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Election Night: Obama!I’ve mostly avoided politics in this blog. Anyone who knows me can guess how hard that’s been; I’m a political animal, and I’ve been following this year’s presidential race with obsessive focus.* I have opinions-great big emphatic ones-on nearly every campaign issue. But this is a mommy blog, and while motherhood is a great unifier, politics most assuredly isn’t.

Today, though, I’m going to violate my own self-imposed ban to discuss what this election means to me as a mother and as a grand-child of immigrants. As I write this, the electoral map is filling in on the major networks, all but one or two of the nation’s polls have closed, and the networks have just announced that Barack Hussein (that middle name is nothing to be ashamed of) Obama, “Umuma” as Simon calls him, will be our nation’s 44th president and the first of African ancestry.

What can you say in the face of such an occasion? Many a pundit has or is no doubt grappling with this question right now, feeling the pressure to be especially eloquent in the face of a paradigm shift in America. My unsolicited advice to them is to try not to speak for others; they do so better than you could yourself. Wondering what this feels like for African Americans whose ancestors were slaves or Jim Crowed out of the full promise of America? Read this article in the Austin Statesman, about Amanda Jones, a 109-year-old woman whose father spent his first 12 years enslaved. She’ll tell you what it feels like. But you better grab a hankie first.

I think it far better to simply state what it means for you. I am a mother (duh!) and the granddaughter of immigrants. As a second-generation American growing up in the nation home to the world’s largest Jewish population, I have not had to struggle for my place at the American table. That table was set for me by my parents, who put up with some hurtful speech growing up; my grandparents, who grew up surrounded by overt anti-Semitism; and my great-grandparents, who fled pogroms in Eastern Europe, giving up all they knew and had in exchange for a shot at the American dream.

Owing to this personal history, I count an appreciation for struggle and identification with the disenfranchised as part of my genetic inheritance. Nor can my beliefs be categorized simply as sympathy for the downtrodden. I believe in my heart of hearts that institutional racism doesn’t just hurt minorities, even if it hurts them the most cruelly and the most directly. It hurts and lessens us all. The lessons we try to teach our children about hard work and accomplishment are undermined when one race is favored over another. When a portion of the population is deprived of the chance to reach its full potential, all of us miss out on the contributions from people who could have been the great artists, great leaders, and great scientists of their day.

So when I think of the momentous occasion going on tonight, I think of the likes of modern-day heroes Thurgood Marshall and Barbara Jordan, for sure, but I also think of the America that my ancestors dreamed of and the world my son and will grow up in. It is emblematic of this election that my 99-year old Great Uncle Dave, an immigrant from Eastern Europe, went to the polls to vote for a man whose biracial heritage mirrors that of his great-granddaughter (and Simon’s third cousin).

Because the thing is, while Obama’s campaign has mostly played down the race issue and operated as though we live in an enlightened, post-racial America, the simple fact is we don’t. And yet, in a way, an Obama victory makes this assertion if not exactly true, at least a little closer to the truth than we have ever been before. This isn’t my victory to celebrate, and Obama’s race did not factor into my vote. I voted for him on the merits of his intelligence, his temperament, and his platform. But his race certainly is significant in terms of American history, and I imagine tonight an entire people must be exhaling, cheering, and weeping as the results pour in.

For me, tonight is about the realization that my child will grow up in an America that’s a little more open, a little more color-blind, and a little more just than the one I did. Isn’t that what we all want for our kids? Wasn’t that the hope of every generation before me? Jewish Americans have had a comfortable seat at the American table for a generation. Tonight is a huge step towards African Americans getting theirs. And my most fervent wish is that one day in the future, Simon will study this election in school and have trouble understanding what the big deal was.

*For anyone curious, I’ve enjoyed and gotten good news and analysis from The New York Times, The Economist, The Atlantic Monthly, Harpers, Salon, Talking Points Memo, Fire Dog Lake, Slate, Hullabaloo, Electoral-Vote.com, Fivethirtyeight.com, Real Clear Politics, NPR, and the BBC. Yes, this does slant to the left. However, I also assiduously read-and gulped hard over-Charles Krauthammer, Kathleen Parker, David Brooks (give it up, David, you are an intellectual Canadian Jew and that’s OK), and George Will (who should be ashamed of himself for his comments after Colin Powell’s endorsement). Special props to Ralph Stanley and Junior Johnson for endorsements that put a smile on my face and defied the easy stereotyping of Southern Americans. And shame, shame, shame on Bill Kristol who never passed up an opportunity to take the low road in the Times.

One Response to ““Umuma””

  1. blg says:

    Umumu – Our friend, Donna Gollmer’s daughter asked her if she was “rooting” for Rocky Bama.

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