I’m having some kind of profound reaction to Barack Obama’s win tonight. It’s not what I expected. I’m at work, handling our coverage of the U.S. race, and my thoughts should really be on that.
But as story after story rolls across the newswires, and as I look over photos of jubilant Americans cheering on Obama’s success, I feel like I’m going to cry. And make no mistake: these are tears of joy.
I am not a very political person, and as a media professional, I maintain an impression of neutrality. I don’t ever discuss how I vote, or what I think about things. It’s different when it comes to American politics, of course, as it doesn’t affect me directly. Regular visitors to Weather Station 1 are well familiar with my attitudes toward American politicians.
I’m not laughing tonight, though, although I am very, very happy, despite the tears I’m trying to hide from my colleagues. What I’m reacting to, I think, is the issue of race, something Obama ignored even as his detractors didn’t — something I have visited many times here as well.
And I’m reacting this way because Barack Obama and I are a lot alike. I relate to him in a big way. We’re from more or less the same generation, the first to come of age in a world where civil rights were more entrenched. We’re both outsiders, men who were moved around often as children, men whose upbringing was as much the responsibility of strong grandparents as it was strong single mothers. We are both sons of absent fathers. And we are of mixed races, carrying Africa, Europe and lord knows what else within us (in my case, a good chunk of different kinds of First Nations).
It isn’t easy being a mixed-race person. You end up never quite fitting in anywhere. I sure don’t think of myself as a white man, but I’m not often treated as a black one, either. I look like an Arab, after all, but I’m not, so I don’t fit in there, either. I have had to spend the last four decades just being me.
But as I get older, I realize that fitting in is more important than I ever realized. I spent a lot of years trying not to, but let me say, that never pays off. We have to fit in. And I know now that fitting in doesn’t mean being with people of your own colour, or creed, or religion. It means fitting in with people who feel the way you do about the world.
I really don’t know how Barack Obama feels about the world. In that respect, he’s no different than any other politician, or any other president; he’s a product, a man groomed and styled to represent a political party and do the toughest job in the world. He says a lot of great things, but we’ve yet to see him in action. There’s no way to know how the next four years will unfold, or what kind of a job Obama will do.
What I can say, though, is that Barack Obama has broken one of the last barriers his people, and my people, have had to face in America. A few generations ago, black Americans, my ancestors among them, lived as slaves. And now a black man is president, chosen by America. And that gives me hope.
These are tears of joy, and tears of pride. God bless you, America.