I was reading the post “Where there is Hope” by The Indigenous Xicano, and it reminded me of something I observed while watching the post Inaugural ceremonies and listening to people’s comments. I’ve often thought about our now President Obama, and being in the area of consumer behavior, naturally I had to also look at his appeal. Then it came to me. Our new President represents the best of us, of EVERY man. Obama, because he lived in other countries, and has had friends, not just acquaintances, of diverse racial backgrounds, tells us he knows “us.” By his actions, he has shown that he has not allowed others to negatively define who he is.
This has been a problem for many people who are not white, who have especially grown up since the 1920′s through the 1980′s. “We” learned that not being white means we are ‘less’ — that “less” being: less acceptable, less able to succeed, less accepted for who we are, less smart, less creative, less wise, less pretty, less handsome, less cool. While in grad school, I did a mammoth study on consumer behavior relating to the three subcultures of Latinos, Asian Americans and Native Americans. We all have the same experiences that have left us feeling the scars, if we are older than a certain age, because we were raised in the culture of exclusion and “less than.” Laws were enacted against all non-white Americans to exclude and to try to keep them from being full participants in American society.
Because studies such as the one I did also had to be moved forward in time, since the relevancy is in consumer behavior in the new millenium, not back in, say, 1960, 1970, or 1980, I also took a look at the changes that transpired generationally. People of the older cohorts were less inclined to feel they could succeed in areas of the public eye (media, for example) because unless you were white or could pass for white, it was almost a sure fire bet that you’d be wasting your time. Think back to when the Sheens first became noticed. Martin Sheen did not use a Latino last name for obvious reasons, but by the time his son Emilio hit the scene, using a non WASP last name was no longer a prescription for career death. Asian Americans, who could never pass for white no matter what, were in an even less appealing situation for longer, but that, too, has been changing.
There was also a time when the media showed minorities almost exclusively in subservient, moronic type of character roles, as well. While that still occurs, it is far less so and the appearance of minorities as role models has finally emerged.If you doubt that, just look at CNET and check out who many of the reviewers are. Asian Americans. Women. Tech mavens, not the stereotypes of the hookers that haunted Asian American women in the 60′s and 70′s.What struck me was that the subsequent later generations, who grew up during a time when it was no longer acceptable for others to make blatant racist remarks, saw more options for themselves, and they believed they could make it here in the USA in professions and careers that very few in the previous generations were able to be successful in. Like the Indigenous Xicano, I also remember feeling that by not looking like the General Population, something was unacceptable about me. Of course it didn’t help to be called names, to have people roll their windows down to share their lack of intelligence in feeling that they needed to scream racial hate comments at me. Yes Dorothy, things were changing.
The last chapter of my research dealt with how minority subcultures have influenced the General Population. Whoa, hang on there, even THAT as a concept would not have been acceptable say even 40 or 50 years ago. Yet it is there. It is common knowledge that salsa outsells ketchup. Sushi (of the sashimi variety) is sold in almost any conventional grocery store, as are more ethnic foods. Being different, looking different, which at one time was a prescription for an excruciatingly painful childhood for many, was now, yes, cool. I remember talking to a guy on MySpace, who told me he wished he wasn’t so white, because it’s so much cooler to be different. Whoa again! He’s finally found his groove, but I will always remember his comment and smile.
So it is, we have a new generation that for the most part, sees color and difference, well, differently. And President Obama represents this generation, one that holds the hopes of the older generations who have wished for these times to ever prove they are possible, and for another generation who grew up with it, that knows we as Americans have some dark history, but we also can change. As for me, I like the fact that he has made being smart “cool.”