US Election 2016: a quick response in poetry

When Obama was first elected, I thought of the poem ‘Children’s Rhymes’ by Langston Hughes. Written in a time before black Americans could even vote, it calls out eloquently for change; for black children to be able to see someone who looked like them at the very top of their field. Obama was this poem’s wish fulfilled, and it felt like such a victory. Today’s election result has many consequences, and one of those is that American girls still don’t have the kind of emblem that Hughes longed for in his time. When I was 17, I wrote down ‘Prime Minister of New Zealand’ in the ‘Future Career’ section of the school leavers’ profiles. We had a female Prime Minister that year, and I was lucky enough to be only 7 years old when my country was lead by a woman for the first time. At no point did I consider that the road I wanted to take might be harder for me than for my male counterparts. Not being 17 anymore, I now know that not to be the case for many reasons, but today we saw evidence that even when a woman is more articulate, more experienced, more prepared, and more qualified for such a position of responsibility, it will still be harder for her to obtain that position than a man. Even disregarding the misogyny of her opponent in this instance, that is an undeniable facet of this election result.

I hope American girls, and girls around the world, aren’t put off by these events, or dissuaded from aspiring to become a leader one day, but I sure wouldn’t blame them if they were. Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first female First Minister, tweeted today, ‘Amidst all the criticism of her, I want to say, as a woman, simply this: thank you @HillaryClinton. Your candidacy was a milestone for women.’ And to quote Hillary herself from her concession speech, ‘To all the little girls watching…never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world.’ So here’s my pale imitation for today of Hughes’ beautiful poem. I hope that one day soon, I’ll get to think of this poem as we did of the original at Obama’s inauguration in 2008: as a piece of history we now get to move on from.

Children’s Rhymes – 9 November 2016

after Langston Hughes


By what sends

the boy child

I’m not sent

I know I can’t

be President.


What doesn’t phase

POTUS to-be

sure phases me:

We know now everybody

still ain’t free.


Lies written down

for the white and male

it turns out

still don’t apply:

Liberty and Justice

The freedom to aspire

to stand tall, equal…

it appears these remain

for the some

and not the All.

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