As Barack Obama makes history because of his father's race, the legacy of his other, white, parent yet looms. Will Obama remember his mother's humanist values as he embarks on a presidency that seeks to unite not only Americans, but the world?
Stanley Ann Dunham was, like her President son, a visionary and a person ahead of her times. She quietly lived a life of challenge: overturning taboos, exposing injustices and proving that one person can change the world. Some say Obama could have never won the election if she were still alive -- perhaps her outspoken progressive values would have been problematic as her son carefully constructed an image of himself as a centrist with Midwestern faith and values. But the truth is, he never could have won it without her.
How would Ann have reacted to Barack's historic achievement this week? Those who knew her best describe her as a compassionate yet fiercely independent women -- an individual rife with contradictions such that she could shed a tear in empathy with another just as easily as she would stand up to anyone for her convictions. It seems likely she would have stood on the stage in D.C. with her head held high and a glimmer in her eye as she witnessed her son begin the journey toward serving the world.
"She gave us a very broad understanding of the world," her daughter Maya Soetero-Ng has said. "She hated bigotry. She was very determined to be remembered for a life of service and thought that service was really the true measure of a life."
A native Kansan who learned several languages, including Russian, Urdu, Spanish, Javanese and Bahasa Indonesia, Ann existed outside of the box of traditionalism. It's not just that she married an African - a foreign black man - at a time when even native-born black men were not meant to be with white women, or that she chose to live and raise her children abroad. It's that in every major life decision that she made her motivation was one of progress, intellectual vigor, and internationalism. If the idea of America as an open, advancing, and multicultural society is true, she embodied that to a tee.
As Obama steps up to the pedestal of the American presidency, there is a hope amongst those of us who appreciate Ann Dunham's characteristics, and manifest passion for bridging gaps both national, racial and ideological, that her only son will not only remember her for these valuable traits but will forge an American presidency that actually embraces them.
After Obama's first book Dreams From My Father was published and soon after his mother passed away, he admitted in the new preface to his book that his remarkable mother was worthy of a tome of her own. "I think sometimes that had I known she would not survive her illness, I might have written a different book -- less a meditation on the absent parent, more a celebration of the one who was the single constant in my life."
Barack, don't forget your mother. Her dedication to peace, unity, and justice should keep you anchored should you consider going the way of other recent presidents - both Democrat and Republican - who sometimes used war to force temporary peace and other times ignored the collateral damage of their policies both at home and abroad.
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