Thursday, July 29, 2004

"The audacity of hope"

I hadn't written before now about Illinois State Senator Barack Obama's keynote address at the Democratic National Convention because I didn't see the speech live on Tuesday night, and am only now getting around to digesting the entire piece.

But wow.

First, it's amazing for the first time in my lifetime to see a prominent politician who "looks like me" — that is to say, a man of biracial heritage. Yes, I know to most of America it's as simple as "he's black" or "he's African American" if you want to get all trendy and culturally hip on me (though in Obama's case the appellation fits, given that his father was from Kenya). But to those growing millions of us who live the biracial (or even triracial -- thank you, Tiger Woods) life, there's more to our identity that that cut-and-dried, all-or-nothing designation.

That aside, I can't help but be impressed with the power of Obama's vision. Perhaps only those of us who know what it's like to have to meld widely disparate elements of subculture and self-image every day truly understand the vital importance of "a belief that we are connected as one people." As Obama pointed out, "There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America." I grok that: my family is a black family and a white family and a biracial family, but it's one family. My country should be that way too. It's wonderful — a mite scary, even — to hear someone saying that who surely must appreciate it as more than a mere political ideal or campaign rhetoric.

The phrase that leapt out of Obama's speech for me was "the audacity of hope." I don't tend to be hopeful about humankind in general because we are what we are and will never change, but at the individual level we must either hope or die. "Hope does not disappoint us," as the apostle wrote, because it impels us onward and gives us reason to face each new day. Sometimes we don't get all that we hope for, but if we never hope, we will never strive, and therefore will never get anything. And yes, it's an audacious concept -- as audacious as the day two bicycle mechanics launched their ungainly Flyer at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, and said, "Hope this works." Maybe the Wrights' machine would have crashed and burned. But they'd have never known had they not hoped enough to try.

I'll forget practically everything that happened at this convention before the weekend. But I'll remember Barack Obama. I hope for his successful future in government — may his tribe increase. And if he's ever in a position to ask for my vote in a national election, I wouldn't be surprised if he got it. I might even have to break my "no bumper stickers" rule for that.

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