On Nov. 4, 2008, I stood with my father and brother, hand over hand in a small booth and pulled the lever to cast our vote for Barack Hussein Obama. There we were, three black men, exercising a privilege that our ancestors had fought and died for, to cast a vote for the man who would become the first black president of the United States. I spent Nov. 5 walking around a smiling fool, giddy and hopeful for a future where the sky was the limit because we’d broken one of the harshest glass ceilings in our country’s history.
Four years later, my smile is decidedly gone — as is a lot of my hope.
As someone whose political consciousness has grown at a radical rate this quarter, I largely denounce the economic and political ideology that this “great nation” is built upon and currently employs. I think the corporate-sponsored two-party system cheats Americans out of policies and political representation that would lead to a fairer society for everyone — but especially for the poor and brown folk.
And tomorrow — on Nov. 6, when I cast a presidential vote for the first time on my own — I will not be voting for Barack Obama.
The future safety and success of our nation depends on building an accord with our global family and on addressing internal strife — primarily along lines of class inequality and racism.
Both candidates and their policies ultimately fail us on these lines, but especially Barack Obama, whose intelligence, eloquence and insight on racial injustice do not yield us a fundamentally different outcome than his primary challenger, whom many might say lacks all three characteristics.
“Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries,” President Obama said in March 2011, discussing intervention in Libya with the rest of the democratic world. “The United States of America is different. Wherever people long to be free, they will find a friend in the United States.”
Not only has Obama as president of the United States ignored atrocities in other countries as people cried for freedom, but he has also either perpetrated or been silently complicit in some of the larger atrocities to face our generation.
As researchers from Stanford and NYU Law showed this fall, the policy of unmanned drone attacks that President Obama inherited from his predecessor terrorize Pakistani civilians on a daily basis.
Not only do the drones (the legality of which is still unclear) terrorize people on whom the United States has not declared war, they have also caused an unacceptable number of civilian deaths: Between June 2004 and September 2012, 474 to 881 of Pakistanis killed by drone attacks were civilians; 176 were children.
For a Nobel Peace Prize winner who’s spent so long lambasting the unconstitutional extensions of executive power that his predecessor utilized, Obama seems to be following in many of his predecessor’s footsteps.
And on “terror,” Obama seems to have his hands tied trying to fight bands of terrorism in some areas while letting the source of much Islamic fundamentalism go quietly unchecked in others.
I’m talking about Saudi Arabia, one of (if not the) biggest ally we have in the Middle East, which is also one of the most fundamentalist Islamic states — notably more so than Iran.
Yet, because of Saudi Arabia’s strategic importance to American interests, we allow them to propagate the same human rights violations that we criticize Iran for — even though Saudi Arabia commits them to worse degrees.
If American interests were truly about combating terrorism and/or injustice, we’d have to hold this ally accountable. Because we don’t, all sorts of questions are raised about the motivations behind where and how this country decides to fight terrorism and where its interests actually lie.
Harkening back to the president’s comments on being friends of people longing to be free, we must also consider the largely silent tale of the 2011 Bahraini protests — which Saudi Arabia and other Gulf allies played an important role in suppressing.
Political dissidents, protesting footballers and even the doctors who treated those injured, tortured or killed by state-sponsored bullets, beatings and tear gas were imprisoned.
The Bahraini repression of its people’s secular revolution was not an isolated incident. Members of the Gulf Cooperation Council — a political and economic union of six Gulf states — provided security forces to quash the uprising. Arab revolutions were okay in North Africa, but not anywhere near the oil fields that provide so much political immunity to the Gulf region and wealth to the world. The United States Navy maintains its “Fifth Fleet” in Bahrain — which oversees naval operations in the Arab Peninsula and East Africa — at the permission of the ruling Bahraini government.
Our president’s words are laughable when played back in this context.
Obama’s words are further laughable when we consider the fact that the president unquestioningly continues to support one of the most well-known human rights and international law violations of our time — the Israeli government’s occupation of Palestine. Obama continues the American tradition of giving more annual foreign aid to Israel than it does to Latin America and Africa combined (roughly $3 billion), and the United States continues to be one of two forces that block Palestine’s adoption into the United Nations as a member state.
Finally, we turn domestically to the fact that Barack Obama has mentioned topics of race and racism the least of any president since 1961.
His silence on a very real and pressing issue is especially infuriating as the incarceration of black and Latino men becomes the biggest civil rights issue of our era, creating, as Michelle Alexander named it, a “new Jim Crow” caste system of unrecognized, unsupportable, unemployable parolees. (Please, please, please read this September feature in The Atlantic on “The Fear of a Black President” for a much longer treatment of these topics.)
I have felt tempted to vote for Obama because I could tell those who come later that “I voted for the first black president of the United States,” albeit for his re-election. But racial ties do not smooth over the larger moral objections I have to his infuriatingly contradictory policies, nor should they.
Earlier this quarter, I read a Facebook status of a friend who said he would not vote because both presidential candidates and their parties disappointed him.
I shared part of this sentiment, but I also felt a moral obligation to vote. I registered to vote in 2008 at the gravesite of Vernon Dahmer Sr. in Hattiesburg, Miss. Dahmer, a local NAACP organizer, died trying to defend his family from a mob attack after attempting to register blacks in his community to vote. Surrounded by his surviving family members and reading his epitaph, “If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” I filled out a symbolic California voter’s registration form.
With this legacy of death for the right to vote in my cultural history, I cannot simply renege on my obligation. And with so many important propositions on the ballot in California, my obligation is even stronger.
Those of us who look up to Obama as symbolizing a newfound horizon for black boys and girls must recognize that our struggle is only just beginning: The United States has become less racially tolerant since Obama took office, possibly since the president has been so silent on issues of race. We also must recognize that Obama’s race and his historical status do not exempt him from criticism. Our standards for judgment should be no less high because he’s “the first.”
That Obama has such intelligence, eloquence and charm and still espouses the same problematically conflicting foreign policies and exercises the same extrajudicial atrocities as his predecessors — all with that charming smile — makes his actions even worse.
But don’t worry, y’all — I’m not voting for Romney, either.
Cast your vote with Kristian at kbailey ‘at’ stanford.edu.