I am a fairly frequent reader of David Byrne’s journal/blog. He’s been pretty excited and upbeat and heartened by Barack Obama’s victory in the presidential election. As someone who travels the whole world over, I think his perspectives on the impact of this election on both the United States of America and on the world as a whole are worth noting. Here’s a snippet from his first post after the election. The bit about hoping that this doesn’t result in people suddenly thinking racism is dead in America rings very true to me and they are words to pay close attention to, I think.
As one might expect, much of the rest of the world, even those who traditionally are critical of the US, are heartened and overjoyed at Obama’s victory. It renews their faith in the myth of a country where miracles can happen and where a child of immigrants can be elected president. Not just his person and his history, and what that represents, but his policies and voting record have instantly turned the Empire into a less belligerent and bossy world power and a little more the beacon of democracy, possibility, and equality that is always espoused. There might even be a return of some respect, maybe, though years of work by Bush and his cronies did an amazing job of trashing that around the whole globe. People do want the hope and possibility that the US stands for and sometimes even offers. It’s amazing how so quickly the US might regain that, in the hearts of its own people and of those watching around the world. Yes, we can.
Not to put a sour note on the celebrations, but I can’t help wonder at what will happen to race relations in the US now. I suspect a lot of folks will feel that if a black man can be elected president, from a single parent household and with not a whole lot of connections and help, then why should other black folks deserve help and assistance? There may be a feeling that if Obama can do it, why can’t the rest of you out there pull yourselves up by your own bootstraps? There might be a feeling that, “Hey, how can anyone claim that there is discrimination now? So why are we spending all this money to help folks?”
Well, the US is still largely a racist country that discriminates — that isn’t going to change in one night. But the election definitely does give one hope that most of the country can put that aside and inch a little bit closer to being colorblind. A friend who was going door to door for Obama in Pennsylvania, hitting the houses where the voters were undecided, got into discussions during which many of the white folks claimed to agree with Obama’s positions, but some, mysteriously, just couldn’t take the next step of saying they were going to vote for him. She, the volunteer, suspected it was race that might be holding them back, and carefully pressed them on that point. Some of them admitted that that’s what it was, whereupon she sometimes said, “It’s OK to be racist [or something to that effect] but don’t you want to vote for what’s right for your country? You can still be racist and vote for a better life for yourselves.” Wow, don’t know if I could have pulled that line of reasoning out of a hat! No doubt about it, it’s a huge step that’s been taken. Gives one a little faith in human beings for a change.
His fears are well-founded. People all over the right-wing blogosphere (like here) have now declared that the United States is suddenly, overnight, free from racism. We’ve taken a long stride in the right direction, for sure, but to say we’ve eliminated racism is to ignore the reality that many African Americans and other minority groups experience in this country each and every day: discrimination based solely on their race.
But I’m optimistic now and truly believe that Barack Obama will do an enormous amount to bring about the change in our society that is so desperately needed, both in terms of bringing us out of our racist past and also in terms of holding individuals responsible for their actions. All of us, of all races, need to be responsible for what we do and for the outcomes of the decisions we make. Obama’s rhetoric specifically aimed at young African American men to quit getting girls pregnant out of wedlock and for staying part of their childrens’ lives when they do is every bit as important as his anti-racism words.
I’d also like to heartily recommend the new album by David Byrne and Brian Eno, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today. Here’s a teaser about how the album came to be:
You can download a free song from the album and you can purchase the album itself (hard copy or digital download) HERE. I bought & downloaded the high resolution FLAC files and converted them over to AAC but that’s just ’cause I’m an uber-geek.
The music is fantastic. Fresh and quirky and very groovy, just what you’d expect from David Byrne. My wife and I saw his concert tour last month and had our socks knocked clean off. In addition to performing stuff from this new album, he played TONS of old Talking Heads classics. He also had three performance artists dancing during the whole concert. David Byrne is still the essence of cool even after all these years (the first Talking Heads album was in 1977 – 31 years ago!) The show was positively amazing.
I’m just sayin’…