Osmosis and the TCK

June 28, 2011 — Leave a comment

Of the many skills learnt by TCKs (Third Culture Kids) almost by osmosis, and one that is a great advantage in later life, is their ability to see both sides of an issue, and to then find the middle road. That does not mean capitulation to either side but rather a way forward that avoids gridlock.

I learnt about cultural stalemates at a young age. Firstly at a primary school in the English countryside when on being asked where I was from I replied, Africa. My classmates-for-a-term taunted me, you can’t be, you’re not black. I couldn’t argue that, but I still felt African. Later when sent as a ten year old to my mother’s old boarding school in rural Australia I again realised I didn’t quite fit in. At ease in Africa or Asia the stark whiteness of the faces all around me, with only a very occasional Aboriginal visage, felt alien. Way back then in the dark ages of the late 1960s, the derisory comments about different races from some around me, though often said in ignorance and without malicious intent, made me uncomfortable. A feeling that had it been known would have appalled my carers, both educational and familial. Over seven years I learned. Not to accept, but at least not to allow myself to become embroiled in an argument I could not, as a teenager, win without resorting to rage and tears.

Fortunately racial acceptance, whilst not perfect, is more far reaching now, globally. It has had to be in order for commerce to succeed, treatise to be signed and as every beauty queen knows, for world peace to have a chance.

But as the United States heads towards another presidential election, still seventeen months away, those rumblings of discord are and will undoubtedly continue to erupt again. Not often in an overt manner, that would be crass, but in subtle ways that allow no misunderstanding. A lot of people do not want Barack Obama in The White House now, and certainly not for another four years, and it has a great deal to do with his skin colour and not his policies.

There is a group in the US known as ‘birthers’. They are not, as their name might suggest, advocates of freedom to choose how a mother gives birth, but rather are a vociferous portion of the society who firmly believe the current president is on the podium under false pretences.

They do not believe President Obama was born on US soil. Some proclaim he was born in Kenya, his father’s home country, and that his paternal grandmother bore witness to his birth. Others state that as his father was Kenyan and therefore a British citizen, that country not gaining independence until December 1963, the President was born a dual citizen. But as any expatriate knows, to be a dual citizen two passports must be held. No one is yet denying his mother was white American, though birthers believe any document relating to this whole discussion can, and have been forged. Still others have filled the blogsphere with the erroneous fact that he is an Indonesian, that being his stepfather’s nationality.

Despite the publishing of both a short and long version of a birth certificate issued in Hawaii, both proclaiming Barack Hussein Obama was born in Honolulu on August 4th, 1961, the birthers will not be shushed.

They are right when they state Article Two of the Constitution declares the president must be a natural-born citizen, must be 35 years or older and must have lived in the US for 14 years. But to my knowledge, and according to a very large number of sources, Hawaii joined the Union on August 21, 1959, a full three years before the President’s birth. I wonder if there are others born in that three-year period on the Hawaiian Islands who are concerned about their legitimacy to US citizenship? Barack Obama was 47 when he became president, and had lived in the country since 1971 so therefore satisfies without equivocation other demands of ArticleTwo.

Never having yearned for the heady heights of politics, but having had to negotiate life in twelve countries across the world I am forever grateful to my TCK upbringing. I am not readily swayed from my ideological path, but am able to adapt to changing circumstances and occasions, an ability that has without doubt eased the many transitions.

President Obama is also a TCK having spent a portion of his childhood outside his passport (USA) country, in Indonesia. He attended a local school and integrated fully into his Indonesian stepfather’s way of life, very different to his life in the US. He then had to reintegrate into American society on his return to Hawaii, no easy matter particularly given his mother was not with him, and that he was a bi-racial teenager. During those periods of his childhood he unwittingly learnt the skills he now uses daily in the political arena, both at home and abroad. Something every American should be truly grateful for; knee-jerk reactions are neither something sought, nor wanted, for those in high office.

As any TCK or expatriate knows, negotiating the path of integration in a new school and playing field in a new country is not always even. The ups and downs of acceptance can be as regular as the ups and downs of a playground swing, with delicate corrections having to be made each time the swing judders. To survive as a TCK the ability to adjust, to adapt, to manoeuvre is paramount.

I imagine rather like being a president.

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