Sunday, March 07, 2010

Black, white, light-skinned and gray

Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.
- Mohandas Gandhi
I won't deny that I feel an odd kinship with Barack Obama. I wouldn't feel comfortable calling it admiration or even well-wishing. I just see him as a foreshadowing of my own life, a possible sign of things to come. I feel like I know exactly where he's coming from and I can't think of a public figure that has more similitude of temperament and perspective to me. Half white, half black. Light-skinned. Growing up almost everyone assumed I was mixed upon meeting me. It's obvious that he thinks so much that he defies simple quantification - never a good quality in a politician, a being of platitudes and sound bites. I can sense just looking at him how out of place he must have felt for so long. He didn't have a father. I did. He experimented with drugs. I didn't. I think growing up, I would have been brighter that him, but he had a better work ethic - shined at university - whereas I didn't. He was lost earlier than me, found himself earlier than I. Wanted to change the system, from the ground up, from the top-down. Found a girl that wanted to change the world with him.

But I can feel the isolation within the man; the natural tendency towards moderation, deliberation. I can see him sitting in a class at 13, not looking like anyone around him, not talking like anyone around him, wondering where his place was. I never looked like anyone in my class but it never fazed me. I had a direction and the rest was just the minutiae that I was passing through. It was only later, when I actually questioned the path, that I began to notice that I never had any black friends, no sense of community past my parents. I thought back to the opportunities I had and realized - I talked differently, I walked differently and behaved differently. And they noticed. My grandma noticed. "You ain' no Trini, you a Caanaadian - go so!" she said. Was I always too bright for black people and too dark for everyone else? I think maybe I was. And I think growing up I didn't notice or didn't care because I had a destination.

Obama didn't have a destination. He was always searching, wandering. He noticed from young his 'otherness', his 'outsideness'. And it shows, because he wants it both ways. He wants to be both sides. He wants to create/impose outward consensus for his country as he has found inward cohesion for himself. To him optimism isn't the opposite of pragmatism, optimism is pragmatic. I thought that way for so long...


Obviously there's another way where I feel this kinship to Obama, namely the 'hard part'. The actuality of rationality -- getting things done. I would like to say simply that we have only ourselves to blame. That if he were a better politician and I, a better student, he would have healthcare for everyone and I could deliver healthcare to anyone. That he would put his country's unsustainable, short-sighted finances on track and I could share my natural aptitudes with my patients and the world. But there is a sinking suspicion within me of late that this isn't the whole picture. That in taking full responsibility, neither I nor he is being honest.

If Americans wanted, really wanted, to be fiscally responsible, they would have healthcare. If a med school was half-inclined to consider that a "C" student could be a natural physician, I could be a doctor. But Americans don't believe they need healthcare and med schools don't believe "C" students should be doctors and I'm at the point where I'm just like, "Hey, give the fucking people what they want." They don't want healthcare, why should Obama care? He has skills, abilities, a brain in his head. His family will be able to afford premiums when entitlement programs represent 100% of the federal budget, even if 90% of Americans and the vast majority of those trying to kill reform won't. Nobody wants "C" students being doctors? I'm sure I'll find another way to help people, why fight the world? Why try to convince people that can't imagine, that refuse to believe? Why break you ass for people who don't know any better and don't care, when you do? Obama and I will both land on our feet.

And in this do I think we truly differ. I have another suspicion...that Obama would rather go down in flames convincing people that he's right rather than simply accepting that their wrong. Is it pride, or conviction? I think he could easily say to hell with second term. He has faith in the hard part; he has faith that breaking his ass will pay off. He's an optimist. And I don't have that faith, not really. I have neither pride nor conviction. I feel that swimming against the current just leaves you tired, that yelling into the wind just leaves your voice hoarse, that it makes more sense to be flexible in an inflexible world than to try and bend an inflexible world to your wishes. I'm feeling pragmatic. But who knows? We'll see where both our paths lead.