neetu's blog

Day 1: Post-Obama Victory

By: on 6 Nov 2008

November 5, 2008

Like many people I encountered today, I walked around with a near-constant lump in my throat. The slightest mention of Obama or the election brought back a flood of emotion that I had felt the night before—the feeling that anything was possible, that something truly monumental had taken place and that I, through some karmic gift, was alive to witness this moment. I have cried with strangers, strangers have cried with me, and through it all, I’ve thought: this is what it means to be American.

This victory has meant so much to so many. He has been hailed as the first African-American president, a scant 50 years after the crescendo of the civil rights movement. The Black community has been moved beyond words, and is now beginning to realize the full promise of their personal and political futures. This is no small feat, and I genuinely believe that we will look back on this time as a new chapter in the American journey, one that finally includes people of color.

But this brings me to the one problem that I have with the continued coverage of Barack Hussein Obama. You see, Obama was born to a White woman from Kansas and an African man from Kenya in Hawaii, where he lived until he moved to Indonesia with his mother and her new husband. So already, by the age of 10, Obama’s life was touched by the people, culture, and governments of three continents. You would never know this, though, if you listened to the crowds today. He is a Black president, they say, a hero to the African-American community of which he is indelibly a part, they contend. But the truth is this: Obama is no more African-American than he is White-American, no more shaped by Hawaii or Kansas than he was shaped by his childhood in Indonesia. What troubles me here is that in our rush to label, categorize, or otherwise understand this new, powerful man in front of us, we are collectively painting brushstrokes over his twisting and diverse background. We seem afraid to acknowledge that which he is: a biracial, multicultural individual.

As an American woman born to South Asian parents, I understand what it means to be bi-something (in my case, bicultural). My life has been one long journey of understanding my identity, starting from the embarrassing lunchroom incidents in my small town elementary school cafeteria where my peers would try to decide which of my Indian lunches smelled or looked worse than the others, and continuing through college where my Indian-American friends would tease me for being too friendly with the ‘Americans’ or my White friends would tell me that they barely even noticed that I was Indian (meant to be complimentary. It was not.).

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