Tag Archives: community

Final Conclusion: Obama is Black Enough

Last Wednesday the 10-minute break splitting my 2-hour class, another student commented on the Obama stick on my laptop.  I don’t remember where precisely the conversation went for the next minute, but soon, he said something that surprised yet didn’t surprise me: Obama is about as white-washed as you can get.  I then launched into a 5-minute sermon in defense of dear Barack, some of which might have been decent, some of which probably was just rambles.  So today I have decided to argue this in a more organized fashion for the benefit of all my readers.  (You can follow with your own rebuttals, if need be.)

Barack is openly biracial and obviously did not have an African-American father.  He grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii with few black cultural influences.  BUT he began to own his black identity in a deeper way during college, has read works by significant black leaders such as MLK, Jr. and Malcolm X (ok, the tip of the iceberg, but I know he’s talked about them; I don’t think he’s on Library Thing, so I’m not sure what else he’s read…), and has experienced in the black cultural world through his work as a community organizer, as well as his marriage into Michelle’s family. Does this mean it was his birth culture?  No.  But does he likely identify with this culture to some extent?  Surely!  After all, I’m white and my mere tip-toes to the edge of the black community have influenced me in various ways.

To say that Barack is in no way culturally African American betrays an ignorance of the multi-cultural identity.  In my experience, those that grow up in multiple cultural worlds not only may feel an affinity for those cultures but also be generally more open to culture learning and intercultural attachment.  For example, my Kiwi/Canadian/British/(newly) American friend (who has also lived in Romania) loves Latin American and Latino cultures.  She’s spent three months in Bolivia and volunteers weekly in North Carolina’s Latino community.  Does it make her Latina?  No.  But that’s not the point.  She still identifies with them in some way.  Same goes for my friend that was adopted from Korea by white parents.  Going back to Korea a year didn’t erase her Euro-American cultural influences, but it added to who she was in significant ways.  She is Korean American, even though she didn’t grow up in that community.  Barack has spent enough time in the African-American community that I’m pretty sure he speaks their language, though I don’t think he has disowned his Euro-American on Kenyan heritage, either.

Did any of you see that audio that got released a couple weeks ago in which Barack said the Civil Rights movement didn’t go far enough because it never went into economic (as well as political) justice?  Indeed, this was a “tragedy” of the Civil Rights movement.  If that doesn’t make you an ally…

With that said, as much as I love Obama, I can’t say I trust him to be able to get everything done for the black community that he probably should, and I know at some points he may sell out and not try as hard as he could.  That’s reality.  (I hope it doesn’t happen, but anyone that fights for justice faces a constant temptation to sell out–I wouldn’t expect Barack to be any different.)

Still, if you look at the general direction of his policies, he is on the “right side,” which is of course, the left side.  In other words, he’s on the side that most black people, Af-Am professors, etc. would think is going to do the most good for the black community.  He’s not Clarence Thomas.  I think we can trust him to be generally aligned in a way that will benefit not only African-Americans but ethnic minorities in the U.S. generally.  After all, his family is about a diverse as you can get–Kenyan, Chinese Canadian, white-Asian biracial, African-American, white…  As a community organizer he worked with Latinos along with blacks, and he also thinks he’s got a little Native American heritage.  He’s not going to represent any of these groups perfectly, but I think he values multi-ethnicity and the African-American community in particular.

While others don’t have complete say over who you are, community acceptance is somewhat significant.  For example, just because I participated in a Pow-Wow doesn’t mean I can just decide to be Occaneechi.  Just because I attended a black church for a couple years doesn’t make me black.  Just a friend studied abroad in Japan and loves Japanese doesn’t make her Japanese.  Part of this is up to us, but a good part of it is up to others–will they accept us and recognize us as one of them rather than an other?  I think that in this campaign and election, the black community has stood up and said yes, we will own Barack Obama as one of our own.


Ultimately, I think we’ve just got to get past this people.  I’ve heard before that Obama’s not really black because he’s one of those arugula types.  Listen, people.  Anyone can like arugula.  Just because you are intelligent, are lucky enough to go to a good school, and have some money in the bank doesn’t make you white.  I would be interested to know how the same classmate (who I’m not dissing, just disagreeing with) would speak of Michelle.  Is she white-washed, too?  Because I think she’s pretty clearly black.  Unless Princeton changes that somehow.

Black kids have got it hard enough with their own peers calling them white because they’re smart, motivated, and successful.  Please, white people, do we have to do the same?


Lastly, I think it’s very significant to consider one last category:

He has chosen this path, this identity.  It’s only respectful that we accept it as who he is, even if we at points want to criticize his politics (as perhaps not being radical enough in their favor for the black community).

And if that doesn’t convince you, what white person his age do you know that went to Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing on their first date with their now-spouse?  Uh huh.  Thought so.


Filed under Ethnicity, Politics

My wack wedding

At risk of totally guaranteeing a total guilt trip from myself down the road, I’m inspired today to write about the very weird ways in which I hope to do my wedding (if I do indeed eventually marry in the next 1-152 yr).  What inspired this?  Did I watch Four Weddings and a Funeral?  Was I checking out bridal gown magazines?  Am I just one of those ring-obsessed women?  It actually came to me quite unexpectedly (in the last five minutes), browsing the World Vision web site, of all things.  There was an article about one couple’s honeymoon with the poor of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and it took me back to a recent conversation with my roomie Tiffany that essentially amounted to, “I want a weird wedding.”  This is my first time making a lot of this public (and nothing’s set in stone), but prepare to feel inspired… or sorry for me because there probably aren’t a lot of men that will get into this.  (Even more difficult: convincing his mom.)

Let the fun begin!

Idea #1: A Service-Learning Honeymoon
Since the article is what inspired this, If one of us happens to be a social worker or environmental activist, this might not be the best idea.  I definitely want some quality sabbath.  However, hours at the beach, quite frankly, really bore me.  I’d love to go somewhere–anywhere–and really take time to see both touristy and non-touristy places and learn about the history, the culture, the problems, the delights, etc. of that area.  Whether or not we actually “do” something to serve the people there, I’d be sure we go as people and not just consumers.

Alternatively, we could save the money and take some time off from work and stay home–if being married is so exciting the first few weeks anyway, why do you need to add extra fireworks by going to an exotic location?  Let’s save that for when we’re sick of each other and some extra spice.  Or save it for the kids’ college (or an extra degree down the road… or the next time our economy collapses…) or give the money to something worthwhile.  And why have special memories in the Dominican Republic that we could have in the space we live and breath every day?  Who knows.  I’m open.  I don’t think we’re bad people if we decide to go to France, but I’m open to considering non-traditional options.

Idea #2: No engagement ring
I don’t think they’re sexist, per se, but as a feminist, I’m just not into them.  And there are all those conflict diamond issues.  If anyone ever buys me a diamond, it had better be one of those super-certified-conflict-free types.  But I don’t need a diamond ring.  I just don’t.  (And given that I so strongly don’t want one, I would actually probably turn down a man that offered me one, because he obviously doesn’t know me well enough to marry me!)

Idea #3: A Green Reception
I just don’t feel good about having all kinds of paper and plastic being used once and thrown away.  I’m all in favors of green picnics, potlucks, etc., so why should I be hypocritical when it comes to my wedding?  What will this mean?  At its most normal, it would mean we use a caterer that uses all real dishes, glasses, etc.  At its most extreme, it might mean we ask people to bring their own dishes–regular, casual, whatever dishes–and also commit to “sponsoring” out-of-towners that won’t have their own easily accessible.  I actually really like that idea, not only for the environmental reason, but also because it forces people to depend on each other rather than our just doing what’s convenient.  It makes the wedding more of a real community-building event.

Idea #3: Not-so-expensive clothes
As I’ve watched friends be bridesmaids, I’ve wondered, why the heck do we spend so much (and make our friends spend so much) on weddings?  I’m not judging anyone that wants a more traditional wedding, but I just feel there are so many important things in the world that need our money.  So there are several options: cheap stuff (relatively speaking).  Or even more interesting, why does everyone need to match?  Why can’t people wear things they already have?  Why can’t I just wear something from our first date or a special night?  Not only does wearing things you already have save money, resources, etc., but it also means your wedding is connected with you, your memories as a couple, as a community.  And there’s no trouble trying to find bridesmaid dresses that fit everyone’s bodies and budget.

Idea #4: Really yummy food
So everyone wants yummy food–that’s not so countercultural.  But I guess I figure my food choices are a bit less traditional for your average white American…  I would much rather have nammura or mango with sticky rice than traditional wedding cake.  And I’m much rather have lemongrass tofu and chicken curry and quiche and baked brie with figs than whatever most people eat at weddings.  I know I need to consider that Kate Jessups of the world (so maybe we’ll also have bagels with Munster cheese), but at my wedding, I want to have the kind of food that I actually make a habit of eating, the kind of food that feels like home.  Soymilk and coconut-something are both musts.  Yes, soymilk at a wedding.  We’ll have something for everyone, though.  (Though I don’t know that we’ll serve any kind of soda–I think I’m morally opposed.  Unless it’s Mexican soda.  And Diet Coke for Kate so she doesn’t go through withdrawal.)

Idea #5: Gifts to others
If there are things we need, great.  Let’s ask for them.  But there are certain things people just don’t need that they receive at weddings, even things they’ve put on their registry.  The fact is, we were both living before we got married.  Don’t we already have a few towels?  Don’t we have anything for the kitchen?  Maybe we could use a bit of help, but where we already own something, there’s no need to get something new and “better.”  Instead, it’d be nice to essentially have a “registry”-type system for giving to one of a few meaningful causes.  I’d love to use orgs that one of us has a special connection with (ex: InterVarsity) or something that relates to marriage in some vague way (Christians for Biblical Equality, a domestic violence shelter, or perhaps the option of buying someone out of sex slavery through International Justice Mission or World Vision–because as weird and unrelated as it sounds, if you think about it, being able to have sex when you want with the person you want is a blessing not everyone has, even in the U.S., where rape, abuse, and trafficking definitely happen).  I don’t want a wedding that’s all roses, and I’m not really afraid of bringing these things up.

Idea #6: Multiculturalism
This is not to say that various traditions must be integrated in cheesey ways.  I just don’t want it to feel so exclusively white.  Because that would make me sad.  And I shouldn’t be sad on my wedding day, right?  We’ll see what this actually ends up meaning.  If nothing else, music for the reception has got to be pretty eclectic.

I could make up some more if I were trying to be really radical.  I could also live without doing all of these.  The important thing to me is to take nothing for granted.  Again, we have such privilege.  Culture isn’t bad; it’s good.  Our wedding expectations are just a part of culture.  But sometimes opting out of culture is ok, too.  We can create new ways of doing things that do a better job honoring the humanity in ourselves and others.

I also need to have the right wedding pictures to convince my kids that I’m a true liberal.  :-P  Even if they think I’m a just crazy hippie, they gotta respect that, right?


Filed under Marriage, Random Thoughts, Weddings