“I would like to be the first black president,” said the 8-year-old me to my mother.
“Don’t you want to leave open the option that someone could get there before you’re old enough,” was her coyly voiced reply.
What’s a kid left to do but cross her arms, sigh and give a vexed, “Yeah.”
Well, with President Barack Obama, the target of first black president has been hit, but I must note that this has occurred after my having reached the Constitutional requirements. Being a Southern girl, 8 was already little bit late to start down the path of political ambition.
I didn’t jump on the Obama wagon right away. I watched as classmates and others of various ethnic backgrounds hopped on with enthusiasm. One student’s enthusiasm was particularly contagious. I signed up to receive notifications from one of her Obama boards.
In the back of head was the thought, “but doesn’t everyone know that it’s Hillary Clinton’s year?” That thought paired with a basic non-belief that an African American President could be elected this time around, left me with a deep ambiguity.
I knew that my vote would most likely go to one of the these two candidates. Since there were no glaring differences in their political platforms, as an African American woman, I first began to think about which identity had more of my loyalty, ethnic or gender. No need to pause on that one. Gender was the winner with much room to spare.
Though not actually Southern, Hillary had proven herself a successful transplant while living in the governor’s mansion in Arkansas. As a Southerner myself, this gave her some leverage. And Americans have shown some amount of preference for Presidential candidates with a drawl.
Obama’s campaign message was an enormous appeal. Comparing the outlook of my friends and acquaintances who preferred one candidate over the other, Obama successfully came across as the candidate of hopefulness. The Hillary camp had a few too many sword wavers for my taste.
And then there were the Kennedy slights. First, a Hillary staffer ranted ad nauseam about her belief that President John Kennedy’s contribution to the Civil Rights Movement were miniscule. After being late with her apology for this misstep and running second in polls for the Democratic nomination, she supported her decision to stay in the race with distasteful references to timing of Robert Kennedy’s assassination.
Making my way back to a Southern culture reference, growing up I never heard much good said about either Yankees or Catholics. That being said, Southern Democrats surely did love themselves some Kennedys. Though not a democrat myself, to read the Kennedy family speak on public service made me swoon with national pride, John and Robert in particular.
I began to imagine a dark skinned family in all those White House photo ops. I closed my eyes and saw the Obamas getting on the plane to Camp David, he family playing with mischievous and lovable family pooch, President Obama pointing to familiar faces in press core for questions.
I was excited watching the Presidential Debates. Obama’s calmness and dogged dedication to diplomacy impressed me. Obama’s administration was dedicated to keeping avenues of communication open with friends and foes. In my mind Obama understood the quiet darkness of the deep seas as a well as the surface swells and choppiness.
In the end I thought of neither gender nor ethnicity. In the end, my mind and my vote were guided by a hope of attaining the most precious of intangibles. President Barack Obama spoke “…a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task. This is the price and the promise of citizenship.”
Sonjiala Hotchkiss is City Times’ online editor