Presidency about modern American dream


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Category: International 19 Oct 08


When I first walked the streets of New York as a teenager, I felt I was in the movies. The Manhattan skyline, the snobbish shop girls, the beautifully displayed stuff, wide roads, shoes, handbags, clothes, furniture, furs and the big cars. Everything was so shiny. And I was the star.

What do you expect? I was 16. But I could never keep up that fantasy for long. I felt different then.

Stars were blonde, blue-eyed, had an American accent, and an easy sense of taking over their space. Coloured, brown, Indian, Pakistani, the way I felt perceived. I felt self-conscious buying an ice cream. Agonised in embarrassment over my mother’s sari and shawl (so different, so NOT normal), my father’s strong Indian accent. I tried to fit in by wearing jeans and chewing gum.

This morning on my way to the news stand, I came across a man sitting on the road with a sign “I am a homeless, hungry white American.” That made me pay attention to how much has changed since I was a teenager.

He was trying to stand out in an increasingly colour-blind generation.

I haven’t felt “coloured” for years. Because this new America virtually belongs to immigrants. I walk past Asian faces, rounded Latinos, tall Africans. All Americans.

The people in coffee shops, restaurants, shops, speculate about me the way I do with them. It’s the new way to meet people.

“What are you?” they ask and you ask when it’s not absolutely obvious. Arab, Bangladeshi, Yemenite Jew, Indian, Pakistani, Spanish, Kenyan, West Indian, Eastern European, Cuban?

The Russian hairdresser came for better money and to get away from Siberian winters.

There is the North Indian family with the tiny, cheap restaurant where the wife stands cooking all day, husband stands on the till and the nieces and daughters serve so they can send dollars home.

The waitress from Barcelona just finds it less “stressful” economically.

The Italian hairdresser said there was too much political upheaval in his country.

They may as well have a sign on their heads saying “It’s about the economics, stupid.”

They don’t look entirely happy—homesickness emanates from their skins—but they do look like they’ve escaped something worse and many take an enormous pride in being citizens. They take pleasure in rolling the words American, like a rich Godiva chocolate.

The faces on the streets have shifted from white to every shade of human skin driving the dream of the civil rights movement to benefit non-white immigrants worldwide, by creating an increasingly colour-blind American dream.

Enter into this scenario Barack Obama, a black man with an African father, and a Muslim name. Initially his opponent John McCain, perhaps relying on the incredulity that many feel at the possibility of a black president, perhaps because he too is genuinely colour blind (he has an adopted Bangladeshi daughter), was gracious.

He told off racist small-town white Americans (the type Ms Palin seems to love. Doggone it) who called Barack an “Arab.” But then the stock market went and collapsed, and Wall Street’s voracious greed burst the financial bubble of America (living off credit, an unbelievable debt of US$465 billion, mortgaging their bonds to the Chinese to buy oil from the Saudis), which had a domino effect from Europe to India.

Thousands lost jobs, life savings, businesses, homes, overnight. A great depression trumpeted itself. Fears of crime rose. I see it on the increasingly dirty streets, the shut shops, the desperate look on shopkeepers’ faces, the empty stores.

Obama’s response was to unveil a financial plan, keep his steely eye on the ball, away from responding to personal attacks to the average “hurting” American people.

The worse the news got, the less important race became, the better Obama did in the polls. The McCain/Palin camp in its desperation got uglier, calling out the blood hounds, not only implying that Obama was not American, but that he was an Anti-American, worse, a Muslim associated with terrorists.

It backfired. McCain fell further in the polls. The Americans couldn’t afford to be racist.

After this last debate, with McCain looking at times like he was about to explode with rage or have a heart attack, and Obama remaining steely, eye on the economy, on the people, one foot in firmly in the White House, not blinking at being personally attacked, shows more than ever that the presidency will be about keeping this updated American dream intact, not American prejudice.

And when he walks in with his sweet sweet smile into the White House in a couple of weeks, people worldwide will feel they are witnessing the rise of a phoenix out of the ashes of the world’s most powerful country sinking into depression and taking the rest of the globe down with it.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur