Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Barack Obama is President

I have quite a few men and women from America's political and social history whom I take to be models, heroes, figures to admire or emulate or at least learn from. Of them, some--like George Washington or Thomas Jefferson--wouldn't have had the slightest idea what to make of Barack Obama. An intelligent, responsible, independent black man? Even at their best, I suspect they wouldn't have been able to see him as anything other than a trained monkey.

By contrast, others--like William Jennings Bryan or Jane Addams--probably could have seen him as an independent, even admirable thinker, I warrant. But his policies--and his presumption as a black man to go so far as to challenge the patterns of wealth and belief in this country--would probably struck them as unseemly and irresponsible, maybe even a little wicked. He could be the noble and learned black man in their coalitions and movements, but certainly not a challenger or a driving force within them.

Yet others--Christopher Lasch, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, even Ralph Nader, who ran against Obama for president on the ballots in 45 different states--would hopefully have been able to look past his race and engage his ideas, and perhaps be conflicted as well as impressed by what they found there. But none of them, I think, would have been at all likely to have picked Obama--with all his progressive notions, populist promises, and communitarian convictions--from out of the mix of liberal advocates littering the landscape, and seen in him a future president.

I guess that just goes to show.


An African-American president of the United States. My daughters will never grow up thinking such was impossible, or even out of the ordinary. It will just be...the way things are. Which is as they should be. Damn straight.

10 comments:

BHodges said...

Amen.

Grimshizzle said...

Well put. Amen again.

the narrator said...

beautifully out

Anonymous said...

As always, you are an eloquent writer, but is the 'black president' narrative undermining the fact that he is multi-racial. And what does it say about the American capacity for complexity that no one seems to note this fact?

cchrissyy said...

the photo and your last lines are bringing on my tears. what a day!

'wela said...

I don't really care much what color the President-elect is--I like his vision. My children see nothing wrong with voting for a multi-racial person, if that's how one prefers to call him, they never have. And, my grandchildren will find it just another statistic to learn in history class. Otherwise, this issue will be a non-issue for them. And I love that! This is one very happy old hippie right here!

Justin said...

Now that Nader has insinuated that Obama might be an 'Uncle Tom', well, y'know..

Ira said...

What Justin said.

Russell Arben Fox said...

Anonymous, I really don't think there really has been much of a "black president" narrative surrounding Obama's candidacy, at least not as much as I thought there would be. But I suppose neither has there been much talk about him being multiracial, so there might be reason to complain about the simplistic way Americans categorize "race" there. More broadly, however, there is the simple fact that he's not Caucasian--he is our first non-white president, a non-white person who, whatever the specifics of his race, could have been officially denied any rights and dignity as recently as a generation and a half ago. That is simply remarkable, and wonderful.

Russell Arben Fox said...

BHodges, grimshizzle, narrator, cchrissy, thank you.

Wela, I agree with you completely.

Justin and Ira...well, I certainly don't want to pretend that Nader is anything except an irascible, clumsy, narcissistic obsessive by this point, which is really a kind of minor tragedy. I don't think his comments were racist; he was trying to make a clever line about whether Obama will really be "Uncle Sam" to ordinary Americans, or an "Uncle Tom," kowtowing to corporations. Of course, the fact that it's a terribly insulting thing to say to a black man just sailed right past him...which I suppose can be taken as evidence of just how stuck he is in the mentality of the 1950s and 1960s, fighting old battles (which still need to be fought!) without much attention to how the world has changed for the better.