Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Early thoughts on our new Obama nation

Of all days to end my blogging vacation, why would I choose this one? I thought with the dawning of an Obama presidency would spark in me an eloquent post that put into words the momentous nature of the occasion. But today I sat down to write and it hit me that this is a historic moment for which there are no words. Nothing I can say here could ever compare to the reality of an excited electorate engaged in the democratic process; a country choosing hope over fear, and unity over hatred; a world power poised to regain its reputation on the national stage; and a country with a long, ugly history with people of color electing a black man as its leader.

I can't wrap words around what this day means yet, so I just have bits of thoughts to offer you:

We may not have reached the mountain top, but I can see the summit from here:

I interviewed my dad last year for a writing assignment and he shared a bit about growing up in the Jim Crow South:

"Jim Crow was the law of land…In order to survive you just learned what to do and how to work within the system. We were taught when we went to a white person's house, to go to the side door. We were taught when you got on a bus, to go to the back…You had sense enough to know that a lot of things were not right. You could live in those conditions forever or prepare yourself to change the conditions and make them right."

Last night, my husband asked my father whether he ever dreamed he would see a black man elected president. "I surely did not," Daddy replied.

Real-life Huxtables: Watching America's new first family on stage in Grant Park last night reminded me of something I wrote earlier this year after Michelle Obama's speech at the Democratic National Convention:

...But there is one thing that I know for sure Barack Obama can help do that his opponent cannot: "normalize" the black family in America's eyes.

Last night, viewers of the Democratic National Convention spotted what is the rarest of things, according to media and statistics: a traditional, loving, black family. Wait...wait...I know that families come in all different varieties, and that families comprised of a single parent, same-sex parents, parents of different races and groups of extended relations, are as loving and valuable as the traditional model we insist on calling "the all-American family." It's just that I rarely see families like mine and the ones my husband and I grew up in on TV and in pop culture. (Clair and Cliff, where did you go?) It has been decided that relations between black men and women are dysfunctional, that all black women are unmarried and unmarriageable, that black children don't have fathers. (Related note: When my husband and I lived in Chicago, in a condo between downtown and the South Side, we noticed something odd about the card selection in the nearest Walgreen's, situated in the historic black neighborhood of Bronzeville. The selection for Father's Day cards, and birthday and seasonal cards for dad, was freakishly small. It was as if the store manager had decided "why bother," what with all those stories of absent daddies and dire predictions about the extinction of the black family.) So, forgive me if I get a little thrill when I see Sasha and Malia Obama become excited at their father's visage on a big, convention center screen. And pardon if I cheer a bit when the Democratic candidate and his wife bump fists, when she affectionately ribs him on the campaign trail, or when he rests his palm lovingly on the small of her back. Yes, Virginia, there are happy, black families.

I also appreciate how having a black family constantly in the news spotlights little cultural flourishes that are black and American, but invisible to the mainstream--like the Obama kids' "girlpie" hair that is sometimes "pressed," sometimes in twists, sometimes in cornrows, sometimes fuzzy in the way that black girl hair gets fuzzy. I worry about those little ones, who may have to experience adolescence in the public eye, but maybe, by watching them grow, it will be harder to "otherize" black women into "nappy-headed hoes."
What can I do for America, President Obama? I spent yesterday afternoon canvassing for Obama in Fishers, Indiana. This year marked the first time this political junkie had ever donated or volunteered for a presidential campaign. My canvassing partner, a kind, stay-at-home mom named Mary, was also a campaigning novice. In fact, the storefront volunteer office in Fishers was full of people who had been motivated to really participate in the democratic process for the first time. My favorites were two 20-something brothers from India--new citizens who had not only cast their first ever presidential votes but were out trying to engage others. It's no surprise that a former community organizer like Barack Obama would be able to...well...organize the community to get out the vote. Best of all, I know the enthusiasm of all those people buzzing around volunteer hubs nationwide won't soon be diminished.Hundreds of thousands of citizens are ready to "ask not what our country can do..." but to get out and do for our country. And we're all but a text message, e-mail or phone call away. You have us, President Obama. Now, what can we do to help you help our country?

California voters strike a blow against civil rights: Lest anyone believe that the election of Barack Obama means bigotry has lost its grip on America, remember that homophobia won in several states, most notably in California...California... where Proposition 8 banning gay marriage passed by about a four percent margin. Celebrate the impending Obama presidency, but remember none of us is free unless all of us are free. Last night was not the end of the road, but the beginning. There is lots of work to be done.
Mixed Race America:
It feels unreal. I have been reluctant to let myself imagine what this day would be like--what it would feel like, the next morning, to realize that it had actually happened--that the United States had chosen to elect its first African American, mixed-race president.
Last night, once the polls closed on the West Coast and CNN displayed its graphics declaring that Barack Obama had just been elected president, I wept. I sat on my friend's sofa and cried and cried, big gulping sobs because I had been holding in so much over the last few months. Read more...
The Field Negro:
Your boy did it, and no one in A-merry-ca is as surprised as I am. Hopefully the real A-merry-ca showed up tonight, and if it was the real A-merry-ca, it's a country that I can say that I am proud to live in. Blacks, Whites, Gays, Asians and Latinos; all of you Obamaholics who stepped up and volunteered with your sweat and tears deserve to be sitting right on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with his O ness. This is your election victory. You could have sat back on your ass like this cynical blogger and say it couldn't happen, but you didn't. You could have said, like this cynical blogger, that A-merry-ca was not ready to elect a black man with a Muslin name, but you didn't. Instead, you believed, and you started a movement. A movement which will make A-merry-ca a better place for all of us. Read more...
Tim Wise for Racialicious:
First and foremost, please know that none of these victories will amount to much unless we do that which needs to be done so as to turn a singular event about one man, into a true social movement (which, despite what some claim, it is not yet and has never been).
And so it is back to work. Oh yes, we can savor the moment for a while, for a few days, perhaps a week. But well before inauguration day we will need to be back on the job, in the community, in the streets, where democracy is made, demanding equity and justice in places where it hasn’t been seen in decades, if ever. Because for all the talk of hope and change, there is nothing–absolutely, positively nothing–about real change that is inevitable. And hope, absent real pressure and forward motion to actualize one’s dreams, is sterile and even dangerous. Hope, absent commitment is the enemy of change, capable of translating to a giving away of one’s agency, to a relinquishing of the need to do more than just show up every few years and push a button or pull a lever. Read more...
Angry Black Bitch for Feministing
But history is often bitter sweet because many of those whose work made it possible are not here to harvest the fruits of their labor.

Even as I struggle to put into words the emotion of this moment it is to generations long past that I am drawn.

To the women who organized then and now...who created the techniques that were applied so brilliantly in 2008.

To the brave people who sat when told to stand...who marched when warned to stand home...that spoke when cautioned to be silent...and to those who gave their lives to the cause of social justice.

And I am humbled that I watched the history of their creation last night.

Now, we begin.


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