Historic: adjective. A word so overused in 2008 that it lost all meaning.
It has taken me quite some time to come to grips with what Barack Obama’s election victory means in the perspective of my own personal history. Though it is a story long in coming, it is one worth sharing.
Barack and I, if I may be so familiar, share a similar background. No, I didn’t attend Columbia or Harvard. But like our 44th president, I was also born in the USA, the child of a white, American woman and a black, African man. My father was from Senegal, not Kenya, but most Americans can’t find either on a map, so we’ll call it even. The parallels don’t end there. We both had absentee fathers who died early and strong mothers who battled cancer. I’m relieved to say that my mother is doing well all these years later but the President’s story certainly resonates with me.
America is the land where anyone can be anything they want to be when they grow up. Except we all know that isn’t really true. Even in the best of times, what we really believe as a nation is that SOME people will get to be anything they want when they grow up. MOST people, socioeconomically, will end up being their parents.
One thing was certain: It was an established societal fact when I was growing up in the 1970′s and 80′s that America would never vote for a black President. Certainly not a President named Barack Obama or Issa Diao. I watched Jesse Jackson run in 1984 and 1988. I was hardly a political deep thinker at the time but, despite the fact that he shared a last name with a previous President, I’m pretty sure not even Mr. Jackson’s own campaign staff thought he had a chance of winning.
How did this effect me? It didn’t. Or, at least I didn’t think so at the time. But looking back, I never once considered that being President was a possibility for me. It just never crossed my little-kid mind. And it should have—because it is exactly the kind of goal my ten year old self would have chosen. Either that or maybe to be an NFL quarterback. Of course, I grew up in Washington DC so I was well aware that the NFL didn’t want black quarterbacks at the time either. Doug Williams took the Redskins to a Superbowl victory and then wasn’t offered a contract the following year. Maybe not surprising for a team with such an offensive name but, shamefully, no other teams offered deals either.
Obviously, the country has come a long way. Even before 2008, many of the “rules” from my childhood’s era had already been shattered. The pace of change is painfully slow, but things are changing. And I’m really happy for all the young African-American kids of today. I only hope that we have a female President before my daughter is old enough to start following politics.
The lessons? That if I’d stayed away from music and computers I too could have been President. Also, the country wasn’t quite as ready for a non-white President as it thought it was on election day 2008. It didn’t take long at all for a segment of white Americans to completely lose their minds.