Posts Tagged ‘2008 election


The effect of “Obama” on my life in Yokohama pt. 2

This congratulations business had started back before the summer when Obama handed Hillary Clinton her hat and sent her packing with an unexpected (and unaccepted) loss. For several weeks that followed I was being congratulated by Japanese people. Granted, I often wore Obama paraphernalia, at minimum a button and at max an assemble.  So, it wasn’t so much presumption on their part as it was acknowledgment. Perhaps their way of saying that the person you supported was a winner so, by virtue of that, you are a winner, too. Sometimes I want to tell strangers who tell me congratulations that I’d wanted McCain to win just to see their reaction.

Whether they think it’s simply impossible for a black person to have supported anyone but Obama or for anyone to have supported McCain and thus the Republican Party and their foulness over the past 8 years, I have no way of knowing.

But, what difference does it make anyway, right?

Well, it makes a difference to me. It means that, unfortunately, I can’t really share my joy with them because they just don’t get it…

…And why should they be expected to get it? After all, America isn’t their country, so they shouldn’t be expected to understand a god damn thing that happens in the US. Anyone in their right mind wouldn’t expect anyone outside of America to truly get it, especially a people as devoid of political and social acumen as most Japanese are. Maybe I’m not in my right mind.

Don’t worry, though. I know, in my heart of hearts, I can’t really fault Japanese for their idea of what Obama means to African Americans, for missing the point entirely…I mean, from the outside, it probably looked simply like some kind of black bloodless coup d’ tat, like black people had finally come together, finally realized that in addition to the significant financial and cultural power we wield, we were also in possession of substantial political power and resources which we’ve finally used to rally behind a viable black candidate with cross-cultural and cross-racial appeal, foster his ambitions, amplify his message and succeed in undermining a status quo that has been in place for well over two centuries…

But, for some inexplicable reason, I really expected that an election of this magnitude would have a significant effect on my experience here. I thought, at minimum, the japanese would be stunned into rethinking their ideas about black people…and maybe they are currently. I mean, hell, I was stunned! My shock at the result remains almost as strong as it was on Election Day. 

I’m not totally bonkers though. I know any kind of radical change takes time. Hell, it took Americans all of 200 years to get it through our thick skulls. So, no, I didn’t expect that empty seat beside me to be eagerly occupied with Japanese people wanting to be close to the energy that produced a politician whose popularity here in Japan has no precedence. And, no, I didn’t expect that Japanese-free perimeter that surrounds me wherever I might find myself to shrink, filled with people just aching to breath the same air as I. Nor did I fully expect the Japanese political IQ to skyrocket over night.

I did, however ludicrously, expect  something. Some glimmer of the contagious hope Obama tried to spread around the world. It was my hope that this election would alter the Japanese predisposition towards irrational fear of my kind, perhaps reduce its intensity, bring it down to a more tolerable level. It was a secret desire, bolstered by a couple of my students explanations of Japanese behavior towards me.

While Obama was slugging it out with McCain and Sarah Palin. one student explained the Japanese position this way (I’m paraphrasing of course):

“We Japanese do not care about minorities.”


“Because we have no minorities in Japan…we are homogeneous.”

“What about the Chinese and Koreans? Ainu and Okinawans?”


“Anyway,” I said, letting that question drop. No Japanese has been able to answer that question. “What’s your point?”

” Minorities have no power, and we, Japanese, respect power.  American power has always been white. If the face of  power in America becomes black, I think it will have a strong influence on Japanese thinking about black people.”

“For example? Anything tangible I can look forward to?”

“If Obama wins, I think Japanese will associate power with black people and we will not fear you.”

That made sense to me. I only half-believed it but it was logical and rational, however as erroneous as associating us with crime, violence and disease based on movies, but I’ll prefer an error that favors me over an error that harms me any day.

“You don’t think it will affect how Japanese think of Americans as a whole? I mean, the black thing, I feel, is only a part of what Obama represents. To me, his ascension indicates an evolution in the minds and hearts of most Americans not just the ones of color. It would be the equivalent of say Japanese people voting for a half Chinese / half Japanese, or half Filipino / Half Japanese prime minister.”

“EE!!” You had to see his face.

Well, so far, my life in Yokohama has not changed a bit. And the behavior of the people around me has not altered a bit. Their behavior is just as xenophobic, offensive and ignorant as it’s been since I arrived here.

But maybe this post is a little premature. Maybe the idea needs time to sit, like a freshly baked apple pie needs to sit on a window ledge cooling in the breeze, or the way Lasagna and homemade Potato salad and Fried Chicken always taste better on day 2.



Conversation 1/21/09

gss-090120-inauguration-07_grid-6x3Me: I’m still in shock.

Friend back in NY: It’s crazy, right?

Me: Is this the feeling white people walk around with their whole lives? Like throughout history?

F: I know what you mean. I stood up for the National Anthem the other day.

Me: Word? Hand over the heart, and all that? Damn, everything has changed…hasn’t it?

F: Yeah.

Me: We’re gonna need a whole new vocabulary to talk about America…

F: For real. I feel so damn motivated. I feel like I’m incapable of procrastination right now.

Me: Yeah. I feel so…man. This is ridiculous! Every time I see him I feel so damn proud I start crying.

Friend: Yeah, it’s crazy!



1000 Words…


I’m STILL in shock!!!




Home Alterations Part 6

I had planned to do some more canvassing in Pennsylvania for Obama on Monday, but Sunday was such a drain.  I was emotionally spent.  So, I couch-potatoed half the day away. I didn’t want to see anyone. The phone was ringing, my friends were reaching out, but I wasn’t in the mood to be reached.

Every evening before my trip home had been spent devouring every thing available on the net about this election, and blogging. But, since my arrival in NY I had been trying not to think about it. I didn’t want to ponder the most pressing of questions: “what does it mean if he wins?”

Well, it was time to ponder.

An Obama win was the unthinkable not a year ago. Not unthinkable in “he’ll never raise enough money,” or “his position on abortion is too controversial,” kind of way. Unthinkable in the I WAS NOT BORN IN A COUNTRY THAT IS CAPABLE OF ELECTING A BLACK MAN AS ITS LEADER kind of way. I mean, it went against everything I thought I knew about the US. It seemed almost un-American to toy with the idea. Extraordinarily cruel and fiendishly wicked to dangle the impossibility as they have, I thought.

Visions of a handful of old white power brokers smoking cigars and drinking pricey liquor deciding the next president dominated my thinking, not unlike these guys from one of my favorite movies, Being There:

And I never believed in a million years that any of these guys would say, “How about this Hawaiian mutt with the Islamic name and exotic background? He seems pretty, I don’t know, electable. Let’s give him a shot.”

But, everything that had happened during the campaign pointed towards a Barack landslide. McCain’s only chance of victory was if a whole lot of white people decided to stay home and sit this one out or suddenly got behind that curtain, looked at that ballot and said, “Oh, Hellll no! What the fuck was I thinking?”  And if those were the only two ways McCain could win, then this thing was over. Because if the people I’d canvassed in Pennsylvania were any indication of the people across America pledging their support for Obama, no way would this so-called Bradley Effect occur. I think the predominant vibe I got from the Pennsylvanians was that they were of the mind “If Barack loses it won’t be because of us.”

So, what would it mean?

To me, an Obama victory would mean everything, EVERYTHING, I ever thought I knew about my country was mostly bullshit. That the country I thought I understood I really didn’t understand at all. I liked to think of New York as the ideal America, and I knew NY would support Obama. When I say America, I always mean those people who supported Bush the second time. These people I couldn’t believe really existed. I could understand them putting him in office in 2000 what with all the nonsense generated by the Clinton administration (and if you set aside the whole Florida thing) but the 2004 election established these people as beyond…well, beyond my understanding.

But, even before then I thought I knew America. I had experienced America vicariously through my parents and teachers and their experiences were mostly horrible. Even the evidence before my eyes couldn’t invalidate the impression they instilled in me. As an adult, I could look around me and see that America wasn’t necessary black and white, but green. Clearly America was about the money. Money and ability and belief in one’s self…and a little bit of luck doesn’t hurt, either. It was about those who have these and those who do not, and aside from a few ignorant people here and there, trapped behind the color line, these were the deciding factors in how one progressed in America. And, I actually lived my life according to what I experienced more so that what my parents and teachers had. Of course, white privilege was and still is a reality. But, I could attribute that to just bad cultural habits more than some organized agenda by the man to keep the people in their place.

But, from time to time, especially when a crisis would arrive, I’d feel that lowest common denominator pulling me down. This damn race thing. Rodney King, James Byrd Jr., just to name a couple. These types of incidents reminded me of just how how close we were as a country to our dark past. But, on the other hand, I could look at Vernon Jordan, Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice. And I knew that progress was being made.

And, that’s exactly what an Obama victory would mean, I decided. That America had truly progressed…no more, no less…ok, perhaps a bit more. (-:

In my apartment in Yokohama I have an American flag. It’s about the size you might find oncimg0015 a front porch or in a flowerpot. I keep it on my desk. I don’t know why. At least I didn’t until today.

I didn’t realize that although I did not feel that America was all that she had claimed to be or had the potential to be, that I had been harboring all along a secret desire to be proud of my country; a secret I even kept from myself. And, I have the Japanese to thank, partially, for revealing this secret longing to me. Though they’d never admit it, the Japanese are nationalist. They’d deny it on a stack of whatever texts are sacred to them, but I watch them. i watch them at the bars during a World Cup soccer match or an Olympic event with a Japanese contestant. They’d say it’s niwaka aikokusya (にわか愛国者) or instant nationalism, but it shines through and it’s extreme. I see it when there’s a sumo tournament and they must yet again watch a Mongolian Rikishi walk away with the Emperor’s Cup. I hear it in how often they use the word Japanese as an adjective to distinguish their country’s products and ideas from others…from rice to dogs to plastic bags.  The equivalent would be like an American saying, “do you like American rice?” or “Do you know how to use American can openers?” Yes, they might be a few generations removed from the loyalty the Imperialism of earlier times mandated but Japan and all things Japanese hold a prominent place in the hearts and minds of most the people here. And, they ain’t ashamed to show it. And, living among them and among this nationalistic energy tampered with my harbored desires.

For example, in Japan I often find myself in the awkward position of defending American products and ideas that I honestly never really thought twice about or felt any particular allegiance to, like Coca-Cola or Disney.

“I’ve never been to Tokyo Disneyland…” I responded to a one of the teachers in the office one day who asked did I like it. Shock swept across all their faces. “Uso!” stop lying! some gasped.

“Nande???” Why not? one asked.

“Well, I don’t really like Mickey Mouse. When I was a kid there were 3 famous cartoon mice. Mighty, Jerry and Mickey, and of the three, Mickey was the corniest. ”



(By the way I was a HUGE Tom and Jerry fan! Not to mention Itchy and Scratchy!)

“How can you not like Disney??? You’re American, right?” It was like they were offended. To them, it was almost the equivalent of a Japanese person not speaking Japanese or bashing the emperor. Which, I suspect, brought them to the ridiculous conclusion that I was not an “average” American, and since I represent all African Americans in their eyes, it meant that African Americans were not “average” Americans, something to add to their Yappari arsenal. They actually questioned my nationalism based on whether or not I held affection for an outdated icon and an amusement park.

“I like Coca-cola, though” I said in my defense, taking a sip from mine and giving them an “ahh, now that’s American refreshment” face. But, the damage was done.

“Cola is poison,” the vice-principal blurted out. “It melts bones! Japanese Green tea is healthy. That’s why Japanese are healthy people and live long lives.”

“It’s what???” I responded, a little shocked myself. “Poison?”

Of course I knew Coke wasn’t exactly a health tonic, but I took it personally the way he’d called it poison. It seemed to me like an indirect way of saying America is poisoning the world and by virtue of being American I was a representative of a nation dead set on melting the bones of Japanese and any other race I could get to suck on my poison…

“Deshou?” he said, like everyone knows what you guys over there are up to.

“Well,” I said, “Green tea is high in caffeine!” I wanted to add: no wonder you guys can work 12 hours a day 6 days a week, but I didn’t.

They all looked around as if they were seeking confirmation of my claim in the one another’s faces.

“Deshou?” I added. “And caffeine is a drug. An addictive drug!” I wanted to say: all of you guys are junkies, but again I didn’t. Though I’m sure they could hear it in my tone. Japanese drink green tea like the rest of the world drinks coffee.

I’m terribly defensive sometimes. The things I do for America. Scenes like the one above occur quite frequently here in the land of products that start with the word, “Japanese.” And, after five years, I now have an arsenal of brain-stumping and/or sarcastic comebacks for most of their nationalistic assaults. Especially the ones that attack America.

Yes, it’s a strange feeling defending a country you abandoned.

That night I went to the next place on my list of must eats: Juniors, in downtown Brooklyn. 26_juniors_lglJunior’s is actually located across the street from the University I attended, LIU Brooklyn campus. It brought back a lot of memories being there. Junior’s is famous for Cheesecake. Once you’ve had a slice of their cheese cake it’s pretty difficult to ever call another cheese cake cheese cake. You’d sooner call it imitation cheese cake. I stood in the line…there’s almost always a line for cheesecake…and through the window I could see my alma mater. It had grown in the years since I graduated. Two new buildings had been erected and a great deal of renovation had been done.

liuOriginally, my school had been a movie palace and theater. paramount1Really. It was called the Brooklyn Paramount, and hosted many famous performers from Duke Ellington to The Beatles.

I wonder what the people who lived at that time in Brooklyn, would think of Brooklyn now. Maybe the same way I was starting to feel about Brooklyn: like it was ever-changing and will never be or feel the same again. I guess there are worst things a theater could be turned into, though. There was another famous Movie Palace in downtown Brooklyn: The Albee. It should have been a landmark but they tore it down when I was a kid and built a shopping mall. I guess Joni Mitchell said it best: “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”

But, Junior’s cheese cake is still the same: delicious. I ate it while I watched an old Peter Sellers movie…I didn’t know it then but the next day my country who I’ve defended to the Japanese so vigilantly would reward my unsung efforts by electing the first African American president.

You’re probably thinking I could have experienced this all from Japan being that I was just laying on my landlord’s couch eating cheesecake and watching old movies…but tomorrow I would learn there’s nothing quite like being there.


Here’s the hilarious final scene from the film, Being There

PS: I’ve written, and am in the process of revising, a novel. It’s unrelated to my experiences in Japan. If you enjoy my writing and have a little free time please check out: Real Gods require Blood. I’ll be posting it chapter by chapter.

Thanks in advance


I could have been president: An open letter to my mother

Dear Ma:

I love you soooo much! You sacrificed so much for me and my brothers and sisters so that we could become proud and strong men and women, prepared to go out into this world confidently, and excel.  From your example we came to understand that with nothing you can create something, and that something you can build a life around. That no matter how many setbacks you have you can always rise again. And I thank you with all of my heart!

But you know what, Ma? You never told me that when I grew up I could be president.

I’m not mad at you. I don’t blame you. A black presidency wasn’t even real to you, was it? So, you couldn’t have possibly imagined it was a possibility for your 4th son…not in your fondest dreams, could you? And even if you could you probably wouldn’t have wanted me walking through this life harboring such a delusion, such a harbinger of disappointment and danger, would you? I mean, you lived through MLK, Malcolm, JFK, RFK, etc… You witnessed the impact of the perils of leadership. And, moreover, you’re not a liar. Not like that. I mean, that’s on the level of telling us there really is a Santa Claus or Easter Bunny. And that, to your credit, you never did.

I understand. I really do.

After all, in your youth, you picked cotton in Georgia. What does a under-educated young woman, picking cotton on a Georgian plantation, unexposed to much of what the world had to offer, the opportunities that existed, what does she know about such lofty ambitions? it was inconceivable. Presidents didn’t look like you or like anybody that looked like you. Presidents were old white men, until Kennedy. But, always white and always from a reality so far removed from yours that I would be amazed if amid your daily toil in the cotton fields you’d have stopped and said to yourself: “When I have children someday, I will tell them they are entitled to the same things that white people have.”

And so I grew up without this sense of entitlement. And to add insult to injury, I grew up with a disdain for black people who possessed this sense of entitlement. After all, subconsciously, I thought this entitlement was a white privilege and any black person who saw themselves as entitled to white privileges was either delusional or insane. After all, they were trying to be something they could never be: white. Furthermore, In order to achieve these privileges you had to think as they do, live as they do, and I thought that would inevitably lead to such a person treating me as my mother was treated.

Yes, Ma, in your efforts to instill in us a pride of who we are and the stock we come from, you immersed us in a Pan African cultural institution that taught us, in no uncertain terms, that the only way for black people to rise in power is to create a separate world within the white world, and by working together and pooling our intellectual, economical and cultural resources, we could build a power vacuum that the white world will be force to reckon with.You know, power concedes nothing, and all that. Not to hate them so much as to emulate them. It was a flawed plan concocted by minds and souls damaged by decades of hate and discrimination. I love them for what they tried to do, but the flaw is self-evident now, is it not? This grassroots effort was blind to the major ingredient of any mass American movement: Americans.

Even throughout my youth, deep, DEEP, down, I felt America might get to a point someday where these white privileges would be extended to include other groups. So when it began to happen, I wasn’t overwhelmingly surprised. Throughout the 80s, 90s and 2000s, barrier after barrier fell. glass ceiling after glass ceiling shattered. In entertainment, sports, business, etc… For example, nowadays, one can see black CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, black coaches, managers and even part owners of teams, and in the music world black artist with ownership of companies and their own masters is not unheard of. These are all marked advances not to be thought of as at all inevitable. To belittle them in anyway would be sacrilegious.

But the thought of a black person attaining the ultimate white privilege- the US presidency- was virtually unthinkable. For, in my mind, I had built up the presidency as the  most powerful position not only in this country but in the entire world, and how could a country, still predominantly white, ever elect a black face as its face, a black leader as its leader…

I mean, I knew we were capable, and in many cases, better suited for the job. I mean, some of the people we’ve sent to Washington have been just this side of imbecile. And the people that voted for this person…I couldn’t reconcile with the fact that we had anything in common whatsoever. And I simply couldn’t believe that white people were capable of recognizing this abundantly conspicuous fact, blinded by race and ignorance. Yes, I formed a low opinion of white people, and a fear and despise of their ignorance. And, these thoughts and feelings, however incorrect, solidified in my mind and soul into almost a sort of common sense, an inalienable truth. Even the white people I have befriended over the years, or the ones I’ve come to admire, people I’ve been able to connect with beyond the racial context, couldn’t break through this belief system. I simply put them into a category of exceptions to the rule.

But, everything has changed, Ma. EVERYTHING!

Little did you and I know, I was entitled to the presidency, and everything else this country has to offer its citizens. Little did we know, Ma, that we were citizens of the greatest country on earth! Perhaps, the greatest civilization in the history of the world! Little did you know that that which you couldn’t bring yourself to do, I will be able to do. Over the years, as you know, I have been very critical of our country. After all, you saw fit to enroll me in a school that openly criticized Her history and policies, while at the same time introduced me to our precious African history and heritage. I thank you for your foresight for without a clear understanding of where we have come from how could I fully appreciate where we have arrived as of today?

And, we have arrived haven’t we? It’s been a long time coming, hasn’t it?

I watched the news today. My ears hear the words that my brain and heart struggle to embrace: President-Elect Obama, an Obama Administration, A dream fulfilled, 364 electoral votes…and I realize that he was speaking directly to You and I when he said: If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

You never told me I could be president but you gave me a strong sense of my capacity to make an impact. A sense that I used to embolden myself enough to march into a lily white suburb of North Philadelphia and knock on doors on behalf of a leader I believed would be in the best interest of all Americans. I’m grateful to President Obama for helping me with my entitlement issues. He didn’t do it a black way, nor a white way. He did it the American way.

And was it not beautiful to behold?

But it was you, Ma, who blessed me with a value of education and knowledge with which I carefully followed his ascension, listening carefully to his speeches (and those of others), reading and researching his policies (and those of others), and taking such an active role in the political process. I have to give you as much credit as i give Barack. You weren’t able to instill in me the ambition to be president or even the vision of such a day occurring, but you did prepare me to be able to embrace a Black man in the White House and to be able to fully appreciate what a life-altering turn of events this is.

So, I thank you, Ma.

With love


PS: How much longer will I stay in Japan? Well, until the economy improves a bit, I still need a job and I’m doing pretty well over here, financially anyway. Maybe next year!

PPS: President Barack Hussein Obama… Can you believe it???? How long will my shock last?


Live From New York: It’s Election Day!

Sorry I haven’t posted in a few days. I came home to NY to vote and hopefully to be a part of this historical election where the first African-American becomes president of the United States.

Sam Cooke sung “It’s been a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come!” and that time has come whether or not Barack wins.

This morning I voted at my voting site in Brooklyn, NY. For the first time in my life, there was a LINE! I had to wait for an hour but it was na hour spent amidst an energy that I had never experienced before. Like soldiers dying to do their duty for their country, people stood in line. determined to do their part to make this American democratic system finally start to work for the people of the US and not merely the interest of special interest groups, corporations and the very well off.  Cars passed by beeping horns and shouts over Obama came from their windows. My neighborhood is a slowly diversifying one so the line consisted of a multiracial mix of neighbors united for the cause.

Ever since my arrival on Friday I have been feeling a bit disoriented, side effects of my japanization. I was worried that it would last the entirety of the 10 days I have back here in my hometown. But, standing on line surrounded by this uniquely American energy, I felt embraced by my brethren, a welcome home that pierced through the blockade that my japanization had set up. I felt as close to these people as I ever have. I am home!

I will resume my posts as soon as possible, but I’m cautiously optimistic that I’ll be celebrating for the next couple of days (-: so I may not have time. This is such a special occasion so please forgive me. Once I’m done I’ll try to convey to all of you who may be interested what I’ll be experiencing over the course of the next few days.

Thanks for your patience,



PS: To follow my political ideas go to my political blog: Ain’t no stopping us now

Copyright © 2010 Loco in Yokohama / All Rights Reserved

Please know that this blog is my original writing and may not be reproduced in any way without the expressed written permission of the author (that's me!) Thanks!

Words I love…

Everybody is a star
I can feel it when you shine on me
I love you for who you are
Not the one you feel you need to be
Ever catch a falling star
Ain't no stopping 'til it's in the ground
Everybody is a star
One big circle going round and round

Words by: Sly Stone

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