I don’t read autobiographies

July 19, 2016 § Leave a comment

Barack Obama in Americanah: A Novel. A chapter of it is a dedication, like to a lover in the middle of a serious novel. I wasn’t really a part of that campaign trail his first run for the presidency in 2008. But I lapped it up nonetheless. I couldn’t stop the tears welling up inside and dripping down my face. It was a sting, a familiar and dangerous ache. I pictured my campaign headquarter where an army of true believers like Ifem and Blaine and all his friends holding their breaths: their eyes glued to the TV screen showing an impossible race of reds and blues; their personal smartphones ablaze with Tweets and Instagram and Facebook status updates; their headsets for phone-banking still on or maybe quietly set aside, markers and butcher papers and Post Its everywhere, half drunk coffee and stale chips and leftover snacks also everywhere. I could picture it all, the horrors and the sense of belonging in any campaign. I craved it in my bones and I knew all too well that I couldn’t have it, at least not in my foreseeable future. I gave that life up.

And maybe that was part of the tears, mourning for what could’ve been. But there was something else: the person of Barack, the man to whom I had not paid close attention until the trail became hot, to be honest. It came back to me, the conversation I had with my parents the first time I gave them a proper tour of the UC Berkeley campus. It would be a different thing altogether, my dad said, for Barack to win because I do want to be able to say that America is not just for a white man.

How could we know, Korean immigrants–only exposed to the sins of racism in the context of Rodney King beating, the ’92 Los Angeles riot–the fullness of what a black president could mean in 2008? But he did win, and the passage describing the main character’s wonder at what America could be was also my wonder: the possibility of hope, of change, of somehow this one man who should never have made it were it any other time in history, carrying the hopes of a continent, a people group, a history owing lives that cannot be given back for four hundred plus years. We were both wondering, Ifem and I, in that moment of jubilee and elation and an abandon to celebrate what none of us would dare to speak of, even though everyone knew–all of us knew–that it would not last. Of course it couldn’t last. Things could not become that easy that soon.

I sat reading and aching and praying for this last year of the man’s presidency. I ached for his two terms of heavy debt fiscally and historically–the debt of human brokenness multiplied a million times that America cannot afford but has been borrowing forever–how this weight must have aged him, crushed him, made him less human maybe. I prayed that at the end of it all he would walk away with something. I was, and am, thankful that he was not assassinated on the job. Hurl your insults at how calculating and political he’s become, the policies and stances he adopted, the way he spoke or didn’t speak for Black & Brown people. I would not be so quick to be cynical this time though.

I can’t get over the image of this man, this skinny and tired looking and much aged man after eight years of the weight of the world on his shoulder, not trying to start another world war, not trying to let down the hopes of his people–I know he thinks about that, his people. How can you not? When your skin is black? I can’t get over how much a person like me who has nothing in common with him physiologically speaking, has benefited. I have been touched; I have been made to feel connected to this land because of his life. There’s a sense of gratefulness still there. I can’t quite name it. There is not a United League of the Oppressed, though maybe there ought to be one. I can’t get over it, as I now sit here feeling the ache of all the Black lives lost, as we witness the election day drawing ever closer. And I wonder.

Do you believe still?

 

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