Barack Obama is not my president. Yes, I voted for him, and I'm as taken with his eloquence, determination and historic-ness as anyone. But it is too late in my life for me to claim him as my own.
We do not choose the presidents who are truly ours, who shape our lives and our psyches. They are chosen for us, when we are too young to vote, by our parents, our teachers, our bus drivers and the tellers at the bank. Just as our intellects are shaped in our youths, so too, our perspectives on the ruling class. Defining moments come early, holding inordinate sway over all that follows. Mine came in August of 1974, my first moment of political consciousness. I was six years old when Richard Nixon -- my president, the president chosen for me -- dissolved in a sniveling puddle on national television, disgraced. After him came Gerald Ford, who pardoned his predecessor.
It was a gloomy time and it formed in me a belief that our nation's leaders could not be trusted, ever. They were looking out for themselves and for each other. We, the people, came in last. It's a feeling I've never been able to shake, through Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and the Bushes.
Now comes Barack Obama. If ever there was a moment to feel differently, that moment is now. But, much as I want to, I cannot.
I am white. I grew up on Chicago's South Side. I lived in a predominantly black neighborhood and attended an all-black elementary school. Every time I see a photo of Obama from his youth -- a beautiful, smiling boy, full of promise, energy and enthusiasm, I think of my classmates, especially the boys. I think of Kevin, Tommy and Tyrone. Though they were poor, that didn't matter. They were told they could do anything, be anything, and they believed it. "I am going to be somebody," they would say, as if nothing were more certain than that.
But no matter how strong the desire to get there, "somebody" turned out to be a vague destination, with no map, and no sense of how to find it. The obvious path, the only path for many, was a wayward way that led to nothing. Now these beautiful boys are dull-eyed men, struggling to make it from one day to the next. Tyrone has disappeared. Tommy is in and out of prison. Kevin is dead.
On this historic day, when all sense tells me I should be rejoicing, instead I am mourning the loss of these boys' dreams. I'm thinking how little this presidency will mean to them, for their fates were set long ago. The man who moves into the White House in January is no more their president than he is mine.
On Tuesday night my six-year-old son had his first moment of political consciousness, as he watched Barack Obama make his victory speech on national television before a crowd of thousands in Chicago's Grant Park. On Wednesday morning when he woke up, he gazed at the photo of Barack Obama on the front page of the newspaper and let out a cheer. He then took my discarded "I voted" sticker and proudly affixed it to his shirt. Barack Obama is his president. It does not take away my sadness, but it is a start.
Sara Catania teaches journalism at USC is at work on a memoir about growing up on Chicago's South Side.
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