Like many people across the globe I sat on the edge of my seat and watched the election results roll in. Though I have always felt that Obama is a centrist who will govern along that line, with the occasional lean left, I really wanted to see him win the White House.
As the night went on, with more and more states called in his favour, I dared to hope. Then it happened… The words I never thought that I would hear, “CNN calls the election for president elect Barack Obama.” Though I did not expect it, the tears streamed down my face and I knew a sense of joy that I was completely unprepared for.
I am not an American and yet when the announcement came, I found that I had more emotionally invested in the election than I realized.
In my mind I saw a vision of the middle passage. I saw my ancestors chained together, surviving on menstrual blood and feces. I heard the cruel cry of the whip as it sailed through air, permanently scaring the bodies of my ancestors. I heard the weeping of my foremothers as they watched powerlessly as their children were sold away from them. On this night I saw the culmination of all of that suffering for millions of Americans and beyond, for all of us.
The true history of the moment overwhelmed me and I was humbled by the patience, the will to survive, and the grace of my people.
As I watched him give his acceptance speech, I knew it was a moment that I would tell my grandchildren about. It was the moment when I realized that I too had dreamed the impossible dream, and lived to see it realized. My tears flowed freely, and, just for the briefest of moments, I knew what it was to believe that I, a black mother of no real significance, was worth something.
The true gift of Obama is not that he may fix the large mistakes made by the Bush administration; it is that he will stand as a beacon to black children that hope is not foolish.
After generations of existing as second class citizens the idea that we can, or should hope seemed pure hubris. How could we hope in a world where blacks globally live in poverty? Hope in a world where black women are subjected to such high degrees of violence? Hope in a world where black blood flows more freely than water seems a ridiculous fantasy.
Yet tonight the words of Frederick Douglass were made real, “The white man’s happiness cannot be purchased by the black man’s misery.” Joy in life comes through equality for all and in the face of inhumanity or marginalization we are all reduced.
For all of the joy of the moment it is tempered with a caution that has become the custom of a person who has learned that marginalization and exploitation is the norm. Social stratification exists so that some bodies may live in privilege and this fact cannot be discounted. As much as Obama’s victory symbolizes possibility, the reality of the task at hand is overwhelming.
For all of the good that Obama represents to African Americans, he has failed to address the issues of Pacific Islanders, Asians, Muslims, and Indigenous people. Constantly throughout this election race has been a subject of discussion; however, as I wrote earlier, it has been presented as a simple binary.
A true and open discussion about race cannot occur where some members are excluded. Invisibility is a form of “othering” just as surely as uttering a racial epithet.
As we stand on the precipice of a brighter dawn, we must be wary of those who will use this new found ray of light to ensure that the systemic inequality in which we live is maintained. In his acceptance speech Obama said, “This victory alone is not the change we seek. It is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were.”
In this simple sentence lies a warning to us all, that even in victory we may still yet undo the work of generations. A single black man even with the power that Barack now possess cannot change the marginalization that has become a way of life. He cannot personally enter the heart of every single citizen and force it to seek brotherhood and redemption that is a task for every woman, man, and child.
On Nov 5 blacks will continue to be over represented in the prison population, indigenous women will continue to have the highest rate of rapes, and white males will continue to be over represented in every position of power in society. We must remember that power does not willingly concede to those it has become accustomed to abusing, and though we speak of equality it comes at the price of owning a privilege that many feel that they are entitled to.
Privilege and power are strange bedfellows and they lie within the very heart of American society. It is this dissonance of worth and value that form the greatest barrier to transcending that which has become a virus amongst us – racism.
“Yes we can” must reinvent itself and become more than a political slogan; it must become a core principle.
As Sara Harrington famously said, “While the legal, material, and even superficial requirements to eradicate racism are well known, its psychological and more deeply spiritual requirements have been persistently neglected-namely, the oneness of the human family. It is this principle of oneness that needs to be the driving force behind the struggle of uniting the races.”
The ballots have been cast. and all that remains to be seen is if we truly have the courage of our convictions.