A funny thing happened the other day. I attended a Barack Obama rally, one of thousands of Virginians who braved the cold and stood in line outside the Richmond Coliseum, most of whom were no doubt as aware as I of the historic significance of the moment. While waiting to gain entry—when I wasn’t chatting with familiar strangers—I engaged in one of my favorite pastimes: people watching. It was a veritable sea of diversity: Whites, Blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, Asians, gay, straight, physically-impaired, men, women, and children. It was splendiferously representative of the tapestry that is America.
And get this. It was extraordinarily peaceful and orderly, in stark juxtaposition to recent images from John McCain and Sarah Palin rallies. There were no angry, hateful people ranting about socialists, communists, Marxists, Muslims, Jeremiah Wright, or Bill Ayers. No one expressed inexplicable fear of a President Obama. To the contrary, everywhere I turned, there were smiles from highly motivated and inspired Americans of all hues. It was a scene reminiscent of New Year’s Eve, or some other celebratory rite of passage, an occasion of clear demarcation and great anticipation. There was in the air the feeling that our long national nightmare could soon be over.
I have literally thought of little else since, all the while mentally composing this piece.
Indeed, the memory was still fresh in my mind the following morning when I attended the Fall Festival at my daughter’s very culturally diverse preschool. Not until then, when I saw the costume of little Jermaine, one of her classmates, did all the images swirling in my mind truly come into focus.
He wasn’t dressed in a superhero’s cape and tights, or in some cute animal suit. His mother didn’t outfit him as a monster, a ghost or an athlete. No. He was dressed in slacks, a starched white shirt, and a tie. And he wore a two-sided badge around his neck. On one side held a picture of Obama and on the reverse was the following simple declaration: I am Barack Obama.
Off-and-on, he also donned an Obama mask; however, in this writer’s view, the mask detracted from the ensemble. More precisely, it concealed his beautiful brown skin and the sparkle in his eyes. All of his classmates were drawn to him like a magnet. One little White boys, Sterling, even reached out and held the sign, as if in awe. I knew the moment I viewed the photograph of that exchange that this represented the heart of Obama’s “aloha spirit,” the idea that we are all, in the final analysis, one people. And that we must learn to fully coexist and work together, notwithstanding the race-baiting of many of those opposed to an Obama-led America.
This is the profundity that is Barack Obama. His candidacy represents the hope of a people, indeed of a nation—and the world community, which looks to America as a moral and existential compass—for better or worse. And it presents a clear choice for the people of America, between darkness and light. Betwixt night and day. And more importantly, the past and the future.
This explains the power of Jermaine’s costume, which embodies the possibility that a Barack Obama presidency would manifest. It is about the notion that anyone who works hard and is qualified, regardless of race, can truly be whatever he/she imagines—including President of the United States of America. That is what this election comes down to.
And it is by no means just the babes who are affected by this. Far from it. It is also adults of all ages, races and nationalities who may have given up on long-held dreams, even the Afro-South American politicians in Brazil who have literally changed their names to Barack Obama.
As well, it is this writer. Just observing Obama’s fierce and quiet determination—and uncommon courage—in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds and the unspeakable bigotry and hatred of some Americans—has even given this sometime scribe the confidence to pursue the writing career that I have secretly dreamed of since I was a young girl chopping cotton in the fields of segregated northeast Louisiana, at the tail-end of Jim Crow, during the mid- to late-1970s. The would-be broadcast journalist who was once told by a close male relative that the profession to which I aspired was for slim, White women.
Thus, it is not just about the Jermaines of this world. Quite the contrary.
I, too, am Barack Obama.
You are Barack Obama. Joe the Plumber is Barack Obama. We are all Barack Obama. And, in my estimation, if the American people make the right choice on November 4, Mr. Obama will soon be Barack the President. As I live and breathe!
Dr. Reed is a diversity consultant and assistant professor of English and African-American literature at Virginia State University.