The Contradictions in Signs of Wonder

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Like millions of others around the world, I shed tears at
10:00 CST on November 4 when Barack Hussein Obama
became the 44th president of the United States. I cried
because my daughters, first time voters, were able to see
their faith in democracy work. They, if only ephemerally, are
proud to be American citizens, feelings that their great and
grand mothers had been denied despite their pained labor to
give birth to this moment. I was filled with extremes of joy
and sadness at a watershed moment along the Black freedom
struggle continuum, a struggle with which I am intimately
tied: conceived during Emmett Till and the fall of Jim Crow,
born screaming into the fire of Civil Rights and Black Power.
I shared the singular happiness of a global community.
As much as I am surreally proud, I can’t shy away from
my responsibility to critically engage the moment with its
ironies and contradictions beyond those offered by the
media: the connections with Illinois (Lincoln and Obama)
or that a Black family will be moving into the house built by
enslaved men of African descent which, according to Alice
Walker, is the family for whom those men had labored.
I find irony in the symbolism of Obama who is as much a
testament of personal will and spiritual favoring as the work
of a culture industry committed to constructing fantasies. In
this instance, Obama has emerged despite the earliest laws of
the colonial era being designed to prevent his arrival.
The Virginia Statute of 1662 shifted common law practices
of children following the status of their father to following
that of the mother. This change was intended to make slavery
inheritable through the body of Black women so that mulatto
children of white men would not be able to inherit the father’s
property, including the property of whiteness. Similarly, antimiscegenation
laws were intended to preserve white women’s
wombs, also the property of white men, for the transference
of white men’s assets—only. Yet here, the male child of a
white woman from Kansas and a Black man from Kenya has
inherited the throne as a hero in a dramatic tragedy.
In Obama-the-commodity, we see the compression and
homogenization of an “African American” identity so that
Obama-the-man would become a symbol of change and
hope, of boot-straps achievement at a time when Black,
Brown and Red people are witnessing the worse global economic
disaster since the Depression. The Obama-brand has
been prepped and packaged for consumption as a talisman
against despair in a culture of commodity fetishization.
It is even more ironic that a man who ostensibly represents
the end of U.S. apartheid in a way that Mandela signaled the
beginning of the end of apartheid in South Africa would, in his
first few days as president-elect, aligns himself with forces that
would deny the end to the apartheid suffered by Palestinians.
This stance produces not only sadness, but visceral fear.
I realize critiquing Obama is almost sacrilegious. I
called my 82 year old mother—the matriarch, political
pundit and fashionista of the family—to find out if she
had been able to finally deliver her state—Missouri. I
expressed my concern over the Obama-brand. She called
me a “player hater.” Generally more critical of political performances
than I and known to make calls to CSPAN, she
chose to critique Michelle’s election night attire. “That
dress was ugly,” she said. “Mom”, I said, “these people are
masterful illusionists. I bet you believe reality shows are
really real. I’m talking about policy statements and you’re
talking about fashion statements. Sounds like you’re the
“player hater.” I can’t talk to you right now. Bye!”
Obama is a victory in the ongoing struggle. For my mother,
and so many others, signs of wonder are being searched
for in American politics. I pray their faith will be rewarded.

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