I went to a panel Friday here in Chicago (in which kos happened to be participating) about the recent election, what it means, etc.. Along with kos, the panel included Laura Washington and Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times, Jonathan Alter of Newsweek, and was moderated by Charles Madigan of the Chicago Tribune. Per Laura Washington, who happens to be African-American (the sole African-American member of the panel), as she discussed the enormous about of luck Barack Obama has had in his life and career, Obama is also lucky in that he is “not African American.”
Did I hear that right?
Yes: she said it again. Because he doesn’t share (in his blood, presumably) this country’s history of slavery, he’s not African-American.
And this makes him lucky.
Ironically, before I heard Washington make this comment, before the panel started, I fell into conversation with a couple of (white, 60-ish) women sitting near me. They appreciated the historic nature of Obama’s candidacy, but wanted to be clear that Obama didn’t get their vote because he was black.
OK, that wasn’t why he got my vote, either.
Then one of the women pointed out that he was “both” (white and black). I mentioned this Garry Trudeau cartoon, which had me laughing till I cried the day after the election.
Then the other woman said, “But I think he should remember that he’s half white.”
The first woman pointed out that he could hardly forget that, having been raised in a white family.
“Well, of course he knows it, but he should…” I can’t remember the exact words. “…act like it?”
Thankfully, the panel started before I could formulate a response. And then, in her introductory remarks, Laura Washington said Obama is not African-American.
Well, guess what. That’s exactly what he is. Having a father from Kenya makes him African-American, just as my husband’s having parents from Germany and Egypt makes him German-Egyptian American. My two grandparents from Hungary, one from Poland, and Russian great-grandparents make me another kind of mutt (mutt, by the way, appears to be the new black).
The fact is, there is nothing particularly lucky about being born nonwhite in America. It’s not like bigots ask you to fill out a genealogical questionnaire before they discriminate against you.
I’m paraphrasing kos here: you want to talk about lucky? Being born George W Bush—that’s lucky.
Being born half-white, half-Kenyan and being raised by your single white mom and/or your grandparents—for most people that would fall under the category of lemons out of which you try to make lemonade.
By definition, we are all lucky: whatever happens to us is largely a matter of chance. But luck does not define how we respond to and leverage what happens to us. That is defined by character, skill, knowledge, experience, and other highly personal qualities (partly genetic, no doubt, but also willfully, effortfully developed).
I am frankly sick of commentary about Obama’s “luck”—whether it’s inanity about his not being African-American, or the “luck” of the financial crisis occurring when it did, or the “luck” that the Jeremiah Wright business came up so early.
The fact is that Barack Obama has proven able, over and over again, to master the circumstances he’s been presented with. That’s not luck. That’s a demonstration of the kind of skills we need in a president, after having suffered one who managed to squander just about every bit of luck that ever came his way.