President Obama President Obama President Obama President Obama

January 21, 2009 at 12:52 am 5 comments

I just like hearing, reading, thinking and saying that phrase.

44th US president

44th US president

I got up this morning to watch the inauguration today at 9am PST and I have to say that it was a pretty fun experience. Our new leader looked very presidential in his black suit and red tie, alternating between smiling and furrowed-brow seriousness. He also mixed in an occasional laugh, most notably during his sweaing-in when he and Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts got tangled up in the wording of the oath, and even threw down an “Amen!” during Rev. Joseph Lowery‘s benediction.

As fantastic as this was to watch, tears for me came not during Obama’s swearing-in per se, but during two quick cutaways during the proceedings. The first was a shot of Rep. John Lewis from Georgia, the veteran civil rights activist whose skull was fractured by Alabama State Troopers on the bridge in Selma in 1965 and whose endorsement of Obama during the Democratic primary was a turning point in the campaign. The second was a brief reaction shot of a teary-eyed, anonymous elderly African American woman watching the ceremony from Memphis, TN. Both Rep. Lewis and the elderly woman personally knew the pain of living as second-class citizens in their own country, whose oppression was based solely on the color of their skin. And both had lived to see this historic day, when an African American was sworn in as President of the United States.

My two daughters watched the inauguration with me and when I explained to my 8-year-old that at one time African Americans (and by extension other people of color) were legally discriminated against based solely on their race, she could hardly believe me.  It was incredible to her that someone at some time in this country had to use different bathrooms and drinking fountains and were forbidden to eat in restaurants and ride in the front of the bus because they weren’t white, and that this had been sanctioned by law. My daughter’s innocent disbelief, together with the moment I saw Rep. Lewis and his unnamed compatriot in Memphis on television, made me realize what a a great abyss we as a country had crossed today. Not that we’ve reached the promised land by any means, but it somehow seems a bit closer than it did just a little while ago.

Konrad Ng & Maya Soetero Ng, The First In-Laws

Konrad Ng & Maya Soetero Ng, The First In-Laws

Note: It was nice to see some diversity in the television coverage of the inauguration today, in crowd shots on the street in D.C. and across the country. It was also fun to see Asian Americans represented in the First Family, with both Maya Soetoro-Ng, Obama’s half-sister, and her husband Konrad Ng sitting directly behind the new President. Cute couple–

UPDATE: Check out Danny Plotnick’s great review of the pre-inauguration party at the Lincoln Memorial that featured Stevie Wonder, Bruuuce Springstein, Beyonce, and Pete Seeger, especially his dish of the bombastic Bono.

UPDATE  2: Jay Z’s got a special version of Young Jeezy’s “My President Is Black” that he freestyled at an inauguration afterparty in DC. Looking for the full lyrics online–here’s a sample:

“My president is black, in fact he’s half white/So even in a racist mind he’s half right/If you’ve got a racist mind it’s alright/My president is black, but his house is all white!”

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Entry filed under: civil rights, politics, president obama, Uncategorized. Tags: , , , , , , .

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Dana Nelson  |  January 22, 2009 at 7:00 pm

    Right on sister Valerie!! Being at the Civic Center with my biracial children, them not even fully understanding the enormity of the situation is testament to how far we have come!! Their eyes just glaze over with confusion when I explain to them that some years ago it was illegal for me and their African American father to marry…

    Reply
  • 2. valeriesoe  |  January 22, 2009 at 11:58 pm

    Hi Dana,

    Isn’t it wonderful that ideas like segregation can seem so absurd to our children? Hope for a better world, perhaps.

    v.

    Reply
  • 3. molly cox  |  January 23, 2009 at 8:19 pm

    Hi Valerie, Nicely written! Great sentiments. Fresh Air on NPR interviewed John Lewis the day before the Inauguration and he spoke about the Selma voting march and talked about being seriously injured by police. He talked about the very issues you bring up and with great eloquence. Thanks for pointing out the Asian American couple and giving them a name. I had looked for such signs and clues in the coverage but found none. My own impression of the coverage was, yes, that it was inclusive, decidedly focused upon people, people, people – and, unlike, as Democratic inaugurations and presidency’s often come off, the slick, mafiosa shots of Republican presidencies – all dark suits and closed limos.

    It was a truly great day – I felt proud to be an American again – and felt a relief that some of the tired shell of cynicism with which I had become gagged and encumbered was, indeed, sloughing off. I called my mother who at age 8 was told by my racist grandmother that she was not allowed to play with her friend, from school because she was a ‘blackie’ and who, in her own adult life, after gaining a Masters Degree in Education at Temple Uni, taught mathematics and other subjects to Philadelphia’s inner city poor, black children. I’ve also been explaining race to my son – who asked me if his Dad and I and he were ‘white’ and who has been cheering on Obama and has been with me for the election and for the inauguration.

    We have come a long way. One of my favorite things about Obama, besides that he’s cute and clever and more progressive, is that his very presence – like you say, in the ‘white house’ seems to be blowing away the customary camera views which even FOX and CNN and so forth – have used to habitually describe the dominant surface of whitedom in power. They can’t – they have to figure out something new…its fantastic!

    Great article.Sorry to go on so long.

    Molly Hankwitz (Cox)

    Reply
  • 4. valeriesoe  |  January 23, 2009 at 11:40 pm

    “cute and clever and more progressive” lol

    Reply
  • [...] asiansartmuseum’s parody website Lord, It’s The Samurai, the late Pinoy poet Al Robles, and President Obama’s brother-in-law Konrad Ng. Good friends Edison Chen & Bobo Chun, naked, [...]

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