Forgive this mashup of a blog post. I happen to be reading two books at once, Crowdsourcing by Jeff Howe and Dreams of My Father by Barack Obama.
Next Tuesday, I plan to rise early to arrive at the polls to cast my vote. Regular readers of this blog will have no difficulty guessing for whom I plan to vote. Peopleshark strongly endorses Barack Obama. I am certain, that even at an early hour, I will encounter a long line and I am content to stand in that line. I am surprised by my own emotion even as I imagine the scene. Long lines of people lined up to vote for a black man who has a good chance of winning the election.
I mean no disrespect when I say you have to be a black American to fully appreciate the emotion that will accompany victory (or, I shudder, defeat). It will be an emotion as deep as that which ran through the black community when the Simi Valley jury returned the “not guilty” verdict for the police officers who beat down Rodney King, in full view of the camera lens, certain of their impunity. I still remember that day, in April 1992. My black male friends called me, many of them in tears, and in shock at the blatant message sent to them and to the world; the life, dignity and well-being of a black person in this country is meaningless.
The same deep emotion must have run through the community like a virus on the day in April 1968, when Dr. Martin Luther King was killed in Memphis. The black folks of my parents’ generation, having witnessed much progress in the area of race relations, came face-to-face with the cold truth: racism was still alive and thriving.
In Dreams of My Father, Senator Obama, deftly observes the nuances of race relations in this country. He is perfectly perched to observe, in detail, the craziness of it all. With the heart of a writer, the diligence of a scholar and the mind of a lawyer, he lays it all out there. It is no easy discussion, there is no black or white, there is hardly a logical way of resolving the divide. With one white parent and one black parent, with a global perspective, and early exposure to different cultures, religions, languages and philosophies, along with firsthand knowledge of what it is like to be marginalized, Barack Obama’s perspective carries weight.
Should he be elected, he will stand alone in his understanding of the race problem in America.
No matter the outcome, he stands as a living example of one of the most intriguing chapters in Crowdsourcing, the chapter in which Jeff Howe makes the point that the diversity of the crowd – the collective intelligence of amateurs – almost always outperforms the isolated results of experts. Barack Obama is a crowdsourced politician. A Christian with an up-close understanding of Islam. A black man. A white man. African. American. Raised by grandparents with solid Midwestern values. Multi-lingual. Educated in the most elite institutions, exposed to the world’s greatest ideas and literature. Having lived in Hawaii, Indonesia, LA, New York and Chicago, he can attest to the differences and similarities among all people.
So, Nov 4 will be a deeply emotional day for me. An emotion related to – yet vastly different from (I am hopeful) – the Rodney King verdict. When I think of next Tuesday, I am reminded of a gloomy day in college when I opened the mailbox to find a letter with unfamiliar handwriting. The letter was from my Aunt Barbara and Uncle BeBe (my mother’s cousins, whom I knew from family events, but to whom I was not particularly close). The message was simple (we’re thinking of you) and inside was a folded check for $5. “Go out and enjoy a movie” my Aunt Barbara wrote. I cannot think of that letter, even today, some 20-odd years later, without crying like a baby. You see, in their modest way, they were pulling for me, as remote from my life as they were. They were pulling for me. The realization of my dream meant the realization of theirs.