Dragged Through the Door of an Obama Presidency

Some thoughts on a historic Obama win.

When Barack Obama came to my city of Asheville, NC to speak it saw something I don’t know that we’ve ever seen before. A local news anchor who never broadcasts remotely actually came out in person to cover a the rally.

This is a news reader who speaks to her city exclusively from the news desk, perfectly coiffed. But there she was in the fresh air and under the sparkling autumn sun, broadcasting remotely from Asheville High where Sen. Obama was speaking.

As I watched her begin the broadcast, she seemed hushed and humbled. I wondered why, why she was there, why she seemed so moved. And then I thought, Of course.

She’s a black woman covering the first major-party presidential candidacy of a black American for the office of the president. I bet she asked to come out for this one. I bet she wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Colin Powell was right when he called the guy a transformational candidate. We walk through the door and we close it behind us and the simplicity of it is dazzling. That’s how it happens.

– Garrison Keillor

The simplicity is dazzling. A candidate thought he had what it takes, told his friends that if America wasn’t ready for a black candidate now, it wouldn’t be ready in his lifetime. And he ran. And he won.

I don’t claim to be the ambassador of one of the few groups who might have some inkling of how many black Americans feel right now, American women. But today I’m going to take that mantle up.

I am an American woman. Educated, unmarried, a feminist. A Democrat, partly-cloudy patriot, taxpayer and entrepreneur. In three generations the women of my family were transformed: My grandmother was a homemaker, my mother was a nurse, and I am a journalism student, freelance writer and poster-making intern for a multimillion-dollar science nonprofit.

And I know that behind me is a a line thousands of women long. It is composed of the women who came before me, who didn’t live as I live. Who didn’t get to wear their hair the way they want, wear the clothing they want, educate themselves as they want. Who didn’t have families in the way they want, didn’t participate in society the way they want, didn’t dream or live they way they wanted to.

A line of functionally enslaved persons who could not work outside the home, own property, vote or use birth control. Many were illiterate.

Some, like an older friend’s mother, were driven to mental illness by a forced focus placed solely on the home. My friend’s mother lived a Yellow Wallpaper life, dying of prescription drug addiction brought on by pure human misery and lack of fulfillment. Incompleteness.

It is for the women in this long, long line, stretching back as far as the telescope of history sees, that I glory in my life and the progress that made me not only able to read and write but educated, free, listened to, and allowed to accomplish as I am able, not as I am allowed.

Though the experience is different and I can never truly understand, from female America to black America I offer my most sincere congratulations for what happened in and to our nation Tuesday night.

This was not a contest but an evolution, a long moral arc tending towards justice in recognizing the excellence of the winning candidate, who happened to be a biracial, functionally black American.

I want a woman president. But it seems that unlike the people of Mongolia, Germany, England, Iceland, Switzerland, Ireland, Ecuador and Chile, I still have to wait. So as we who rejoice in this victory rejoice, let us not forget the hypocrisy of our current president-elect, who acknowledges the evil of the laws written against the love his parents shared, yet will not support the identical love shared between gay Americans because of his Christian faith.

This is hypocrisy. There is more change to wait for, even after the election of a candidate of the quality of Barack Obama.

I want to see a gay Filipina president. I want to see all kinds of presidents. I want my country to be the place where any kid really can grow up to be president. We say any kid can grow up to be president, but just like the framers talking about the inalienable rights of the people of the country they created out of the cloth of human reason, we’re still only talking about certain flavors of everybody.

I figure I still have 40 or 50 years in me. And I hope I get to see a woman president. Not just to see one, but to see America dragged through another door of social, cultural and mental revolution, to see living proof that my country is learning to cultivate, encourage and recognize excellence in whatever body it occurs in.

So black America, I think I know something, I think American women know something, about how you must feel at this great and historic time. Everybody – even and especially those dragged unwillingly through the door of an Obama presidency and all it represents – is that much closer to the ideals this country was founded on and two centuries later is still struggling to attain.

Barack Hussein Obama is a proud and appropriate name for the leader of a nation of immigrants and descendants of Africans to have. A biracial, well-traveled, global-citizen president is the right kind of leader for a mongrel nation to have.

I know now about the limited power of a president, the greater power of a party machine and other holders of local and national power, equally important, whom Americans forget in the rush to vote for the man in a suit they like best.  I don’t believe in the kind of hope you see in the commercials, of a troubled nation immediately transformed by a godlike Obama’s swift and just actions. No president can do what a commercial tries to make you think they can.

But the hope of a changed nation moving significantly closer at last towards Enlightenment ideas of offering inalienable rights to everyone, truly everyone, even the everyones who were left out as our nation was created by well-intentioned, brilliant, non-Christian, sexist, wealthy white men?

That is what makes my heart race. That is what gives me hope.

I’m so lucky to be alive now. For the long lines behind so many of us, for the doors of the future we know are next to open, I relish the joy and hope of this time.

President-elect Obama is less than 10 years older than me. The reins are being handed to a new generation.

Don’t be afraid. What one generation wants is always hard for an earlier one to understand. Sen. Obama’s grandmother could have told you that. I note that the transgressive match Madelyn Dunham’s daughter made produced an eloquent, intelligent, accomplished young man who grew up to become the president of the United States.

The torch passes and new leaders take the stage. And we do all right, even when we leave old ways behind. Sometimes especially then.

It’s time to change.

It’s always time to change.

2 responses to “Dragged Through the Door of an Obama Presidency

  1. Beautifully said, Jennifer. I was a Hillary Clinton supporter and was very disappointed when she didn’t receive the nomination (I think she had a vastly superior health-care plan, for one thing). But I have come to like and respect Obama and, of course, voted for him. And I am filled today with a sense of cautious optimism.

  2. i can’t help thinking it’s awesome that there has been such long lines all over… people taking a greater interest in public issues is always a good thing

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