That Long Road Ahead

(This post was originally published at Woman of (an)other Color and was part of the Youth Outlook blog-a-thon)

There is a new administration and a new President of the United States. As I read about his first days in office and peruse photos of him and his family settling into the White House, I feel like I need my own transition team to help me process what’s happened in the last few months.

There’s been a lot going through my mind between November 4th, 2008 and January 20th, 2009.  “What was election night like?” I imagine future youngsters in my life asking me, and even now, I find it difficult to conjure up an answer. It was like I was sitting in a classroom as a child again, and a teacher I admire points to me and says, “You can be anything you want to be. You can be President of the United States.” It was like breathing in all the pain that is woven into my identity, the pain of colonialism, of diaspora, of racism, but instead of holding that breath in forever, I was able to exhale. It was a moment of healing. I remember wanting to feel the glow of election night forever, feeling disappointed as that deep feeling of elation began to fade back into reality-checks and business-as-usual.

I spent inauguration day grieving the death of one of my closest friends who was killed tragically in an accident, one many of us believed she would recover from. Pain and death were at the forefront of my mind and suddenly everything seemed so much more difficult, so much less optimistic. Suddenly, “the road ahead will be long” was a sentiment that no longer felt uplifting or inspiring to me. It felt exhausting. All the hope that permeated the nation felt uncomfortable, as I thought of the violence that rung in the new year, in my heart, in my home, in the world.

I wonder how President Obama feels in the few moments of his day when he is alone. Whether he feels the weight of a nation’s history upon him, whether he struggles with the baggage of a first-world country that has used messages of exceptionalism and nationalism to perpetuate global conflict. I suppose he has a sense of faith and a support network, both political and personal, to help him, one that will be with him for the next four (eight!) years.

I worry about how much the President of the United States will speak out. I wonder about how much he can speak out. How does a person in his position find the balance to speak out for civil rights, for progressive and humane leadership, for equality, and still be a political leader in a governmental institution? I think about how much President Obama can do because there is so much work for him to do. And perhaps the only response to this is what social justice activist Zachary Norris wrote to Jack and Jill Politics in January:

“President Obama has the opportunity to be the President we hope for. We have the responsibility to ensure that he does not bear this cross alone and to remind him of his indebtedness should he forget.”

We should have hope for our new administration, but we should be careful not to become blindsided by a new regime. We should fear the potential ease to which we subscribe to nationalism, to imperialism, to rhetoric laced with Christianity and a no-apologies sense of patriotism. Yes, the actions that arise out of these agendas and sentiments may differ from previous administrations. But the words, and the work, and the intentions must continue to be evaluated.

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