Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Obama as a TCK

I grew up as a kind of Third Culture Kid. True, my father's culture is "American", and I did grow up until the age of 8 in the US, and true, my mother's culture is Japanese, and I lived the following 7 years in that country. However, in neither case was it as an "American" or "Japanese" family. In that way, the culture inside my house was the culture of neither parent (although a strange synergistic hybrid of the two).

However, going to school in Japan with international students, as I did in Taiwan and Hungary, really did expand my horizons. I was introduced to the concept of TCKs by a friend of mine after I had started graduate school (I never knew that there was a term for this differently socialized group of people), but once I learned it, certain things did start to make sense.

When Obama won the Democratic ticket in 2008, I was very happy that a mixed-race, TCK candidate had the chance of being the president. As a mixed-race TCK, I felt the ineffable strengths that such a worldview could bring. Predictably (perhaps depressingly so), very few people in the popular press seem to have actually delved into the points about Barack Obama's cultural heritage and TCK upbringing. Recently, though, I came across some collected snippets of commentary on this point, posted over at The Daily Dish:
You are indeed right regarding Cornel West. He is a an articulate, well-read, pseudo-intellectual who plays the part of the black Yoda well, but is ironically very provincial. His world is literally black and white which limits his analytic powers and makes him ineffective as a true intellectual and impotent as a true force for change. Contrast this with Barack Hussein Obama.
Obama, is what we call, a TCK—A Third Culture Kid. TCK’s grow up as the children of missionaries, or as military brats, or as the children of businessmen. It means that you grew up during your early developmental years in a culture outside of your parents’ home culture.
And  in a continuation, some detractors of the TCK viewpoint (written, it seems, by people who didn't grow up that way):
Travel the world and try to transcend your culture all you want, but you won't ever succeed.  Not really.  As Alasdair Macintyre put it, we are never more (and sometimes less) than the co-authors of our own narratives.  There will always be a part of us that it is the product of the time and place and family in which we first came of age, perhaps especially when we are reacting to that experience and trying to "transcend" it.  And even if by some miracle we actually succeeded in that project, then whatever else we may have gained, we will also have lost the ability to be truly a part of any culture from the inside. 
Myself, I have known many TCKs. Some have gone to do amazing things. Some have gone to do average things. Some, less so. However, they all share that interesting view of the world: a world that is somehow more united and common than our peers who grew up in once place, to one culture have seen the world. Not a different world; the same world, just seen and experienced more broadly (if not deeply).

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