November 6th, 2008


After the American Election

I find myself in a curious place after yesterday's election in the States.

I see a lot of posts today about the joy, the excitement, and how proud they are; people who are American and who aren't have cried; people black and non-black; and I find myself, in reading these pieces, thinking about if any of these people can truly believe that real political change has come? No doubt some of the more extreme things introduced by the Bush administration will be taken out, but Obama and the Democrats have, to me, always sat on the wrong side of the right as far as I'm concerned, and I can't help but think that there'll be no huge difference. But then, that's me, the cynic, and the truth is, I have no real investment in what happens in America, political wise (though I am aware that American politics influences the world, and that in Australia we are no more untouched by the bad and good things that happen there).

However, I also understand that yesterday was not, in a large part, about politics. It was about race, about culture, about history. I can see that, but the truth is, I'm a white Australian, and I'm as far removed from it as one could be, and I find it is false of me to sit here and say how much it means that this has happened.

Which is not to say that I don't understand it, because I do, but it's academic, and it isn't in my blood, my culture, and my history.

This is Alaya Dawn Johnson:

Anyone who has heard me wax eloquent about politics (and not run away at the first opportunity) knows I’m hardly a huge fan of the democrats, and this especially includes Barack Obama. I’ve listened to and read his actual policies and he strikes me as a center-right politician of above average oratorical skills. I don’t agree with him on much. I obviously think he is vastly preferable to George Bush, but I wish that I didn’t have to compare my political candidates to murderous tyrants who should be impeached.

Last night I forgot about all of that. I tried really really hard to be the grinch that stole christmas. I did. I tried to remember Obama’s stance on Iran, and his weird middle line on gay marriage and the hundred other issues that I care about. But it didn’t matter. I got on the phone with my sister and I cried. My father was born in 1942. He participated in sit-ins in rural, segregated Virginia. He was the defendant in the seminal civil rights case, Johnson vs. Virginia, which went to the supreme court and desegregated the court systems a few years after Brown vs. Board of Education. He told me stories, growing up, of how he had to sit in the balcony of his town’s theater, because the gallery was reserved for whites. He didn’t mind, because the balcony had the better seats anyway. My dad saw a black man get elected president yesterday. My mom walked home from school during the DC riots after MLK was assassinated. She saw a black man get elected president yesterday.

I’ve had none of those experiences, but I saw Jesse Jackson in the audience during Obama’s speech and I thought: my god, none of us really thought this would happen. None of us. So, I’m happy. Inasmuch as Obama represents a moment utterly beyond himself, beyond his actual positions on actual issues, beyond any sort of mundane partisan victory: I’m proud that America managed to get here.

It's in her blood, her culture, and her history.

That's the only thing worth listening to today.