Saturday, November 10, 2012
November 10-11, 2012: A Very American Election
On what I would call the most American—in the worst and best senses—aspect of the 2012 election.
There’s a lot that could be called distinctly and definingly American about Tuesday’s election. The resemblance of the electoral map to past American schisms, as Amara comments below. The slow and hesitant but still impressive and inspiring march of progress and arc of justice, as witnessed in the four marriage equality victories, the number of new female Senators and Reps and their stories and identities, and so on. The contests between nostalgic and forward-looking worldviews, particularly when it comes to women and sexuality. The amazingly American, and just plain American, victory speech delivered by President Obama in the middle of the night. And much more.
But for me, the election’s most American aspect was also its most contested and crucial: voting. I’ve written before in this space about the many efforts to disenfranchise voters and suppress votes ahead of this election, and they only intensified as the election neared. As I wrote in that post, such efforts have a frustratingly long history in America, could in fact be said to be among the most consistently present of our national horrors and tragedies. But so too, as I wrote, do the inspiring and hopeful responses, both by activists who fight to extend the franchise and by voters themselves, Americans who brave the most difficult and even violent conditions to exercise their right to vote. So when I say that I could not be prouder of the turnout in this election, of the millions of Americans who did everything they had to do—and then some—to participate, I mean it in the most AmericanStudies way I can.
That’s what I wanted to say! Now a few thoughts from my fellow AmericanStudiers:
In response to Wednesday’s Birtherism post, Toni Osier argues, “I agree with you that his multiculturalism makes him American. Even though the Birthers and tea partiers don't want to see it. That is American now! There are very few just white people left. My issue with the Birthers is I don't really understand why if Obama was not born in America that the people in charge of making sure he was when he first started running for office would be working so hard to cover it up. How does that benefit them? There were plenty of other candidates if he was not legitimately born a US citizen then we would not be here today! I have a friend whose step mother was born in MA and grew up in Saudi Arabia but if she were to run for office no one would question her status as an American because she is white. She does not look Middle Eastern so no one would think differently. Honestly I think that they never even thought there would be a possibility of their white bread America having a black president and now for two terms!”
Responding to the same post, Lito Velasco writes: "First, to your definition and idea of "American"... I couldn't agree more. That idea is part of what makes me so proud of my marriage. My wife is about as "Caucasian" as one could get: a true Anglo-Saxon mix of English, French, Irish, etc. And during our courtship and engagement, we battled against some pretty divisive and cruel attitudes towards our union both from inside and outside our family (granted, most of the "attitude" came from people in her extended family...mine was pretty open-armed and accepting of us). But Jennifer didn't bat an eye. She knew who she loved and WHY she loved. She didn't care that my skin wasn't "white", or that we might have children who weren't "blonde haired and blue eyed" (to quote a letter she received from a loved one...one that warned her of the impending doom she was walking into). She cared that she loved a man who was Mexican, Arabic, and Italian...and yet, she never "sees" those things. She only sees me: a man. The man she loves.
And isn't that what we're SUPPOSED to do? Not just as citizens of this potentially-great country...but as human beings? Aren't we supposed to look at someone and define them not based on their ethnicity and appearance, but on who they are on the INSIDE? On how they live? On what they stand for and represent? I've always been so happy that my wife looks at me and sees not a Mexican...but...ME.
She, a small-town girl (from a town in Indiana that you might miss if you happen to blink while driving through) who grew up in a somewhat sheltered environment and surrounded by townsfolk who had a very CLEAR definition of what an "American" is and should be, grew into a woman whose idea of a person is based on the qualities they possess...and not the color of their skin, their background, etc.
Granted, I'm not saying we should discount our heritage. I am proud of mine as she is hers...but it shouldn't be a divisive issue in family, marriage, or politics. And so many people use it as JUST that. Isn't it time to evolve? isn't it time to finally wake up and see the reality of being fellow human beings?!
I guess I've sort of turned this post into a statement on my background history, and I apologize for that. But I state this history because I feel it's perfectly appropriate to the situation. The Birther movement seems to mainly fear and loathe the current President not because of his policies and the political ideas he represents (although I'm sure that plays into it somewhat), but because of his heritage, the color of his skin, and his history. And...is that really a reason to fear and loathe? How many times have we heard the indignant cries that "Obama is a Muslim!"? He's not, obviously. But even if he was...so what? Why is it okay to run for public office if you're a Catholic, Christian, Mormon, Baptist, etc but NOT if you're a Muslim? Oh yeah, that's right. Because they're "the enemy". Shouldn't we be more concerned about President Obama's CAPABILITY? His ability? His leadership skills?
The people who hide behind the flag and cry out against President Obama because of the "Birther" idea remind me of those same people I mentioned earlier in this post. Who cares if I'm a Mexican and your family member might give birth to children who aren't "entirely White"? Shouldn't the bigger issue be whether or not I will love, cherish, and protect your loved one? Whether or not I will keep her safe and happy? Whether or not I will foster her growth as a human being? Whether or not I'll try to help her on her journey in life and her ever-evolving proces of growth as a woman and human?
Shouldn't that be the same attitude we take towards our President?
I fear that the growing rise in the Birther movement is related to the idea that these people, like the ones who cautioned my wife against marrying me, are glimpsing into the future...and they don't like what they see. They're afraid of the possibility of the "chickens [might] come home to roost". They're afraid that instead of being the majority...they'll have to live on the other side of the fence. They'll have to come to grips with the fact that they're falling into the minority. That they'll be on "the other side". But is that really so tragic? Hell, I've lived with it all my life and I don't seem to have any MAJOR issues.
And those who would foster, enable, and encourage this fear (Trump...we're ALL looking at you)...who would exploit this fear and try to use it to their advantage. I wonder about those people...are they just as afraid of being in the minority? Or is it a purely financially-motivated anger? Are they SO afraid of having a little less and others having a little more that they'll basically stoke the flames of racism and hate so that they can accumulate more wealth? Whatever the case, people like Donald Trump should realize: it doesn't matter how much money you have. When you go on an insane, anger-filled rant like the one he engaged in last night...it doesn't make you seem like anything more than a bigoted, crazy fool. You're okay with that, Trump? You're okay with being the cartoonish buffoon that people now view you as?
He'd most likely respond by saying something like, "Take a look at that kid. He's got no money. He doesn't know anything." Well, I'd venture to guess I'm a little more lucky and affluent than he is when it comes to my wealth of knowledge of the human condition.
Anyway, I digress. And I apologize for this raving post. I know it's all over the place, but...I'm recovering from seven weeks of madness...in which every night I averaged about 4 hours of sleep...sleep filled with dreams of a red and blue map, electoral counts, and percentages. Last night was the first good, heavy night's sleep in a while. All six hours of it. LOL.
But, despite my ramblings, I figure you get my drift. I'm right there with you. This nation needs to take a look at itself on this morning and think about where they stand as a people. Those in the red states...who would embrace this anger and hatred and fear and use it as a fuel to drive their lives...take a look at the country's vote. Take a look at some of the people elected to Washington. Take a look at some of the policies being approved by vote. This country is evolving. Do you wish to join the rest of us? Or are you still going to hold onto the fear and remain rooted in the past?
There are plenty of seats on the bus. I wouldn't exclude you because of where you were born, the color of your skin, or your heritage. I'd smile and welcome you to the family. I'd look into your eyes and see WHO you were based on your actions, words, and how you related to others.
Just as my wife and I see each other: to her...I'm not a Mexican/Italian/Arabic man. I'm a man. To me....she's not a Caucasian woman. She's a beautiful woman. She's my wife.
Give it a shot, folks. It might make life so much easier than you ever possibly dreamed it could be. And that's what America COULD be. If you just gave it a chance."
Responding to Thursday’s post on Obama and race, Amara highlights the similarites between the 2012 electoral map and the divisions between the slave and free states, and thus the Confederacy and Union, at the time of the Civil War.
Responding to a conversation about the election and race/ethnicity, Sean Goodlett highlights this Eugene Robinson piece in the Washington Post.
Next series starts Monday,
PS. What do you think? Thoughts on the election and America? On Obama and America? On any related issues or questions?
10/10 Memory Day nominees: A tie between two controversial, courageous, and influential American activists, Samuel Gridley Howe and Russell Means.
10/11 Memory Day nominee: Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.!