Frenchman's Bay, Maine

Frenchman's Bay, Maine

Monday, November 24, 2008

Some Thoughts on Obama

On November 5th, I woke in Germany to our clock radio playing Barack Obama's acceptance speech for the presidency. Since I voted for Obama, I felt jubilant, relieved, and somber, all at the same time. Jubilant and relieved because I truly think he's the best leader out of the choices presented. And also, somber, because of the many challenges ahead for him.

Here's what Ginger (another blogger I read often) wrote after Obama was elected. Her words are thought-provoking:

"For me, the election of Barack Obama, more than anything, signifies Hope. And it's a hope that can get me choked up; it's so strong I can almost taste it at times when I'm reading through the news.

First of all, as for many, it signifies hope about race issues.

My first memory of race being something negative was when I was about 12 or 13 years old. I remember it vividly. My mom was driving us to church on the island where we lived in Malaysia, and Grandma was in the car. We passed a tourist couple walking along the road, a Black man and a white woman. My mother remarked to Grandma that interracial marriage was not a good thing.

"Why not?" I asked, curious.

Mama got tight-lipped. "It's hard on them and it's hard on the children," she said. "People have enough differences to overcome without dealing with racial differences as well," she said. "And the children don't know where they belong."

"They're just different on the outside, that's all," I blurted, suddenly angry with my mom. Her remarks seemed so unfair.

I don't recall her exact response, but I remember being very aware that my view was not acceptable to her. And I rebelled at that.

I never got over rebelling. I watched biracial kids in my classrooms in California, and they seemed to do just fine. Every example was tucked into my mental file to rebut what my mom had expressed. Somewhere down deep, I felt like it wasn't just the interracial issue, but an issue of my mom seeing Blacks as being of less worth. She never said it, so I don't know if I'm right or not. But emotion that has come out in her remarks over the years has been a curious thing, just as curious as the hot anger that I feel when she or anyone else in my family makes what I perceive to be a racist comment. (Even hearing my uncle refer to Obama as "O-baa-muh"--with the "bam" rhyming with "ram" and "Sam"--leaves me angry. Be respectful enough to pay attention to another culture's pronunciation!) And no, I don't try to correct them.

When I was teaching Social and Multicultural Education in a northern California college, I made the comment to my lecture hall full of students, "The sooner we all intermarry, the better. We've got to get over these racial issues in our society." To my surprise, a former student chatting with me on Facebook recently quoted that back to me, ten years later. "I never forgot that," she said. "I just married an Indian-American man, and I'm so happy with him." I found myself smiling wryly as I responded. I happened to fall in love with a white man, so I've not lived out my declaration. But I still believe it and I'm glad it was helpful to her. My point is not about racial intermarriage to make a statement, but my point is to not let racial issues deter two otherwise-suited people from dating and marrying.

So now we have a new president who is both black and white, "a mutt," as he terms it with no sign of rancor. He is an educated man who seems to be able to think from both identities. I find hope welling up that this will be a benefit to us all in making some changes in our dealings with race issues.

Second, our recent election gives me hope about foreign policy. I am a third culture kid; Barack Obama is a third culture kid. Third culture kids have grown up in cultures that are not those of their parents, and aren't really their own cultures either. They fit in nowhere and they fit in everywhere. Obama has had an opportunity to see what an "ugly American" looks like in other countries. He has crossed cultures and has developed the skills to be a cultural chameleon, to enter other worlds and function according to their unwritten rules and values. While it may look wishy-washy to some Americans, it could be very useful for foreign policy.

I have ached over the foreign policy of my passport (American) culture. When I was a child the United States was at war in Vietnam. I wondered why. When I was in college Ronald Reagan sent U.S. soldiers invade Grenada. My heart sank; I can still remember where I was in the cafeteria when I heard about it. We did, of course, make short work of it; it was the equivalent of squashing a fly with a wrecking ball. Since then I have seen us invade Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan.

Several U.S. Presidents have seemed to consider us as some sort of righteous "police of the world," and it's something I can't understand. There don't seem to be any "righteous guidelines" for when we enter combat in another land, and when we don't. We have figured out no system for leaving once we're there, either. George W. Bush has been the most egregious in this, I believe. The mix of self-righteousness, bully and bouncer has been really hard for me to watch.

And so the election of a president who can see the world from various perspectives gives me hope.

Finally, there are many leaders who have gone through higher education, but not so many who think like educated individuals. For the leader of the United States, I think educated thinking is crucial. As I have listened to Barack Obama speak, I have heard the words and thoughts of a man who is not only Harvard-educated, but is also an educated thinker. Some have been put off by his cool demeanor; it's precisely that cool thinking that we want to have as chief of the military might of this country and leading in the negotiations made with other countries' leaders who may not be as reasonable. I suspect this guy intuitively knows how to play international chess and win.

I'm no dope. I recognize that Obama will say and do things that I will disagree with. He already has. And he may crash and burn at some point. But I hope not. We're asking a lot of him. I pray that he will remain physically safe, and that he will fulfill even a few of these hopes, for the sake of this country."

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