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A Politics of Empathy

“That sound you hear is the last wheezing gasp of boomer-age politics, the cataloging of individuals according to their areas of oppression, the endless process of tallying cultural differences rather than aggregating common objectives,” writes Matt Bai in his New York Times Magazine article from January 18th, 2009.

2002 morning of the conquest
2002 morning of the conquest

Of course, he is talking about Barack Obama’s politics of change, our first black, white, American, Kenyan, mixed race president. Bai is right, if not a bit dramatic, about the end of boomer politics. Post-boomer generations, many young adults and our children view the color world differently. My stepson has an innocent nature that is endearing and worrisome at the same time, and when asked about who Obama was, he rotely replied, “He’s the first African-American president.” When questioned further, “do you know what African-American means?” “No,” was the honest reply.
I am Korean, but my children are biracial, putting me in a gray area of racism and politics. Like Obama, I felt the sting of soft racism growing up, the references to Asian names, movies and facial features that were always casual but slightly mocking. But I don’t think I’ve ever felt the harsher slap of discrimination, benefiting perhaps from a stereotype of Asians as hardworking, industrious and “good at math.” And I doubt that my children will undergo the same torturous road to identity that I or Obama did.
In his book Dreams From My Father, Obama seeks out his identity, feeling abandoned by his father, teetering between two worlds. He discovers that his questions about himself can be answered by a faith in humanity, an idealism born of empathy and human connections, and even connections to all aspects of the world. He writes, “They both disturbed and comforted me, those trees that looked as if they might uproot themselves and simply walk away, were it not for the knowledge that on this earth one place is not so different from another—the knowledge that one moment carries within it all that’s gone on before.” And partly, this message of connectedness helped him win the presidency. As we watched the battle between John McCain and Obama unfurl, McCain proved less and less relatable and became the butt of many “out of touch” jokes. But Obama’s faith in humanity will be tested in the hard and labyrinthine world of Washington politics.

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