Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Obama and Race

When Barack Obama was elected, I was disappointed with all the chatter about the fact that he's an African American. For me, that was a minor issue by comparison. The key issue was that a grown-up was going to be president. I don't think Obama is some kind of savior who can work miracles. As I've mentioned before, I think we're in a depression that's going to last years. And I have no idea what's going to happen in Iraq or Afghanistan. Still, Obama is articulate and has the right kind of intelligence to lead. When he talks, he doesn't make me to throw a shoe at the television.

Yesterday, while watching the inauguration, I finally started thinking about the significance of race. When Wendy mentioned that Obama was the first black president, Luke thought it was hilarious that she called him black. "He's brown!" That got me wondering how Luke and Max are going to think about race in general and black people in particular.

I grew up with racist notions. Don't get me wrong. I'm not an extreme skinhead-type racist. Still, if a black person were running for president in the 70s, there is no way I would have wanted him to win, and as sad as it sounds nowadays, the idea of a black person being in the white house would have bothered me.

As our society and I have became more liberal-minded in terms of race, I've tried to check my racist notions. While political correctness causes resentment, knowing that I have unfair racist tendencies makes me suspicious of any thought I have about race. For example, I genuinely believe that a disproportionate number of Asians are terrible drivers. I'm fairly certain I arrived at that conclusion on my own, and laughed when I heard someone else mention it. (Of course, it's also possible that I heard it first, and the notion worked its way into my system without my realizing it. The brain is a tricky organ.)

So when I see a car half parked and backing up into an intersection with the wrong blinker on, is it racist for me to say, "Yup, Asian"? Probably. Would insurance companies raise the rates of Asian drivers if they could? I dunno. I digress.

The point I want to get at is that we've come a long way in overcoming racism. The fact that a black guy named Barack Hussein Obama was elected president is a powerful symbol. And for me, the fact that I've worked out my racist issues enough to root for, caucus for, donate to, and vote for Barack Obama is a sign of progress.

Or maybe I just hate Texans.



  1. Your punchline made me chuckle. Good one.

    I've been perplexed, and even dismissive, of the outpourings I've seen over a black man being elected president. Barak seems like a person who wants to do good and that's what matters most to me. But there is more to it.

    On TV they showed several African-Americans crying and I thought, "Really? You're crying?". Then I caught myself and considered that I have no idea what that person has gone through in her life. Has she been discriminated against? When she was a child did she get called names? Did her father live in a segregated town? Was her great grandfather a slave? Was an ancestor hanged unjustly?

    If I had been personally affected by racism, I may have cried for joy too.

    So I think it's an important historical landmark that a black man was elected president. But for the here and now I'm excited about what I hope President Obama can do for our nation and the world.

  2. it may be that the most important aspect of obama's election is that he's competent.

    but cmon, we can't dismiss that 60 years ago, fully 100 years AFTER the emancipation proclamation, we still had stiff resistance to the civil rights bill.

    that he's black is a big deal.

  3. he's only 50% black. that's the thing I have decided that I don't understand about race.

    if a person has any black african phenotypes, then we label them as being black, even if they're 15% black.

    does black taint white?


    P.S. it seems that for the last 30 years, our best presidents have been 'self-made' men: Reagan & Clinton. The Bushes came from big money. Carter was self-made...

    I don't know anything about Ford or Nixon. Of course Lincoln was self-made as were Thomas Jefferson, Truman (questionable about how good a president he was) Eisenhower...

  4. I hope race will be an irrelevant fact someday and I hope Obama goes way beyond race. I'm an immigrant myself and I see in Obama the son of an immigrant, there are many other aspects that make Obama unique: the most talked about “a black man”, but he is also a mixed race person, a social worker, a Hawaiian etc. If a group tries to claim property of Obama they are just plain wrong and I expect him to be above all that.

    El Animal

  5. There is a reason that NASCAR has no Asian drivers.

  6. As I traveled to many inner cities with my job, the pride being felt in Obama by African-Americans was palpable. I contributed to Obama very early on and understood that he is bright and pragmatic - so far from the Texan who had trouble even being an ideologue.

    Obama moved me as well.

    But there was something else. I could feel that many Blacks were actually feeling that they were becoming a part - and equal part - of the American fabric. There experience became so real for me that I felt it as much as a "white person" could. I am still basking in the new mileau of a more accepting and tolerant America.

    In my mind - something has changed. An underdog won and somehow - we all won.