Friday, November 7, 2008

What Obama's Win Means to Non-Minorities

As ecstatic as I am about Obama's win, I wish I could experience it as a minority. It must be just overwhelming.

I've never known what it feels like to be marginalized. During my entire childhood, my parents repeatedly told me I could be whatever I wanted to be when I grew up (with hard work of course) and I believed them. The only barrier that ever stood in my way was myself- could I do well on my LSAT, could I get good grades, could I work hard enough for something I wanted. I never once thought that I couldn't do something just because of how I looked. Until I moved to Chicago for college, I didn't know that people of other races were still experiencing prejudice on a daily basis. I've been privileged my entire life.

My baby is a quarter Filipino but he doesn't look it. He has a boring, familiar last name. He will likely never experience marginalization either. While we are very lucky, I hope we can someday understand the experiences of others in our country who fight for equal treatment everyday.

Hearing my friends of other races talk about Obama's win. I felt a little left out at first. As if I could never fully grasp the importance of his win among minorities because I was not a minority. That I couldn't be as excited because of my white privileged background. That my excitement for Obama might appear shallow to those who have experienced prejudice. While some of this might be true, I realized that it was silly to dwell on. I realized I was drawing an "us" and "them" distinction in my mind and going against all that Obama stands for. He hated that people focused so much on his race and ethnicity.

I understand now that Obama is a win for all of us. We should be excited that another barrier has been broken. For those who never thought they could, Obama's win says "yes you can." For those who grew up experiencing no prejudicial barriers, Obama's win is a challenge to eradicate the prejudice that still remains and help us break free from what is left of the backward social thinking that causes us to fear those that are different from us. His win shows us a glimpse of what the nation could look like if we make the American dream a reality.


FSD said...

I have nothing profound to add, but I just wanted to say it's so great to have you back! :- ) I was getting worried when you hadn't posted in awhile.

Butterflyfish said...


je said...

interesting post! i was struck, while reading, that you do not identify yourself as a minority even though you are a woman. i know that women are not "technically" minorities and i, like you, was raised in an encouraging environment in which i never saw my gender as a barrier to anything. but i feel like substantial prejudicial, if not oppressive, treatment of women in this country (and world); and sometimes i am surprised to be reminded how recently so many of the rights we now enjoy were granted to us. so, i'd say you should go ahead and celebrate obama's victory as a minority anyway!

CM said...

Responding to je, women do NOT share the same experience as ethnic minorities. I'm not saying that women are treated on an absolutely egalitarian basis, but in 2008 in America, women experience significantly less discrimination. I think of it this way:
women < non-black ethnic minorities < African-Americans (in a way) < gays

With women, we're concerned about equal pay and about equal numbers of women in high-profile jobs. With ethnic minorities, depending on the minority, we're concerned about basic tolerance. With African-Americans, we're concerned about widespread poverty issues ultimately caused by slavery and lingering racism. With gay people, we're concerned about not having them commit suicide while they're teenagers.

We have made progress in equality for all of these groups, and we still have a ways to go for each. But that doesn't mean they're all the same.

Cee, I know you just talked about "us" versus "them" distinctions and how we should get past those! I do think we should all recognize, though, that people in this country have very different experiences depending on who we are. We have to understand what all those experiences are like before we can really begin to come together as a nation. (In particular, I think the black experience is unique and that it's very difficult to understand the level of racism black people face in daily life if you are not black.)

Anyway, I went off on this whole thing when, after reading your post, I just wanted to say that I thought it was perceptive.

je said...

@cm - i agree, being a woman is not the same experience as being of an ethnic minority. being a male of an ethnic minority is not the same experience as being a female of an ethnic minority. i certainly don't think all minorities have the same experiences, just pointing out that women have historically experienced (and in many places in the world today continue to experience) suppressed rights, which US citizen women are lucky to have largely overcome. even so, we should never take for granted the fact that we (as women) had to fight for, among other things, the right to vote, to own property, to hold jobs, to be treated as equals to men, to be viewed as more than child-like or emotionally frail, to choose divorce, to co-habitate, etc. and i say this as a woman who is also an ethnic minority. just sayin, i am often guilty of overlooking these things.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, CM - I see your point, but I also think lots of people think discrimination against women is legitimate in a way that discrimination against ethnic minorities is not, because gender differences are "real" while skin color is not. Also, many women have to worry about domestic violence, poverty, and single parenthood in ways that men do not. I think being a high socio-economic-status woman in America is pretty good, but that doesn't mena that low-income women don't face unique gender-based problems. Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

(that last comment was from me)