Tuesday, January 20, 2009

History Happens Today. Let's Talk.

I've been reluctant to publicly allude to, let alone blatantly express my enthusiasm for President Elect, Barack Obama--the man and the metaphor. I am neither fan of soapbox-standing nor bullhorn shouting, but I have this creative forum and consequently, a compulsion to reveal what inspires me, what angers me, what makes me tick.

I don't intend to pepper my little speck of cyberspace with politically biased rants or blind favoritism, but there are a few concepts and misconceptions about today and the next four years that I've chewed on for a while now. I don't mind savoring these thoughts, but I will no longer bite my tongue. Here, at the threshold of a new chapter in American History textbooks henceforth, I feel obligated to share my thoughts, at least up to this moment.

After Obama delivered his touching victory speech back in November, I experienced a bipolar episode of sorts. [Elation. Sadness. Fear. Fist-pumping enthusiasm. Fist-clenching frustration.] These antipodes swam and surfaced in me like emotional whales, each emerging with epic proportions greater than the last.

At first, the sensation was immediately gratifying and superficial, like a casual, non-betting sports fan's ephemeral ecstasy amidst a championship. But then it hit me. There he stood. There they stood. There I stood amongst a core group of friends in my apartment, welling with tears and goose-bumps, pondering the importance of what just happened for him, for them, for us. Throughout his campaign, Obama's name became synonomous (sometimes nauseatingly)with the words "Hope" and "Change." At this moment, Obama and his family stood as a living representation of those mantras. I dare anyone to contend that imagery of two Black girls embracing their Black President-elect father does not symbolize change. I dare anyone to rain on the parades of oppressed peoples who find, if nothing else hope in the concept of a person of color being elected as the President of the United States of America. Cheesiness be damned. There I stood, happily watching, if nothing else a more tangible platform for hope and change symbolically manifest itself on television.

Sadness. Fear.
As the camera panned away from the President-elect, a new angle revealed the bulletproof glass that protected his wife and children. I'm certain that this is a common practice, implemented in these circumstances, but I could not control the King-X-Bobby-John F-Kennedyan fear that raced through my brain. At the risk of coming across like a paranoid conspiracy theorist, I expressed concerns about the safety of the new first family and how this beacon of hope and change also serves as a target of hatred. After hearing about the young people in hate groups who were arrested in an alleged assassination plot, I was sickened with the thought that this election had already and would continue to to bring out the worst in people. While the case I'm referring to is an extreme one, there are more covert, every day pedigrees of this caricature. Operating in numbers, on bathroom stalls, at water coolers, and in chain e-mails, the casual cases of hate and ignorance pose the most dangerous threat.

Fist-pumping enthusiasm.
Shortly after the coverage shifted away from the intimate concession in Arizona and the political Lollapalooza in Chicago, we watched the world celebrate Obama's victory. From Africa to the UK, from France to Japan, throngs of spectators across the globe were captured on film celebrating the election results. I shared, witnessed and felt that elation in a cinematic fashion [see the end of Independence Day]. Obviously, the entire U.S., let alone the entire world was nowhere universal communion that day.
I flipped on the local news and watched dwindling gatherings for the opposing candidate fade early in the night while the parties in a Blue Dallas county went on until morning. This coverage, coupled with the HQ happenings and the worldwide press reminded me that this type of celebration simply could not have been achieved with another (M)WASPresident-elect.

The color-blind, "we're all one race, the human race" has never set well with me. Barack Obama is a person of color and we ought to be comfortable with acknowledging that. Today, Barack Obama will become our first Black President. To deny or ignore this fact is to neglect an undeniable element of his identity. If we choose to remove color from the situation, we must also forfeit the historical magnitude of this occasion. This is just not something that I'm willing to do.

I would much rather be accused of being quixotic, and embrace this as human triumph, as a definitive step in approaching equality.

Fist-clenching frustration. Rarely does an event occur with such universality that the entire facebook community has dedicated a status change to say something relevant. On this particular night, I decided to take a trip through the friends list to see what I could see. I expected to see an array of responses fitting neatly in to the categories of celebration or defeat. I was however, ill-prepared for a few comments that blew straight past the category of defeat and landed in some god-forsaken, irrational, ill-founded arena of delusional bitterness.

Amongst commentary about drinking Obama's Kool-Aid, new socialism, fear for our children, and cracks about buyer's remorse, the most poignant attack read, "Hitler gave great speeches too..." I was blind with rage.

At what point did eloquence and a commanding public speaking presence become grounds for suspicion? At what point did the ability move masses with words fall off the list of presidential qualifications? At what point and after how many mispronounced words by President Bush did we quarantine the well spoken by labeling them "possible wizard" or "snake-oil salesman?"

At some point towards the end, I understand that this was, to use the sports fan analogy again, like having one's team lose a championship game. Sometimes the 4th quarter trash-talk can be a bit sloppy at times--but we can learn a lot from the conclusion-jumping bruised ego here. From what I could glean, these incendiary remarks come from those who:
1. apparently make over $250K and have enough time to update their facebook statuses
2. have completely forgotten about that system of checks and balances.
3. have neglected the fact that Obama ran as a Democrat, not a Socialist.
4. have failed to understand the Socialism in its purest form.
5. have bookmarked Revelations 13:5.

I'm beginning to remember why I bit my tongue in the first place. It's tricky to preface a paragraph by writing, in bold, "Fist-clenching frustration" and not rant a little, but then I remember why I decided to share this in the first place.

Again, I'm not aiming to alienate or lose electronic friendships here, but I do want to be clear about the moments that shape me, the moments that we share as a society. In order to preserve and positively affect the platforms of hope and change that have become more evident than ever, I know that I should be vulnerable in this moment. No artist should have to justify his or her work, but explaining the impact of an event as momentous of this one is another thing. Regardless of party affiliation (or lack thereof), we will all have something to talk, celebrate, or bitch about today...so why not embrace a guaranteed shared human experience and learn from a different perspective?

Today is bigger than me.

Today is history happening before our eyes.

Let's talk.

Image by: Shepard Fairey


Will-I-Am said...

Well said, Roo. We're having a party at my place tonight and trying to go back through the past 8 years, it's been hard to chew up so much bullshit and hate. I've always been pretty progressive, but I watched the party IN POWER (mind you) turn from conservative and merely opposing to one of deep seeded fear and hate. It's been a hard 8 years for most of us in our age group, made only the worse by what we now have to spend our time on. I'm just excited about the mere POSSIBILITY of change and turning back towards some semblance of intelligence and pride rather than disgust both at home and the world stage.

L-train said...

Beautifully put.
Tolentino 4 Prez 2020?

Heidi said...

great post. ive been a big ball of political emotion since nov 4..