During the presidency of Herbert Hoover, Congress appropriated funds for the mothers of soldiers killed in World War I to go to Europe to visit their graves. The government then divided the women by race. "White mothers sailed to Europe in style while black mothers whose sons had been killed in their country's service were assigned to 'cattle ships.' "
-Richard Cohen, Harlem Renaissance, Washington Post
The above statement is the America that I have always known and carried with me everywhere I went, in my heart, in the back of my mind, even when people were trying to tell me otherwise. And while I didn’t even know about this particular incident, when I read it, I was like DAMN AMERICA! And then I was like OF COURSE AMERICA! But allegedly it’s a new day and we need to move past these things. This is what I’ve heard said by commentators and everyday people. Now, admittedly I was not an Obamaholic. I was not on the O train. Not to say I didn’t think that Obama is a brilliant, capable man with a plan. I just thought that change was a loaded word and meant different things to different people.
But beyond all of that was the fact that when I envisioned a Black person successfully running for President of these United States, I envisioned a person who was a descendant of slaves. Someone whose ancestors had labored and toiled in this country’s fields and factories for nothing or little pay. Someone whose ancestors had been beaten and brutalized by their fellow Americans. Someone whose ancestors had roots down South, while parts of the family moved North to pursue a better life. Someone whose ancestors had been enslaved, gone through the brief glimmer of hope that was Reconstruction, then the shame and pain of Jim Crow, fought for Civil Rights and a voice in this country. Someone whose ancestors’ major struggle was at every turn, demanding to be seen as an equal in their own home. I felt that then this person’s rise to the presidency could be a huge fcuk you (even if they couldn’t say it aloud) I still made it despite these centuries of obstacles, to their homeland. But that was not the case.
Along came a man who was born into this world by a Kenyan father and a white mother from Kansas. We all know his story. Here was a man talking about how much he loved America. And seeming sincere. Pointing out the best parts of America. Carrying nary a chip on his shoulder about the pain that my folks had been through. Making white folks feel all good about themselves. Talking about we are all one. All united. What America was he talking about? My feelings about America have always been like Chris Rock said, “America is like that uncle who put you through college, but molested you.” Yes, I have been to many other countries, and I recognize that the U.S. is a great place to live, but as a person of color, I recognize America’s black eye that is racism and injustice. And no matter how much foundation they try to put over it, until it’s barely visible, I know that it’s still there.
But then on election night, the results came pouring in and state after state turned blue. And I sat on my mother’s bed with breath that was baited, wondering if it were really going to happen. And when Obama hit the 220 electoral vote mark and California still hadn’t come in, I turned to my mother and said, “He’s got it.” My mother who was literally beaten in her hometown of Selma, Alabama on Bloody Sunday couldn’t believe it. She wouldn’t believe it until they finally called it. And even then she was in awe. When I immediately called my 82 year old grandmother she said, “When they put me in jail, I didn’t think I was doing it so I could live to see this.” And I was certain that my great grandmother,who passed away nine years ago, who protested for the right to vote on the courthouse steps and finally voted for the first time at the age of 58 was smiling down from heaven.
And when it was officially official, when CNN and MSNBC news anchors actually started calling it and saying President-elect Obama, my mother turned to my father (who rarely gets emotional about anything) and said, “Can you believe we lived to see it?”
And he quietly said, “No, I can’t.”
And my mother cried and cried. And my father sat in stunned silence. And we watched President-elect Obama speak, and the beautiful first family smiling on stage. And then we joined hands and prayed together.
And I realized that for my parents and their generation, my grandmother and her generation, it didn’t matter where this man Obama came from. What his roots were. Because when he stepped outside his door he would always be treated like a Black man and receive the unfair treatment they had known since the day they were born, that had unfairly been handed down from generation to generation, and then to every person of color who arrived on this shore. But here was a Black man who had risen higher than any of them could have ever imagined. They were the ones who scraped and saved for a better life as they were beaten, separated by race in the classroom, in neighborhoods, on the train, in the workplace, spat on, sprayed with hoses, bitten by dogs, marched until their feet were sore all the while praying and believing in a better day for their children. Always hoping for that check to be cashed and not come back marked insufficient funds. Knowing that America as whole was better than this.
And so this man could be their President of the United States of America. They had done the hard work so that he could reap the benefits. And if they were cool with him, then shit, how could I not be? Because during this campaign season, I have seen Black men walk a little taller, heard a Black mother proudly say, "You always tell your children they can be anything they want to be. And you mean it, but now they can see it", observed people of all races, classes and creeds come together with shared hope and vision. And with a great conclusion to this lonngg campaign season, a little bit of me and how I view this nation is changing. And I gotta say, it feels good.
That’s my time y’all! Happy Rum Punch Friday!