Substance, Not Superficiality

Print More

Age 20

I’m proud to say I voted in my first presidential primary in February. And even though I was 19 years old at the time, I went to the polling place with my parents.

My dad is 70, and he’s voted in I don’t know how many dozens of elections. He said he’d never seen so many people voting in our neighborhood.

And it was hard to miss all the first-time voters. There were a lot of young people who looked about 20 asking the poll workers questions about the process of voting. I even found myself confused when I got into the booth. The ballot had delegates’ names as well as presidential candidates’ names. I didn’t know I was going to have to vote for delegates.

But besides that, I felt good about my vote. I consider myself a political junkie. Since the caucuses in Iowa, I’ve been following the election. I’m having online conversations with my friends about every twist and turn and debating the issues in chat rooms.

For a while, though, many of my friends weren’t planning on voting. When I tried to persuade them, their attitude was that the race in New York was already decided, so their vote didn’t matter. They felt like they had no say.

That changed in January. Many of my friends took a personal interest in the candidates. It became more than just a vote to them. I don’t want to say that they saw it as a life or death decision, but they were taking it really seriously. And I felt that on voting day in the primary.

My friends are used to me talking about the issues. When we’re online, we really get into it.

Since most of my friends are African-American, we’ve had a lot of conversations about whether America is ready for a black president. When Barack Obama lost in New Hampshire, we all thought it was because he was black, even if we didn’t have a basis for that theory.

For a while, we were also arguing about whether he was African-American. Barack Obama doesn’t fit my definition of the term, because his ancestors weren’t African slaves. Plus, growing up in a white household in Hawaii is something I’m guessing not many African-Americans relate to.

I was bitter when people said they were voting for Obama just because he was black. It bothered me because it sends the message that black candidates can expect the black vote automatically, and that Obama didn’t have to earn the vote. It seemed just as bad as white people voting for someone just because they are white. It makes the elections seem superficial.

The most important issue for me is education. Most of my friends are in college, and they have to pay a lot of money to go. I’m of the opinion that college should be free to those who want it. Surprisingly, a lot of my friends in college disagree with me. Unfortunately, candidates have more to say about early childhood education than higher education.

At home on Sundays, it’s a tradition in my house to watch the African-American political show Like It Is during breakfast and discuss the issues.

My father is pretty progressive. My mother is more to the center. On economic issues, she’s liberal, but on social issues, I’d say she’s more conservative. She’s for the death penalty and for prayer in school.

Now that it seems conceivable that we could have a black president, my mom is optimistic but my dad is doubtful.

Seeing a black person as president would be an achievement for my people. For my parents to see a black person at that level in their lifetime would be amazing.

But when I voted in the primary on Super Tuesday, I was thinking about the war in Iraq, education, gun control, the economy and the other important issues—not race. And that’s what I would hope every other voter was doing.

As for my parents, they’re just happy I’m carrying on the tradition of voting. And they remind me that there was a time when a black man like me couldn’t vote at all.

© 2008 Youth Communication/New York Center Inc.,