I find myself in sympathy with this view of the election of the first “African American” President of the US:
… we actually weren’t surprised to see Obama elected. Nor are we “proud” when voters do sensible things; as in the days when we taught fifth-graders, we expect sensible conduct. Beyond that, our thumb comes down on the part of the scale which says that Barack Obama should get to be Barack Obama, without having the mountain of race hoisted up on his back. It has been a very long time since any white person had to bear the burden of his ethnicity, which was never as big a mountain as race; we’re tired of seeing white folk insist on making Obama be the black guy. Rather than get all excited and proud about “our first African-American president,” we’d like to see people put their focus on having our first recent successful president.
By the way: Many children will not be able picture themselves as president of the United States, though that’s a separate question.
Should we be “proud of our country” for electing Obama? In most ways, he was the clearly superior candidate; why exactly should we be “proud” when voters make such a choice? Frankly, we think our standards have been dumbed way down when we clap ourselves on the back for such conduct.
As a white woman, one of my ways “in” to the story of Barack Obama is as a white woman. Would I be congratulating America if a woman had been elected? I don’t think so. I’d be glad and maybe even relieved that gender didn’t get in way of a right choice. But I wouldn’t congratulate America for doing the right thing any more than I would congratulate a man for not being sexist. It’s just a bit odd, don’t you think?
I heard some comments in the wake of Obama’s election that give me pause. On CNN, Bill Bennett – American neoconservative pundit, politician and political “theorist” said that African Americans now have no “excuse” for not succeeding. There’s nothing standing in their way now, you see. If Barack Obama can become President, anyone can. We all know that’s just not true for many black, white, Hispanic and “othered” Americans who live in the virtual war zone of poverty. It’s not yet true for women either and, judging by the way that Americans at large and pundits and media types and the Democratic Party itself engaged in blatant misogyny towards Hillary Clinton and are still letting fly as regards Sarah Palin, it will be a helluva long time before it is true.
The election of Obama is a big, symbolic, historic moment for African Americans and worthy of attention. For me, it is still a matter of some note that Obama’s personal history is not the history of most African Americans. He is not Jesse Jackson. He isn’t even Colin Powell. His mother was a white American. His father was a Kenyan American and not a man who traced his ancestors back to slavery. He may not have grown up in a privileged position economically, but neither did he grow up in poverty and with foreclosed expectations. This is not to take anything at all from either his family or him. But those hundreds of years of history that he did not share still have profound, material results for hundreds and thousands of people. If that changes under an Obama presidency, it will truely be of historical note worth celebrating.
Hey, why do I keep harping on these things? Because I think they’re important, lest we believe the work is done. That would be a dangerous result. From my point of view.