How will I respond to Obama?

By Guest Columnist Nov 11, 2008

By Stephanie Greenlea, Guest Contributor As a graduate student I had countless offers to attend campus election return parties, but I chose to spend last Tuesday with a different cloud of witnesses. My ancestors, who fought and prayed and compelled me to take on the scholar-activist work I love, haunted me hard on election night. They asked, "Stephanie, how are you going to respond to this?" Though moved by the election, my real response is movement. White supremacy has shape-shifted countless times since the dawn of race as a marker of human difference, and this moment is no different. The folk on the short end of that stick have always found a language with which to name and resist it. This election is historic, yes, but that resistance is the sole site of possibility from which springs my joy. I’m thankfully haunted by my foreparents to follow in their righteous tradition, awash in the spirit of fighting which animated and defended the everyday heroes that preceded us. People like me just have to get smarter, more sophisticated and more determined. We will think harder, look more closely, and fight more relentlessly. We, like the structures that oppress, must change in order to stay the same. We reposition ourselves in new climates, move swiftly and decisively to seize their inconsistencies and weaknesses, and keep doing what we always do: speak truth, get justice. A friend asked me if Obama knows he will make multicultural white supremacy work. It doesn’t, and won’t, matter whether Obama is consciously agentic in this enterprise. He is an agent who will kill people intentionally and unintentionally, physically and metaphysically, through political choices proximately and distally causal. He is an agent of a state which demands, of course, that most of those folk be Black, Brown and poor. People like me hope that he will kill less people (or in Dylan Rodriguez’s terms, leave less people for dead) than Bush or McCain, but even his choice of Chief of Staff makes those hopes bold, indeed. So, I ain’t studyin’ Obama, really, because that’s not the question my own dead grandmamas and granddaddies asked me last Tuesday. They put the only question that matters on the table. How will I respond to this? I remain an agent that refuses to let white supremacy work by fighting for a world that yields life indiscriminately. Stephanie Greenlea is a Ph.D. student African American Studies and Sociology. She organizes in and for New Haven, Connecticut.