this is not about a particular political affiliation or alignment, this is about human choices and acceptance of something different rising above those differences. I had written the piece below long time back - when I was still in grad school - felt like posting it today..
The morning of Nov 5th, 2008, the day when US elected her first African American president, looked no different than any other but I could feel the difference in the slight shivering I sensed in my limbs and the fast pounding of my heart. This sensation is a familiar one – this happens to me when I am too excited, without an immediate avenue available to express or implement the excitement, as was the case with this morning of Barack Obama winning the presidential elections. I am not an US citizen, and I have lived in this country for the last four years yes, but have still not started to think of myself as an American in any way. On the contrary, I continue to force myself to abhor the American indulgences like a vigilante on guard. I still want to go back to my country; a feeling which has grown stronger with years of missing home and hence have no ambition yet of being able to unify myself with US aspirations. During the election campaign, I hoped for Obama to win but was never aggressively interested in the campaign details. I didn’t dig too much into the analysis of promised policies for the future and was more occupied in figuring out how to get reimbursement for my ongoing internship while still on the Cornell graduate program. So on watching the election results on this crisp yet ordinary morning why did I start feeling happy, hopeful - and most importantly, proud?
The simple answer, I realized after a lot of thinking, is that I had believed in right or wrong too stubbornly for too long. In spite of ample evidence of otherwise I chose to put my bets on the right no matter how ambiguous ‘right’ is often made to appear. I believed in people’s power to think and choose intelligently and fairly looking beyond prejudices. I believed in democracy in spite of election after election going for arm power or money in my motherland. I believe that democracy of the ‘educated’ populous is the only hope for ‘fair’, ‘good’, ‘right’ things happening in this world. I come from India – a country with abundant passion and as aforementioned, I have witnessed for long how insignificant yet somehow incredibly important boundaries like regionalism and religion perplex people more than real issues the country has been facing for decades. My countrymen are known to burn vehicles to express anger over temples and mosques but are not moved to act against decades of female feticide. I feel helpless and frustrated when those issues concern otherwise radical people I know more than the poverty they see around, more than the need for education and health for all, more than the rising pollution threatening their children. And at other times I am elated at the ability of my country to amaze: when they overturn governments for ignoring peoples’ right or negate bad decisions through mass movements. When unfair acquisition of land for industrial growth is challenged by the poorest of the poor who tie themselves to trees willing to be cut down. I grew up in the contradiction of preached morality and practiced inequity. I read and heard of doing good, speaking the truth and being heroic yet witnessed all around lying for the pettiest of things: exhausted people avoiding trouble at all costs. Yet I couldn’t give up hope in the integrity of the humankind.
So I was getting more and more frustrated staying in US and witnessing what seemed to my naïve soul evidence of corruption in a much grander scale. The pristine land which seemed so enchanting from the muddy grounds of my motherland didn’t seem as clean anymore as I walked the streets of NYC. Yes the cops can’t be bribed here, but legislatures can be lobbied legally in favor of big corporations. I am not against corporations or capitalism - I am not a socialist or a communist, but I believe in the ambiguous, ever eluding ‘right’, that’s all. And yes I might be acting foolish about the inherent contradiction in face of the biggest motivator of all: money, but there again – this is where I hoped for integrity to win.
Without going into specific issues, I was getting more and more confused on why people here doesn’t understand the fabrications about going to a war after watching documentaries after documentaries. Or if they get it, why are they not impeaching an administration, or at least having more widespread rallies and protests forcing the government to change its policies and act. Or why is it so difficult to ban automatic firearms or implement similarly obvious food safety policies or climate policies? Is it really all about personal freedom over government impositions?
In India we believe that education; or more correctly literacy, is the key to awareness and it’s only illiterates who can be mobilized and mislead easily. But I am glad to have found out that often awareness has nothing to do with literacy. The richest, most educated people I came across here were often prejudiced and bigoted, making me proud of the hapless illiterates of my motherland. In spite of access to all types of information and fact check these elites choose to believe what they want to believe and the more they have, the more they want to protect. They justify their thoughts – sometimes citing religion, at other times citing precedence, but at most times just citing differences. And thus to this wistful dark girl with messy hippy hair wanting to believe in the most powerful nation which provides open armed opportunity to everyone with a dream, the cliché’s of evil fostering over good was distressing and devastating. Maybe this was just my growing up which I was doing just a little too late but witnessing nothing happening to an administration known to be corrupt, ignoring of facts and science and manipulation of the masses happening in the Unites States of America was shaking up by aforementioned belief more than anything else could ever.
And this is what changed on Nov 5. Going through glimpses of election coverage witnessing the fast rise of the Barack Obama – the young and dynamic senator – glaringly exhibiting the anomaly from the predominantly white crowd surrounding him, I started reading up on the long and painful history of this country with racism. From the unbelievable atrocities of the past to the subtle fears of today, where a black neighbor in an affluent neighborhood is still a little uncomfortable irrespective of what accolades he might have achieved. It’s only a matter of an incident for him, often trivial, before the doubts and suspicion could emerge from underneath the forced cover of faith. I am a little too familiar with this phenomenon. I have lived in a country for long where a minority Muslim family will exchange gifts and cordialities, yet I will hear immediately after a terrorist strike far apart on how all of them needed to be extradited to Pakistan. I have been told repeatedly that this prejudice, this generalization and mistrust obscuring human kindness and rationale is the real human nature. Our animal instinct of survival lying within us. And therefore I was convinced that in no way will this country – with still a predominant Caucasian electorate will choose a democratic black candidate as its president. No matter how capable he seemed or promised to be or how frustrated the nation was with the declining economy and long raging wars – the doubt – the underlying, dark, pervasive doubt will prevent them from taking a chance. The ‘good’ will lose again.
But this time, she won. The good which prevailed over the otherwise that I am speaking of, has nothing to do with the ability or achievements of the President elect. After all – that is something which only the future would disclose. But good here was the rustling sounds of people opening their hearts. Of people taking a chance to elect someone different from them in spite of everything within them possibly trying to dissuade them from this decision. The good here signifies the nation of predominantly Caucasians being led by a black president where the former had oppressed the later for decades. I will now wait for equal good to happen one day in my country: of Hindus opening their hearts to a Muslim, trusting to put their fates in his or her hand not only in theoretical Presidential or Prime Ministerial representation, but in reality. Or for the male fundamentalists of RSS brotherhood to elect a ‘westernized’ woman who chooses to openly accept using birth control. Whose posters they have burnt earlier. So Nov 5 and the excitement you have brought, I welcome you with a pounding heart – I will sing all the way to work this morning as today my hope has been rekindled.