Friday, August 29, 2008

The Colored Elephant In the Room

Congratulations to the next president and vice president of the United States, Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Joseph Biden. I thought nothing could beat the Olympic games this summer in terms of sheer excitement, strength, skill, heart, soul, hope,…but the 2008 Democratic Convention did it for me. I anticipated each new high profile speech with as much anxiousness as waiting for Phelps to grab another gold. My girl from Boston and I even stayed on the phone together to hear Barrack Obama give his historic acceptance speech (and clown on the sad CNN commentators afterwards).

But when the love fest subsided, the truth remains – there is a huge colored elephant in the room and no one wants to talk about it. Barack Obama is a man with a black African father and a European American mother. He was raised in part by his mother and Indonesian stepfather in Indonesia and his maternal grandparents in Hawaii. He has a Euro-American/Indonesian hapa half sister and, as he proudly proclaims, a kinship reminiscent of members in the United Nations. Obama went to reputable local, private schools in Indonesia and Hawaii. He transferred to Columbia after a two-year stint at Occidental and then earned his degree at Harvard Law School.

Image of Obama with his mother, step-father and half-sister.
Even given these rich multi-racial, cultural, ethnic and class life experiences, none of it was mentioned in his acceptance speech. Much of his views around the list of issues above is documented in his books and "A More Perfect Union" speech. They are adequate representations of history but all say the same thing, “shit happens but ultimately we must pull ourselves up from our own bootstraps.” In other words, as a person of color, be extraordinary and accept white, male heterosexual privilege as a matter of fact.

Like he wishes, I don’t see Obama as a black candidate. He’s not! He’s a person of copious experiences including riding the race and class divides. I do not adhere to the “one blood drop” rule that conveniently divides our nation in order to control resources while ignoring the multi-ethnic, racial, and class realities of so many beyond black and white binaries. But, I do expect real change from Obama.

On the historic day 45 years after Martin Luther King gave his immensely emotive speech, “I have A Dream,” any presidential candidate should answer to MLK’s call for freedom and justice for all. Obama asks us to not look only at the bad but also the good in the United States. But, 45 years after MLK demanded civil rights, I still see so much injustice and I’m still 'not satisfied' that MLK’s dream was realized.
Springfield Avenue in Newark on July 14, 1967
Twenty-three people were killed and 700 injured in "rioting".
Obama's candidacy does not erase the complacency of the privilege in a society that ignores the plight of so many others. My dream is not that we have a “black” presidential candidate. My dream is that he will look to front of him, to his sides and behind him so he can see the giant colored elephant in the room—an elephant that represents generations of cruel intentions and real oppressions, a history of discrimination and future promising more of the same. I hope Obama will make real change and not just say, “shit happens, but look, you can be like me, a black man who will be the next president of the United States.” Or say nothing at all in a sea of old, white, male power holders. I am not yet comforted and am certainly not yet 'satisfied'.

As MLK stated:

One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we've come here today to dramatize a shameful condition

Add on 45 years and in the place of “Negro,” the vast majority of Americans not coming from wealthy white families and you’d have our great nation. I won’t be satisfied even if an openly gay, Muslim Asian American woman becomes president. That is not the point. The point is, we need a leader of any creed, color, gender and sexual orientation with a platform that calls to eradicate poverty and promote tolerance and equal rights for all and backs it up with real plans. Are you the person to lead this cause, Obama?

Below are Obama's and MLK's take on race in the United States. Enjoy and please please let us know what you think about all of this.

1 comment:

Mochi Mochi said...

Mr King, how we miss you. What a brilliant flame and erudite man. What a bold and thoughtful voice of truth. Mr. King held nothing back and called a spade a spade. No wavering. No straddling a populist centrist position. What an intellect, what a gift, what a contribution and sacrifice, what a man.

Barack Obama will be a good president, perhaps even a great one someday. But he owes everything to the courage and sacrifice of Mr. King and all those who struggled for equality in this country. He owes a debt to those who lost their lives at the end of a rope in the backwoods of Mississippi, and to the jew-boy freedom riders who tried to join that fight and ended up a corpses face down in a southern swamp. For the memory and debt of all those who fought for freedom and died trying he must acknowledge the truth that the fight for equality and against racism is not yet won in this country.

Is now, when we are a few weeks away from electing our first obviously multi-racial president, the time to make that statement? I don't know. It can be argued for several perspectives. In this case the end probably justifies the means. The position of the president can be a great place to affect change. But if it is not said now, then it must be said soon. And it must be backed up with action.

I think Barack Obama is a good man. Mr. King was a great man. Barack Obama can't hold a candle to the flame of Mr. King... Even 45 years later. But there is time and opportunity for Barack Obama to achieve something really great for this country. Let's hope he has the wisdom and courage to use that opportunity to its fullest and make real change.