Second: I am convinced that even if the climate and context into which Obama stepped as president would not have been as difficult, there still would have been incredible expectations on his time in office due largely to the fact that he is the first African American president. The scrutiny that he will face is certainly daunting to contemplate.
In our Anthro of Race and Ethnicity class we have been looking at the fluidity and ambiguity of racial boundaries. We have seen that what began in colonial times as essentialized biological distinctions soon evolved to include categories of race that really did not apply to color of skin or other biological referents. Instead distinctions were made on basis of economic standing, occupation, dress, cleanliness and proper education and upbringing. This was as a result of the fact that the colonial enterprise produced a new racial category through miscegenation – primarily Métis/Mestizo. We have studied how this category has produced fluidity in the definition of racial categories due to how this 'mixed race' attempted to attain either indigenous or 'white' status within society. So the racial boundaries are no longer distinct or essentialized but are open to various cultural factors and these factors can be negotiated to enhance one's standing in the social order.
Mr. Obama is a prime example of this as a person of mixed origin. Much has been made of what his ascendancy to the White House (hmmm interesting term) means for the racial struggle that has marked U.S. history. The inauguration has largely been lauded as positive step against the injustices of racism. (see New York Times; the Examiner ) Most commentaries and editorials have also been quick to point out that racism is far from vanquished. For the most part I agree…
Allow me to center on Obama's inaugural address. Whether you liked it or not there did seem to be some substantive shifts marked by the rhetoric he used. Suggesting the need to curb reliance on foreign oil, working towards peace and stability across the globe – even with former foes, addressing climate change, and addressing the economic woes of his country all seemed to mark a shift toward some promising change.
One thing that seemed a little odd was this line in his speech,
"We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents…"
This comment is stuck in the middle of a focus on terrorism in his speech. Why will America not apologize for its way of life? When Obama refers to "our way of life" he no doubt means those qualities like peaceful and generous and benevolent. When terrorists think of the American "way of life" they no doubt see the greed and arrogance of a consumeristic nation that has exploited foreign people. What Obama is presumably unwaveringly going to defend are qualities that America has yet to demonstrate to it neighbours. Could some apology be warranted? I think so. Could it be that in the days when we celebrate a significant victory over racism we might actually be blind to the far more illusive and insidious ways that our extravagant wealth might be an expression of a type of nationalistic racism? Was it not after all the protection of the European 'way of life' that informed so many of the pegorative attitudes toward indigenous peoples.? This particular aspect of Obama's address does not seem to have gotten much attention (except that John Stewart was able to make comparisons to Bush's speeches that seemed all too familiar). Taken on the whole the speech is able to convey that the new American spirit will be one for which Americans can be proud and will not need to apologize. So we wait and see how the new guy will do. No pressure.