While I’m still celebrating the election results — and don’t plan to stop until just before Thanksgiving — there is one sobering thing: Despite the knockout punch in terms of electoral votes, with a projected 365 for Barack Obama to 173 for John McCain, the popular vote was something like 53 percent for Obama and 46 percent for McCain. Given the work of the GOP over the past eight years, that’s a lot closer than it should have been.
Journalists and pundits have already spent a lot of time discussing those who voted for McCain not because they thought he was a better candidate but because Obama is “not like us.” So I’m not going to talk about those voters.
At least, not the white ones.
I’ve noticed a growing murmur of discontent among a small but vocal segment of the African-American population: people who aren’t all that jazzed about the idea of President Obama because he’s not “the best” the nation could have produced for a black president.
I’m sure a lot of these naysayers actually did vote for Obama because the alternative was just too horrifying, but they don’t seem all that excited by the historic win that puts a non-white face into the pantheon of American presidents for the first time. That’s because, for them, Obama lacks a pedigree. He didn’t come from some established black family. He isn’t “special” enough. He is too “common” and so, by the way, is his wife.
Wow. Just, wow.
It’s not as if we haven’t heard and seen this kind of thing before, but it’s usually the battle between different types of rich white folks: the old money vs. the new money. “Old money” are those people who were born into wealth, and are typically several generations removed from the last time their relatives had to worry about how to pay the bills. “New money” are those who made their riches more recently, often through innovative ideas or hard work, or their children, who are the first generation to be raised around all that money.
Old money folks have tended to look down on new money folks, considering them crass, crude, and less important.
That’s funny, because that means that people who were born to privilege through no effort of their own often feel superior to people who actually came from lesser circumstances and became wealthy by being talented, dedicated, and relentless. Seems to me the new money people are the ones who are more special.
This is the same thing I am seeing among the small percentage of bitter black folks who are in the upper social echelons and are mourning that a “better” black man couldn’t have run for president and won. Barack and Michelle Obama are actually demeaned because they “merely” worked their ways from the working class into positions of elite education and professional success — instead of having the sense to be born into privilege.
Barack Obama pulled himself up by his bootstraps, which is what most people consider to be part of the “American Dream,” to not only end up at Harvard, but become president of the Harvard Law Review. He’s a constitutional-law scholar who has been a state legislator, a US senator, and has now earned the title president-elect. He inspires people, of all colors, to hope for something better. He is a success story.
But somehow, that isn’t good enough. Who would be? Lawrence Otis Graham? A clone of Frederick Douglass?
I’ll take the guy who knows what it’s like at the “lesser” end as well as in the middle, but who aspired to the top, thank you very much.
Shay Stewart-Bouley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.