When friends ask me why I'm supporting Barack Obama I enjoy saying it's because of his name. As a fellow former black kid with a funny name, I believe there are certain invaluable lessons that one learns while growing up in this country with a "non-traditional" American or Anglo-Saxon name. I would even argue that this experience is instructive in building character because of how it forces a person very early on in life to think critically about his or her relationship with this country. One finds in Obama's speeches and writings decades worth of evidence on the outcomes of his meditations on his relationship with this country -- and what often gets neglected is that his resounding conclusion in all these meditations is that he belongs here. The audacity of Obama's hope is not simply that he wants to play a part in changing the future, but that he wants to play a vital role in changing America's future.
Obama is intelligent enough to be eminently cynical of this nation's capacity to change. Rather than be cynical, Obama has instead opted to be hopeful, a decision that as the recent events surrounding his relationship with his former pastor Jeremiah Wright reveals makes him a curio and a contradiction--but only in the minds of others -- not his own -- and rarely in the minds of African Americans. Black folk know that his campaign would implode were he ever to cross the line not set up by us between empowering and angry. We also know that the longer this campaign goes, the test is not whether he has any skeletons in his closet as Hillary Clinton's recurring claims about being vetted suggests, but rather does he have the intestinal fortitude to withstand what is sure to come his way. Clinton is correct in posing this question and exceptionally shrewd in allowing it to linger in the air throughout this campaign. With so much at stake in this year's campaign and recent history having proven itself so deceptive, democrats have had to go to bed the last eight months worrying about whether Obama is the second coming of Gary Hart or Howard Dean -- and have begun losing sight of the fact that he has thus far proven himself to be neither.
In a political scene dominated by familiar names whether in terms of notable families such as Bush, Clinton or McCain, or, whoever is next to enter the catalog of dubious distinctions, it is the kid with the funny name that seems to be doing the most to make his family proud. Obama's speech in Philadelphia today about race in American politics addressed many of the curious contradictions that have beleaguered this nation in regards to race. Curious contradictions in this nation's fascination with bloodlines prompted Strom Thurmond, and Thomas Jefferson before him, to keep some of their kinfolk in the closet. Meanwhile, in his attempt to disable our preoccupations with facile conversations about race, Obama has persistently made public his families taxing accounting of race and reconciliation.
Curious contradictions declaring that African Americans are free to exhibit dexterity in dance, sport, and style, but not in thought, we are to be pleased with passage of laws professing civil rights but should refrain from pursuing an equal education and other means to ensure these rights, are too often par for the course in this country. Buoyed by the controversy that his association with Reverend Wright finds him in, Obama reiterated that the problems of the color line neither begin nor end with Reverend Wright; they are to be found in this nation's tattered public education and healthcare systems, prisons rolls, and an economy teetering on collapse.
A sermon as much as it was a speech, Obama's address today reminded married together the prevailing elements his campaign: a change is gonna come and the answer our friends is blowin' in the wind.