Thursday, January 19, 2017

My President Was a TCK

I don't think I've ever been as conflicted as I am about President Obama as I have been this past week, researching this post and reading everyone else's "summing up" articles. It's difficult to even remember what all has happened in the past 8 years, and of course there are mixed feelings, as well as a mixed record. All the same, I've done what I can to understand and then tried to work through some thoughts.

I've loved Obama from the very beginning, without always knowing why. I do not claim to understand or even be aware of all or even most of the politics that surround the Obama presidency and I am not writing to defend this or that thing that he did or said. I know he is merely a man, and I know that he made mistakes. I know that many people feel that he helped to ruin something they loved. I'm not writing to persuade you or to mock your feelings, I am writing because this is a significant goodbye for me, and I want to honor it.

"He was a man, take him for all in all,
I shall not look upon his like again".
- Hamlet

I am a woman intoxicated by words, and Obama was a master with them. As the prophet Muhammad was believed to have said, "verily eloquence includes sorcery." I know that we should choose our leaders based on a multitude of factors, least of which should be campaign promises or excellent speeches, but I do not know (nor do I believe it fully possible) how to know what can truly be known about another human being except their character, and for that reason, I often go by "my feeling" about politicians. My feelings are not infallible or unchangeable, but I never stopped admiring Obama and simply liking what I know of him as a person.

I believe he did what he thought was right as a leader and as a man, and I felt safe within that.

I'll miss his calm, steady voice on the radio. He is a man who showed compassion and emotion, yet rarely (if ever?) lost his cool when ridiculed or demeaned with the most base and false accusations. He never spoke thoughtlessly, hurtfully, or hatefully. He so often looks happy in spite of the gravity of his position, but he also cried in response to national tragedies and hugged those who were in pain.

He was cool. He was fun-loving. He was gentle. He felt accessible to me. He was free of personal scandals. His wife was the epitome of grace, yet real and warm; his daughters were respectful, yet fierce.

To me, Barack Obama has been worthy of respect and has played a substantial role in a formative decade in my life - my first decade in this country, my first decade of being old enough to vote, my first decade of awareness of politics.

One of the first things I heard about him after he became president in 2009 was that he was employing TCKs (Third Culture Kids) in places of prominence around him. This caught my attention, not only because I am a TCK, but because few people in the US even know what a TCK is, despite the fact that plenty of Americans are TCKs, even if they don't know it. To be a TCK is to be first-generation multicultural - it does not necessarily mean mixed-race, it just means you have multiple cultural backgrounds as a result of growing up on more than one continent. (Here's another article on Obama's TCKness.)

I recently watched the movie Barry on Netflix, about a year or so in Obama's life as a college student at Columbia. It wasn't remarkable as a movie, but it definitely drove home his struggle with defining himself as a young man who wasn't from any one place. Hawaii, Jakarta, Kenya, California, New York - he had long explanations any time someone asked where he was from, and I'm not sure that even he knew. That is the classic dilemma of a TCK. At the end of the movie, he had started to say, "I live here, now", which is in some ways the ultimate response of someone who has come to terms with their identity as a child of multiple cultures and places, belonging with no one race and to no single city. The best part of the movie was when he was launching into the whole explanation of his background to a mixed-race couple, who simply said, "well, that makes you American." That's part of what I admire about the Obamas, and part of what crushes me about Trump. I feel like Obama knows who I am and what makes our country truly great (strength and richness through diversity), and I don't think that Trump does. I realize that this sounds like "I like Obama because I am like him, and I don't like Trump because I am not like him", and I'm not ashamed of there being some truth in that.

Some people said Obama only got elected because he was black. I don't think that's true, but I also don't see why that should be a smear. I am proud of diversity in the public eye, and I'm proud that we had a black president. Although it shouldn't feel momentous, it did. The first post on this blog was about Obama having won the nomination in 2008, and it felt like I was standing in the middle of a glorious piece of American history.

Obama's blackness doesn't make me ashamed to be white, it simply makes me proud to be an American, proud to be a TCK who chooses a path of resistance instead of blending in when blending in would be the easier choice. His presidency felt like riding a wave of powerful goodness as young people of color and diversity were emboldened to continue demanding justice and respect. I don't think that wave has crashed for good with the election of Trump, but I think things will get much uglier before they get better (if they ever get better, which I pray they do), and I'm walking into this new era with some trepidation, even as I try and be brave and willing to stand up, myself.

In Ta-Nehisi Coates' series of essays, "My President Was Black" (from which I hijacked the title for this post), Obama is presented as a black man who grew up in very unusual racial circumstances that allowed him to have faith in white people. That factor of his outlook enabled him, sometimes to his detriment, to believe in the goodness of all Americans, even though not all Americans are good.

I find it hard to fault him for that. Just as we tend to overlook the flaws of those we are romantically inclined toward, I find that some of Obama's flaws endear him to me even more. When I look at him, I feel warmth and acceptance, and what a privilege to feel that way about my President (without feeling like that comes at the cost of other people feeling that toward him). I believe he genuinely cares for the well-being of all Americans, even the ones who hate him.

When I think of the things that I know of that Obama did, the first things that come to mind are international, because that's often where my heart lies and we relate to all authority figures on the basis of what they do/who they are that concerns us, in my opinion.

  • He made provisions for children fleeing violence in Mexico. (The illegal immigration of children may have ended less happily...)
  • He repaired relations with both Cuba and Iran, and stood up to Israel when necessary (though perhaps not enough, in my opinion - I can't find the example from last year that I was most pleased with). 
  • He didn't close Guantanamo, but he relocated all but 45 of 242.   
  • He cut back on military spending, brought many deployed soldiers home, and decreased our nuclear weapons stockpile (though apparently not as much as several previous presidents).
  • He enacted the Child Soldiers Prevention Act (am I crazy, or was there some momentous thing about this being the first grassroots bill to be signed into law by a president?! I have some memory of that, but can't verify it), though it's implementation has been flawed
  • He engaged with Southeast Asia, which is often treated as not important (or simply left out) in global conversations. 

Things I was not cool with:

And to be categorized under silly:

  • Winning the Nobel Peace Prize (not his choice) after less than one year on the job for a "vision" of what his presidency could accomplish.
  • Awarding your BFF (Joe Biden) the highest civilian honor simply because....? I think this cheapens the award. 

There are more good, shady, and silly things leaping to mind as I compile this list, as well as things I'm just not sure about. As I mentioned at the top, I felt very conflicted over my views of Obama's legacy in light of some of the things he did that I really didn't like. The deportation numbers felt like a betrayal of some of the ideals that I equate with Obama and admire him for. The results of Obama's policies are a mixed bag. This article is the best I've found in terms of comparison and numbers. Strangely, the international category is the least successful looking, though it's hard to say how much of that is Obama's fault. At any rate, in many ways, Obama is leaving things in better condition than in which he inherited them, and for that I'm grateful.

As I said before, sometimes admiration aids us in looking past a person's faults. Despite Obama's faults, I still believe he did the best he could with what he had, and he did it believing he was doing the right things. That does not excuse everything, but if we were to agree that both of those things are true of his actions, I don't think we could ask more of him, or anyone else.

I don't say this with inconsolable sadness, but I think American has been and continues to be in decline in terms of world power. We live in volatile times indeed, and even if Obama couldn't completely turn this ship around, he made a valiant attempt.

I'm not sad that Hillary didn't win, I'm not even sad that a Democrat didn't win. I'm just sad to see a president I admire go. And sad to see one I don't trust take control. On second thought, I do not wish Obama could continue being the president - change is good, though change is hard. It is just hard to see someone I respect stepping down to give way to someone I do not respect and who I fear will undo the things that brought me comfort and hope in the past 8 years (and even beyond). I know the same could be said with the candidates reversed for some of my friends, and although I don't understand that, I try and respect it.

One thing that I actually appreciate about Trump is that more than any other president, he has helped me to see that anyone can be president! That may be a backhanded compliment, but it's probably healthy that I don't idolize the position so much that I think the "little guy" doesn't matter. I feel like the little guy matters more than ever under a president Trump.

I am determined to have a voice in my community and in this country. As Nelson Mandela said, "may your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears".

To me, Barack Obama has embodied much of what I want to see in my country, and I will miss him greatly.

Mr. Obama, thank you for being my president.
Thank you for going grey for me; you have not gone unappreciated.

Photo sources: 1, 2, 3

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails