In 2008, Barack Obama inspired a generation of young people to campaign, get politically active and vote -- all of which undoubtedly played a role in his becoming the first black president in U.S. history.
Four years later, just hours before voters across the country will cast their ballots, every major poll is predicting a toss-up between the president and his challenger, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
If Obama were to lose – something that seemed far-fetched just a few months ago – would the message symbolized by his last victory give way to a more cynical view of race and politics? Would the hope he inspired in a generation of young people turn into despair? Or, did Obama’s victory in 2008 usher the nation into an age of post-racial politics, one where today’s young people won’t care one way or the other what happens on Election Day?
New America Media asked young people from four communities in California (San Jose, Long Beach, Merced and the eastern Coachella Valley): What message would an Obama defeat send to young people of color? And what message would an Obama victory send?
The common thread that emerged in their responses was clear: Race and identity in American politics still mean a great deal. And although enthusiasm for Obama’s performance as president varied by individual, nearly every young person said that a defeat would be a setback, both psychological and material, for young people of color.
Ana Llimet, 16, Merced
If Obama loses I believe that young people of color will start to think they’re not as smart as non-colored people. People will talk about mistakes [Obama] has made and the kids will think that the first black president messed up America. They’ll feel lower than before.
If Obama wins I believe young people of color will be proud. They’ll see a [person of color] be president for two terms, which is truly amazing because of America’s history and its background in slavery. It would get young people of color to believe they can achieve.
Jesus Perez, 17, Atwater
If Obama loses the election, many people of color will be discouraged. It would show that the “black man” isn’t good enough to be president.
If Obama wins the election, young people of color will be further inspired. It would show that minorities are as good as white folks, because a minority president was elected twice in a row.
Veronica Sandoval, 17, Merced
If Obama is defeated I believe the message sent would still be positive, just because he has already served four years. He made history for people of color in the U.S.
If Obama won the presidential election again, it would … demonstrate not only to youth of color, but to all young people, that anything is possible.
Diego Sandoval, 17, Merced
I feel that if Obama were to be defeated, I personally would feel a little threatened being a young man of color and all, because he knows what it is like to be treated different just because of the color of your skin.
If Obama wins I would feel relieved and a little confident and positive about my future because I feel that he is a trustworthy person and he has done and helped the U.S. a lot, so I give him props.
Kalvin Saelee, 17, Merced
I don’t think just because he is black that his overall success or failure should have a huge effect on Americans of color.
Anyway, if Obama loses I think the effect it will have on young people of color is that they probably wouldn’t care too much about politics anymore.
If Obama wins then Americans of color will maybe be more engaged in politics.
Mark Skinner, 17, Merced
If Obama loses, I feel that young people would question whether there will ever be another president of color, or if this was just a one-time thing.
Obama winning would inspire many youth of color. I feel that young people would take this victory as their victory, as a chance to rise up to the challenges instead of following stereotypes that all minorities drop out school and end up with no jobs and very little income.
Jesus Alma, 18, Long Beach
Even if he loses, Obama will leave with a victory [because] his story is an example that we can follow.
If Obama is victorious, then we people of color will expect change. I think that is the message that will be sent out because he made it possible for immigrant students that came to this country before the age of 16 to have a two-year work permit that will allow them to help their families with home expenses. That was a very good change for this country. I think that we can expect more change for the better of this country if Obama wins.
Patrick Moreno, 24, Long Beach
People in this country are being fooled by the media surrounding the election. The polarity of this election has prevented the issues from being addressed. If Obama is defeated, it will be because the oligarchy in this country doesn’t trust him, not because Mitt Romney is a better candidate.
To me, an Obama victory is also a scary idea. Obama has been deceptive about his policies. If he makes it back into office, I believe the compromises he will make (and be forced to make by Congress and other lobbyists) may render him a figurehead in this country. I believe more rich white men will use the image of Obama as a way of maintaining the trust of people of color while they imprison us and continue to cut our education.
I believe white people in this country are terrified of becoming the minority.
Diana Cardenas, 22, Long Beach
[Obama’s election in 2008] should not be romanticized or idolized and we should not expect more from a man of color than a white one in the White House, especially when he is up against an uncooperative legislative body.
Whether Obama loses or wins, young people should not be content with the lack of in-depth analysis of issues... When did we hear anything about poverty or, say, about global warming during the campaign season from either candidate? According to the mainstream media, the same one that refuses to raise these and other issues, the race is tight. But when all they support and talk about is the two-party system, this becomes numbing and disillusioning. Young people should not conform to this.
Justine Calma, 24, Long Beach
An Obama defeat would be a scary prospect for young people of color, especially those from working class or low-income backgrounds. Romney has already been caught showing disdain for 47 percent of the country he believes is “dependent on the government”… This all points to a [Romney-Ryan] administration that is completely out of touch with working class communities of color, a president who believes that if you’re poor then it must be your own fault, a president who doesn’t hold his government accountable for conditions that perpetuate poverty.
An Obama victory, however, should not send the message that we now live in a color-blind society or that people of color as a whole have broken the glass ceiling. Yes, it’s important to have people of color in positions of power, and yes, children should look at Obama and think, “I can be like him one day.” It’s also important to recognize that while people of color are 30 percent of the population in the United States, we account for 60 percent of those imprisoned. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime. So while young people of color can hope to be the president, they are still going to have to overcome a hell of a lot of structural racism and inequality before they get there.
Angela Or, 17, Long Beach
The majority population of low-income families is made up of people of color and many of us depend on health care and MediCal … Many young people of color have worked hard to succeed. Half of us weren't born into a high- or middle-income family. An Obama defeat would cause stress and extreme worry for our future.
If Obama were to win, young people of color won't have to worry as much about financial aid and health care becoming difficult for their families to receive. It would give hope and more of a reason to work hard and succeed for those affected by the DREAM Act.
Nyanah Haliburton-Gatto, 10, San Jose
If Obama won, it would mean hope for me. I would feel like it would be a better future for me anywhere I end up.
If Obama lost, I would feel worried. I would be sad for a few days, then have hope that the other president would make good decisions.
Kamea Haliburton-Gatto, 13, San Jose
If Obama lost to a man that wants to send more money into the military instead of schools, it would give teens and kids a worse education.
If Obama won, it would mean a better education, and the troops in Afghanistan will get to come home. It [would also] give kids that are African-American a better chance at a career.
Tyree C., 13, San Jose
If Obama loses the election, people [of color] all over America will be sad because for four years we were the best. The years we had were the greatest years of our lives.
If Obama wins we would say we won, because for once in our lives we had a man [of color] running America, and that means a lot.
Tony Aguilar, 22, Thermal
Four years ago, this nation did something that nobody thought was possible. With the election of Barack Obama as the leader of the free world, millions of young people of color like me were inspired to achieve that which we never thought was possible. The pride and excitement that I felt on Nov. 4, 2008 still resonates with me today and will never be taken away regardless of the upcoming election.
With or without four more years of Barack Obama, history was made and that can never be undone. His accomplishments will forever serve as a reminder that this truly is a country of endless opportunities for all peoples.
Alejandra Alarcon, 18, Coachella
Obama’s views on education rights and funding are crucial to youth of color because without education, there is no progress.
An Obama defeat will be a restriction to movements such as the DREAM Act.
Ivan Delgado, 20, Coachella
I believe the fact that we elected the first non-white president in American history is a huge leap forward toward a diverse nation, rich with culture and acceptance. However, I think this election has gone past the barrier that was skin color. It now falls on whether the people of the United States feel President Barack Obama [made] good on his promises and whether those promises can carry the nation for four more years. Victory or defeat, President Obama has already had a huge and positive impact on people of color. He has given hope.
Fatima Ramirez, 17, Mecca
Personally, I don't think an Obama defeat would have either a negative or a positive impact on young people of color. I'd like to think that if Obama lost, young people would understand that it wasn't affiliated with race or color but rather because his opponent had views that the constituents believed to be better suited for their needs.
I believe that an Obama victory would send the message that color isn't everything. It would show that people aren't just looking at ethnicity but rather focusing on Obama's policies and beliefs.
Aurora Saldivar, 19, Thermal
Obama’s grassroots movement broke the mold for the American presidency and in 2008 he became far more than a candidate; he became a symbolic figure for hope and change. I fear that a loss will disillusion young dreamers from testing their voice.
An Obama victory would [bring] a sigh of relief to the dedicated supporters who believe that our president will continue to move America forward. A win would tell youth of color that it is possible not only to set out for a change, but that we are also able to sustain it.
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