I really caught me by surprise,the extent as to how race and gender have exploded on the national stage since Barack Obama’s victory in Iowa. I’m not talking about the back and forth accusations between the campaigns, but the deeper discussion of what is means to be black, brown, yellow, or red in 2008. Even though it was almost a foregone conclusion that the race for the Democratic nomination would be between a white female and an African American male, like many things, it never sunk in till it happened.
Now, its happened. Barack Obama won the Iowa caucuses. Hillary Clinton won the New Hampshire primary.
Race in America: Obama and My Story
Crossposted at DailyKos
I was there in Iowa at Barack’s speech, and I felt some of the same emotions as LowerManhattanite, but from my own window. I’d never experienced this before, my candidate actually winning. Feeling hopeful about politics. My political life started in 2000, and I was on the sidelines in 2006. I’d seen Gore, Nader, Dean, Bustamante, and Kerry all go to defeat. Though it was in the back of my mind, I felt the tinges of fear, that this was too good to be true. What if my hopes were destroyed as RFK’s were in 1968?
Thankfully, nothing happened. But I had to dig deep and realize that there was one defining reason I felt this fear. Race. Obama rarely speaks about his race, and sadly, it’s because if he did, it would make him less electable. I realized that I, as a South Indian-American, would have the same dilemma if I were to run for public office. American has avoided having real conversation about race in quite some time. There have been episodes of racial tension, for example, the LA Riots, the OJ Simpson trial, and most recently, the Jena 6 controversy. But all of these episodes divided us between racial, ethnic, or political boundaries, often forcing us onto different sides of complex, murky issues. In the end, we never resolved anything and only highlighted, temporarily, the tensions that still boil beneath the surface in America.
This is different. For the first time since perhaps the Civil Rights Movement, we are speaking about Race differently. And we are learning a tough, tough lesson. Race isn’t an easy topic, and we’ve been ignoring the obvious for far too long.
I felt that personally the day after Iowa. I was joyful, happy and hungover from a long night partying in Des Moines, and came on DailyKos to read the reactions to Obama’s victory. My own identity would soon be shaken. I read this powerful diary by Shannika, the most commented DKos diary of the month thus far, her response to this diary. This article from the Nation. I browsed around, reading post after post, article after article, comment after comment. In less than an hour, my ethical foundations were shaken to their roots, and my hopes and dreams of an inclusive America were now seriously damaged. Would I always be tied down, to an extent, because of my race? It was a reality that I didn’t want to face.
It took me a few days to soak in what was happening, to regain my footing, and to realize that long hidden, taboo topics were, all of a sudden, in the forefront. I always knew we were a long ways from true equality, and I always knew we had a long way to go to achieve racial harmony. But in own perspective, I never considered their to be barriers to my goals. Perhaps my perspective was skewed. In high school, I had a mostly Jewish and White group of friends, but in College I diversified, and in my senior year, my “clique” consisted of me, a Taiwanese American, an African American, an Eygyptian International student, and an Indian American from California, and the diversity only grows when I include my outer circles. We joke that we are the UN, but the colors of our skin have little to do with our friendships.
But making those friends wasn’t easy. I refused to succumb to joining the accepted ethic and cultural cliques during my first years of college, and I myself experienced growing pains. I realized that America was going through something similar, we were examining our own qualities as a nation, and what it really means that Barack Obama, a black man, just defeated a white man in the 5th Whitest state in America, and might become our next President.Growing
The truth is, this discussion will be tough. It will bring out the worst of America, and I know that I will read and hear things that will disgust me, and hurt me. But in the end, we will be a better nation. So let’s continue this discussion and come to terms as a nation, because this fall, we will be breaking the greatest barrier of them all – the Presidency. And let’s make its not only the blogosphere, but the nation as a whole, so what we call come to terms with our own identities.
I would post a similar post about Gender, but I’m not a female and I don’t think I can articulate that side of the story as well as some others.