist will use less scapegoats in their lives, realizing that it is in fact possible for a black man to succeed to the highest role in American society.

The candidacy of John McCain, on the other hand, was profoundly depressing. Despite his ad hominem attacks on Ron Paul, who I supported, during the Republican presidential debates, I was inclined in his direction due to years of admiration. His Hail Mary Pass of a vice presidential candidate, combined with a flirtation with the hardcore Religious Right and the employment of idiotic gimmicks like “Joe the Plumber,” made me feel sad that a great man could be reduced to a self-parody by politics.

There are quite a few overly inflated hopes of Barack Obama. Though he is trying now to deflate them by saying he will make difficult choices in the face of a disastrous economic situation, his campaign blew up those high expectations to an outrageous degree. One can think of Tony Blair, who came to be PM with high expectations but left with contempt, and see that things do not often turn out as we hope or expect.

The symbolic progress of Barack Obama’s inauguration would make up for those disappointments, however. Not only did he surpass the race barrier, he shattered the stereotypes that Americans are a bunch of unicultural neandrathals. Only one hundred years ago, Irish immigrants were axing the “O” from their last name in order to assimilate in America. In the twenty first century, in a period wherein Americans had supposedly become a bunch of xenophobic Islamophobes, the United States elected a man named Barack Hussein Obama.

Not bad.


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