Monday, January 19th, 2009

Notes On The Eve Of Day One

Barack Obama was born in Hawai’i only two years after my father’s generation voted for statehood, and that small fact illustrates the deep emotional cross-currents I am caught in over his inauguration.

On November 4th, when the TV pundits called the election for Obama, my two sons danced around the room in joy. Lourdes and I hugged, and then began to weep. Our boys stared. They already understand color lines, but they will never know how strange it was that we made a biracial Black man from Hawai’i the iconic face of hope and progress and change, then elected him president.

And yet Hawai’i is a conquered land, whose civil rights moment—the moment when cultural change, social integration, and political enfranchisement converged—came when a similar swelling of its darker-skinned classes voted in 1959 to give up their right to self-determination.

My father calls himself a pragmatist who voted for Reagan, Clinton and George W. Bush twice each, but in Obama, he may have recognized the same kind of historic decision he faced as 24-year old. When he made up his mind, he didn’t hesitate. My family and friends assumed I was long past the point of deciding, and I made a good show of it, but I hemmed and hawed and fussed until the end.

I finally decided that I wanted to stand with the arrival of the new majority. I wanted to join with millions in flipping a big bird to those who insisted this country was “center-right”. No, I wanted to say, November 4th showed we are progressive-left. Perhaps even my father.

Still I couldn’t get the words of Rosa Clemente—the 36 year-old Green Party vice-presidential candidate who was for many of us just as much a symbol of hope and progress and change—out of my head. “If we become the majority,” she told me last summer, “then we’re going to have more people like us put into these positions from really moving us towards justice.”

As we look at who Obama has brought in to his administration thus far, I’m struck by the notion that perhaps even he doesn’t yet recognize the transformative possibilities of the new majority that elected him.

Cornel West said last March, “I told Obama that when he wins—which I think he will—I will celebrate for one day, I’ll breakdance in the morning and party in the afternoon. But the next day, I’ll become one of his major critics.”

When the flags are hoisted and that beautiful sea of hues gathers on the Mall and that biracial Black man from Hawai’i raises his hand to take an oath, call me fucking emo but I am sure I will cry again.

Onto this body of Barack Obama we have projected all possibility, and the faith that we are moving toward answers. And yet Obama also materializes the same question that has haunted people of color on American soil—the lands of native peoples—since long before W.E.B. Dubois articulated it over a century ago: how does it feel to still be a problem? Does our desire for hope and change and progress lead us further from the actual thought and practice of justice, or closer?

And yet if we really care about these questions, we will never have the luxury of doing nothing.

This moment will not mark the end of our struggles over questions of nation and race, nor will it mark the end of our Duboisian double consciousness. It’s the beginning of something—I’m not sure what—but it’s something that we, the new majority, must write.

This is cross-posted at the Asian Law Caucus’s new blog Arc of 72, where you can read a whole bunch of other API perspectives on the inauguration.

posted by @ 10:16 pm | 3 Comments

3 Responses to “Notes On The Eve Of Day One”

  1. IHateValentinesDay says:

    Beautiful post Jeff. Thanks for sharing from the ‘inner’. I debated w/ a cynic yesterday–one who said he had love for me, but ‘you’re such an idealist’…lol. He couldn’t believe how many people were going to DC. My thoughts are that it restores my faith in ‘possibility’ and in mankind. People in America haven’t been excited or joy-filled in a long time. It’s about time we express emotion about something other than the Superbowl.

  2. Justin Berger says:

    I think it’s VERY important that we do in fact be very critical of Barack Obama — not for any other reason than, as the American People, we have really been lax the past 200 years and let our country get corrupted by those in power.

    It’s imperative that we all demand that Barack ‘practices what he preaches’ — as well as all politicians.

    My hope is that this is a turning point for not only the Executive Office of the President, but for the entire country. Hell, the entire world!

    I hope people realize that the time for complacency is over. That with the Presidential Election of Barack Obama people have seen the power they have and that we all continue to flex that power of the people and keep those in power in check, no matter if they’re Barack Obama or George W. Bush.

    It is a great day for America today.

  3. andy says:

    This is a rare moment when I must respectfully disagree with you, Jeff. I do not think that we are a progressive-left nation. Even following one of the most incompetent and corrupt administrations in history, 46% of the people and 21 states still voted red, and the numbers would have certainly been higher if not for Camp Obama’s masterful campaign strategy + execution. Even “liberal” California’s approval of Prop 8 reminds me how far mainstream America still has to go.

    In my view, the belief that we’re not a nation of progressive thinkers underscores the real challenge facing the Obama presidency. America is in serious need of tough love – we spend too much, save too little, use too much energy, and have a flagrant disregard for the welfare of our planet. I don’t think America wants to hear that; I think America is hoping that Obama will be the silver bullet that restores us to our previous run of fabricated prosperity.

    But… I do believe that if anybody can shepherd America in the right direction in spite of ourselves, Obama certainly seems to possess what it takes. He even gives hope to cynics like me.

Previous Posts

Feed Me!






Come follow me now...


We work with the Creative Commons license and exercise a "Some Rights Reserved" policy. Feel free to link, distribute, and share written material from for non-commercial uses.

Requests for commercial uses of any content here are welcome: come correct.

Creative Commons License