Thursday, November 6, 2008

The New World

I'm still unsure how to think about what happened yesterday. I'm excited, hopeful, terrified, and overwhelmed. I have finally, I think, stopped crying at every CNN recap, but I still feel so full with all of the historic things that happened. Barack Obama is the 44th President of the United States. Wow. Whew!!!!!! It is so hard to believe.

Yesterday, like most people I know, I woke up and I ran to the TV because I was afraid it was a dream. And I was afraid that something terrible happened in the wee hours of the morning. But everything on Good Morning America was celebratory. In fact, come to find out, Indiana, Missouri, and Ohio went blue for the first time in years. Today, Missouri is still up for grabs by about 6,000 votes, but that only amazes me more. If I ever believed my vote didn't count--and who hasn't?--I am assured now. Every single vote does count. Democracy can work. A black man can be elected President of one of the most virulently racist countries in the world and do so without widespread violence, without riots, without burning crosses on the White House lawn. At least not yet.

I was skeptical, up until the end. Oh, I drink the Koolaid, I don't sip. I supported with money every time I could, and, in the end, with time (which was only a fraction of the time other volunteers spent). I blogged. But I was never fully convinced it would work. I am a student of history. History has said it was possible but never that it was probable. History has never said that when democracy works it is magic, it is not self-evident, and that magic is beautiful but rare.

I was skeptical most of the night. Even when he won Ohio and the volunteers around me erupted in triumph because no Republican candidate has ever won the election without Ohio. As we walked to a post-volunteer election watch party, I remained skeptical. The jubilation around me appeared misplaced, didn't they know what could happen? Didn't they remember 2000 and 2004? Didn't they follow history? ANYTHING could happen.

CNN announced it at eleven o'clock. Barack Obama is projected to be the next President of the United States. And a wave of emotion flooded me. The same wave I am still riding. The same wave I started this post with. I keep cycling back to that moment, that feeling. Wow. Whew! Wow. Wow.

I never believed it could happen. When it did, I damn near lost my mind.

And now what?

Entering Day #2 of election aftermath, the news is still flooded with Obamamania. Obama tapped Rahm Emanuel to be his Chief of Staff. An Appoint Jesse Jackson, Jr. to the Senate Facebook group has started.

On a more personal level, I couldn't stay away from NPR, CNN or C-SPAN. Still can't. I've never been very involved in the nitty-gritty of what some might call formal or traditional politics. But I can't keep away now, and I know how much I'm changed on that level. My involvement, my surprise that the political structure can be used, the knowledge that it is only because of THE PEOPLE PUSHING HARD that it could be used.

Then there was a minor fight with Mr. over the meaning (or respectability) of Jesse Jackson's tears. And a moment of awkwardness at my youth organizing program when my Executive Director noted he'd voted for Cynthia McKinney/Rosa Clemente. Awkwardness for both of us because what did our different choices say about our politics, our radicalism, our ability to, and our willingness to fight for social justice all around?

Then Proposition 8 passed with a majority of African American and Latina/o voters supporting the bill, and similar measures passed in Florida and Arizona. Measures banning gay couples from adopting passed in Arkansas.

Then CNN spoke with young, African American leaders, including South Carolina's Bakari Sellers, but not a woman to be found amongst those tapped.

And it took me two hours to get a cab on Tuesday night. Why? Because cabs were passing black fares for white ones, literally passing black fares and pulling up ten feet away in front of white ones. Over and over--because there were plenty of white ones around and plenty of cabs around. With so many young, excited, presumably monied white people in the streets that night, the economics of racial profiling went into overdrive. Don't believe me? I wouldn't either if I were you. You almost had to see it to believe it. I got home by getting in the way of a cab dropping off his (white) passengers, letting him know I'd been waiting for two hours, and begging him to take me to my destination. He seemed surprised that I'd been waiting so long. Yeah, well so was I.

Is racism dead?

I can see why someone might think so. Talking to Littlest Sis on the phone, absolutely hysterical over the win, barely able to choke out my words, it took me a moment to realize she wasn't nearly so fazed as I was. "Yeah," she finally asked at one point, "We are going to party tonight! What are you doing?"

Me? I'm still trying to breathe.

Right then, I couldn't even imagine partying. And for a moment I was disappointed at her lack of enthusiasm--but it was only a moment. A second of a second actually. Because I started to get excited. I started to see how amazing it must be twenty-something in college with only your dreams ahead of you and the inability to imagine that a more dangerous, sinister, hateful, and violent world ever existed. And I hope it is amazing for my Puerto Rican mother to see me so overwhelmed and excited, but in disbelief and not with a memory of mourning for friends lost, dreams broken, leaders killed.

I can imagine what the world was like for her. I can't even fathom the world my grandmothers lived in. And Littlest Sis will never understand the world I live in. I am B.B. Before Barack. From here on out, the young people in my life--youth organizers, siblings of a certain age, scholar of color mentees, and undergraduate students--are A.B. After Barack.

45 years. Two generations maybe. That close.

Wow. Whew! Wow.

But is racism dead?

No. Anyone who believes that has lost and/or forgotten something in this election. And since other bloggers are outlining the history of this campaign, let's keep it simple and speak from lived experience.

When the youth organizers came into work yesterday, one expressed frustration that her prinicpal got on the loudspeaker to announce Obama's win. Not because she wasn't excited. But because he emphasized how anything is now possible, how now there are no excuses for not achieving.

She understood intrinsically--attending a predominantly black school but enrolled in Advanced Placement courses that are majority white, a youth organizer in the "continent" of southeast DC (the reputed hood of DC hoods)--she understood that racism didn't disappear because Obama navigated its many quandries and secured a victory.

Nothing can diminish the success and power of this moment. We elected a black President, a self-identified black President (not self-identified mixed or Kenyan-American, despite the best efforts of the pundits over the last two years) who is married to a self-identified and accomplished African American woman and has (absolutely gorgeous) African-American daughters.

Now, the way we speak of and think of "race" will have to evolve. The way we understand organizing, politics, elections, and policy in general will have to evolve. The way we understand oppression will have to evolve. Racism and racist structures of oppression haven't disappeared. You can bet a $150,000 wardrobe they are evolving as well, right now, and the battles they wage against us will be subtle. Republicans are the new Klan, Latina/os are the new targets, and the gay community is the new offended. Oppression is the new racism.

But intersectionality is the new social justice. The internet is the new grassroots. Young people are the new electorate.

Welcome to the New World.

X-Posted at YBP

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ThummyB said...

You know I love it, my friend. Beautifully usual.

It's amazing to think of what this really means. While I know that much is the same, I am still changed by knowing that this is possible. This nation and its people are farther along than I originally suspected. I have seen what just two years ago I was positive could not happen. Truly...amazing. back to work amongst my McCain supporting co-workers.

T said...

I think this sums it up.