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Minorities do not share monolithic politics

January 17, 2009|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

During the course of the campaign, people made many assumptions about what I thought about the prospect of Barack Obama, a black man, being elected president.

I had to be a supporter, right?

Only the assumptions weren't drawn because I was born and raised in Illinois, or because 85 percent of my family is from Chicago, or because I met Obama years ago while I was a student at the University of Illinois, or because my college friend, a Chicagoan, worked for him before he ran for president.

The assumptions weren't drawn because my aunt has lived in Hyde Park for years, or because my father and stepmother have an apartment there and attend church blocks away from where Obama lives.

Nope.

The assumptions were derived from my race -- I am black.

Boy, were those assumptions wrong.

The campaign strategy went as I expected, but the outcome was surprising. After all, it was only a few years ago that the idea of a black president was so abstract it was material for comedian Dave Chappelle.

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During the campaign, large groups of society were pitted against one another with the idea they would get fired up enough to duke it out at the ballot box. The usual suspects were matched up -- white-not white; male-female; majority-minority; conservative-liberal; and rich-not rich.

The assumption was black people would support Obama because he was black. White people would pick the white person -- white, Republican or both. I was supposed to be in a real dilemma, torn between choosing a black male or a white woman for president.

Again, the folly of assumption was proven.

The result of this election should serve to caution all of those people who make blanket assumptions. Though minorities have elements of a shared culture, they aren't monolithic groups and shouldn't be thought of that way.

In my family, even with our ties to Illinois and Chicago, we are politically stratified. It was interesting listening to my family members -- sometimes Democrats and Republicans living in the same household -- debate with each other during the election.

But we all could agree that this election was the big "so there" to all the people who doubted us because we are black, spewed a racial slur because we are black or made assumptions about us because we are black.

It's kind of like one of my favorite poems, "I, Too, Sing America," by Langston Hughes.

The poem's narrator, the "darker brother," proclaims "I, too, sing America" though he is treated as less than American. The narrator in the end is optimistic that one day, things will be different, or as the poem goes, "Besides,/They'll see how beautiful I am/And be ashamed--/ " and in the end says, "I, too, am America."

Perhaps that moment has arrived.

Martin Luther King Jr. expressed similar optimism in his "I Have a Dream" speech. One can only guess at what King would think or say today if he were alive to see a black man as president.

King's dream is steps closer to becoming reality -- America is preparing to swear in its first black president Tuesday. I plan to be among the millions of Americans in Washington, D.C., to witness history.

Some might say I am planning to attend the inauguration because I am black, and they would be right. But it is one of many reasons I will be there.

Tiffany Arnold is a Lifestyle reporter for The Herald-Mail. She can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2342, or by e-mail at tiffanya@herald-mail.com. On Tuesday, she plans to send video dispatches from Washington to The Herald-Mail online at www.herald-mail.com.

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