Hair and Today’s Presidential Election

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(Reblogged from here) In her response to my email request, my friend Jean sent me (among many other lovely things to be featured later) this photo and response:

“Even though I’d seen it many times before, when we got to this photo in the White House West Wing tour, I started crying. My tour guide told me that although most of the photos hanging around the White House get changed out every couple weeks, this one has been there ever since it was first taken and put up because the President loves it so much. I really can’t even put into words what I feel when I look at this photo, but I think you understand without my having to.”

When I see this photo — and I’ve returned to it many times since the first time I came across it — I’m reminded of why Obama’s “Hope” slogan struck such a chord with me four years ago. And for those people who think his promises have gone unfulfilled, I challenge you to look at this photo and ignore the myriad opportunities and dreams that have sprung from the mere presence of Barack Obama and his family living in the White House. While I’m critical of many of Obama’s policies, his election represented a larger shift for me that is most viscerally reflected in this photo. For many people of color who grow up thinking that their place among the social hierarchy is relegated to a silent/invisible intellectual (at best) or a rapper (at best), Obama’s election cracked open a whole other world of possibilities as he became the mirror for children of color’s ambition.

Though I believe in the freedom of choice, I also believe that a person’s degree of “choice” is readily dictated by the people elected to represent them. Living in Washington D.C. this year, I regularly watched old, White, potentially well-meaning congressmen talk about the useless and ineffective nature of social welfare programs like food stamps (despite the program having the lowest error rate of any Federal program). Perhaps these men read a pamphlet on poverty? Perhaps they’d been briefed on recent poverty statistics? Maybe they’d even at one point been a child in a struggling family.

My point being, I don’t want someone representing me that’s fed talking points by a 22 year old intern whose summer is being bankrolled by her parents, or that’s simply trying to realign the economy by slashing spending in an attempt to buttress their Republican fortitude. I want someone representing me that knows what it’s like to identify with the texture of their own hair because they’ve simply been stripped of everything else; or someone that relies on intellect and sheer force of values and courage to lead and not pander; or someone that stops to let a child touch their head because they understand the gesture of relating in an honest way. It may sound silly or oversimplified to some of you but, as Jean said, I think many of you will understand without me really having to explain.

Please go vote tomorrow. If for nothing else than to practice what it feels like to assert yourself in the world.