Thursday, November 13, 2008
Hey, I Haven't Written about the Election Yet! Yay!
The election hangover is upon us. George Bush, a guy built for lame duckness, is making the most out of his final two months, and people all around us are refusing to take their campaign signs and posters down. The mainstream media is jubilant about "the first African-American president" and are touting his win as the American Dream personified. It very well may be, but aren't we missing something here?
What the media means is that he's the first bi-racial president, which doesn't have the same revolutionary ring to it but is an important distinction. The cultural identity of Obama is much more specific--almost anyone's cultural identity is more specific--than just "Black."
Part of the pain of growing up Black in America has to do with the ancestral anonymity of it. If your ancestors came over here on a boat from the motherland and were renamed by their slavemasters, you're losing a big part of who you are. Part of Black culture's righteous indignation, their tenuous relationship with their country, is that America owns a part of them they will never get back.
Meanwhile, Barack Obama has a father from Kenya and a mother from Kansas. Does that make his election any less symbolic or inspirational? No, the Black people I've talked to don't seem to think so. But does Barack Obama lose any of his ability to be representational, to be "one of us," if he is African/American instead of African-American? There is a difference.
The media doesn't even broach this question. For now, it's good enough that a non-White man won. But by using African-American as a polite catch-all, without really thinking about it, aren't we being more racist? Aren't we harkening back to Jim Crow times when 1/16th of Black blood meant that you were Black? Are we, in effect, saying "They're all the same"? Because if you ask a light-skinned brother or a "halfrican" you know about the differences, they'd be happy to tell you. I'm not trying to rain on anyone's parade; this is a historic event. I just think that we need to be careful with the language we use.
Being careful with the language we use.
What I think is potentially just as inspiring about the win (keep in mind this is not a guy I voted for) is that this is a victory for intellectualism. No matter what you believe about Obama's policies, it's difficult to argue that he's a brilliant man. Part of the reason he's not necessarily "one of us" has nothing to do with race. Not many of us are eloquent, articulate Columbia and Harvard grads. What we might not realize is that this is the first victory for the "guy who is clearly more intelligent" since the '60s, Democrat or Republican.
For a long time, America voted for the man who was more relatable, whether it was the cowboy wisdom of LBJ or W. or the flirtatious, sax-playing Clinton. Conversely, the opponent--Michael Dukakis, Hubert Humphrey--always made a mis-step when he seemed unfamiliar. In this recent choice for leadership, we're admitting not only that we're not racist, but also that we have a lot of other problems too. The trust in someone who is smarter than us, rather than someone who is tantalizingly similar, is encouraging.