Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Audacity of Hope

A moment to shout out what just happened yesterday night.

I’m at work . . . absolutely NO GOOD today . . . because I stayed up until after one o’clock to watch a black man become President of the United States of America. I refused to believe it for like two hours. REFUSED. I was waiting for the pundits to be like, “SIKE!” He didn’t get Virginia; he didn’t get Indiana; he didn’t get California . . . just . . . he didn’t get it. But he did. I was alive to witness it. I thought about all the people who came before me; who died for this . . . who never in their natural-born lives thought this could even be SUGGESTED, let alone a reality.

I called my grandma and I couldn’t talk to her. So we just sat on the phone, well after eleven at night, and we watched McCain’s concession speech. I thought he gave a fantastic speech, to the point I think even if he had won, it would’ve been a fantastic speech too. He’s a classy guy—both he and Barack are. Even if there were measures of classlessness by supporters on both sides of this political race, but I was glad to hear the concession speech, and Barack’s speech (I’m sorry, I know he’s President-Elect, but dammit, I done claimed Barack . . . we family . . . shoo . . . lol). But seriously, after the speech, we also just sat there. And then my grandma, who’s gonna be 87 on the 30th this month. She said she was grateful to be alive to see this and that she never thought it would happen and I just . . . whoo. She saw this. Born in 1921—NEVER had she probably thought it would happen. Hell, I’m twenty-five years old and I never thought it would happen in MY lifetime. But it had. And I’m so glad she was.

I called my grandma; I called my 65-year-old dad (who didn’t answer and was probably out somewhere actin’ a STRAIGHT FOOL—I called him at work this morning as well; he was :-P); I called my aunt and we talked and then my cousin talked. She said she wished my uncle, her husband; a man who’d been at SC State during the Orangeburg Massacre; a man who served in Korea and Vietnam had been alive to witness this; wished my mother, a woman who actively marched for Civil Rights—almost got hit by a truck during one of those instances—first black woman who had her own law practice in Columbia, SC, were here to witness this; but that they were looking down on history. My cousin joked they probably were wearing Obama stickers in heaven and actively campaigning for an Obama victory! I thought about them and wished they were here too.

The first person I’d called, though, was my sister. She was on campus with the Black Students’ Association party and she was actually the person who told me it had actually happened . . . even though I’m watching the damn returns myself. I was ACTIVELY DISBEILIVING it. I was telling the pundits to shut up and don’t call states that hadn’t even reported because it was unfair and irresponsible. I cussed out The New York Post calling it before some key states had posted their results. But then, I mean . . . wow. WOW. My sis said the Africans were crying with joy but the Black Americans were cautious with their celebration because we wanted this to be real. We didn’t want the rug pulled out from under us, something people of color had experience after experience with.

I think about why I called my sister first, though. We are the firsts born post–Civil Rights in our family, right in the heyday of Reagan, when things weren’t looking so dreamlike and hopeful for blackfolk. We’d been raised on the Civil Rights heroes and the pre–Civil Rights heroes and could recite the second half of the “I Have a Dream” Speech and sang songs about Dr. King (and then added our own verses of Malcolm X and Medgar Evers and Booker T. and WEB . . . lol), but we were still under the belief it was just that—a dream. Something that would never be realized in our lifetimes despite the strides blackfolk have made. It would always be a dream deferred to shrivel up like a raisin in the sun as Langston Hughes had said. There was nothing happening in our purview to make us think differently. Because even with our education, and our middle-class believes, and our middle-class jobs, and more of us doing right than doing wrong . . . there were still more closed doors than open ones; still more “you can’ts” than “you cans”; still more doubts than the benefits of them; still more “you’re not like those other black people . . .”

And yes, Barack Obama is exceptional, but then again not really. I went to school with people like Barack and Michelle Obama. I sat next to them in class; I debated with them; discussed with them. I was borne from them and raised by them. Those “other black people” ARE Barack and Michelle; and yes, Barack had a white mother from Kansas and was raised by his white grandparents; but they couldn’t prevent him being called a nigger or being thought as “less than” or shield him from the things white people will never, ever have to experience on a mass-societal level. And yes, Obama got an overwhelming majority of the electoral votes and over fifty percent of the popular vote, but I’m sorry to say, racism isn’t over.

Not by a long shot.

We are not a colorblind nation (nor should we be, but that’s another post); the headlines are he’s the first African-American President of the United States. That is true, and nothing about the lack of the Bradley effect or the fact “just enough” white people voted for him is going to change the fact that because he is a black man sitting in the highest office in the land, he is still very much an exception. It should tell you something this country has only elected three black senators since Reconstruction and five total. It should tell you something there have been only four black governors total in the country—two of them being elected in the last three years. The fact people and pundits are trying to say race didn’t play a factor does a disservice to the fact that it HAD—maybe not in the negative way people thought it would—and that will always be there and be present. It’s like they’re trying to diminish what this victory means for people like me and the people who died fighting for the right to be considered a full human being—never mind a citizen; never mind a citizen whose rights had to be respected; never mind a citizen whose voice should be heard; never mind a citizen who had been here building a nation literally from the ground up—talk about your “grassroots efforts”. The man was surrounded by glass as he gave his acceptance speech “just in case” for goodness sake. We put a sizable dent in the institution of racism, but it’s far from eradicated.

But then I saw the Obamas walk out as the FIRST FAMILY. And then that was it. And after I thought about what just happened . . . what they represent . . . I finally cried. And I didn’t sob; it was just a quiet cry . . . I am so overwhelmed that there will be people who look like me in the White House who aren’t cleaning it or cooking in it, but living there and being the face of the country because the electorate had chosen the son of a White woman from Kansas and a Black man from Kenya to lead it. And the country will see an accomplished black woman standing by her husband’s side, being his rock, being the person he turns to when he needs someone to keep it real and ground him. They’ll see black little girls be GIRLS and not be short women this country thinks them to be . . . girls who have the complete and unadulterated love of their father, even if their father couldn’t say the same about his. Seeing a black family unashamed to love each other, because so often all you hear about is the “broken” black family, and I truly believe they are stronger for what they’ve been through and what they will go through.

It’s disheartening to hear some folks are saying it’s racist that so many black people registered to vote for the first time just for a black man. Seriously? Seriously? How in the world is that racist? Jesse Jackson ran twice and didn’t have nearly the support Barack did. Black people weren’t on the Obama train for a MINUTE, but this is someone with whom many people of color especially could connect with; and I would even say had Robert Kennedy survived, he would’ve gotten an insane amount of support from black voters as well. It wasn’t necessarily about the man’s skin color; it was about the fact THIS presidential candidate seemed to be committed to improving the lives of EVERYONE. For the first time we, black people especially, felt as if we were part of the conversation every time he opened his mouth . . . without specifically calling us out. The audacity of hope—that’s all black people have HAD since the moment our ancestors were brought over here.

There are those opponents who say hope can’t feed you; hope can’t protect you from the big baddies of the world. You tell that to all the people who came before me. We’re still here. We still survived. We survived being 3/5ths of a person as mandated by the US Constitution; we survived being told no white person had to respect our humanity and rights in the Dred Scott case. We survived “separate but equal”, when it was really separate and unequal. We survived being hung, run off roads, beaten, attacked, just for simply being here without shackles on our wrists. We survived bombs and denial after denial after denial. We survived being in a country that extended its promises to everyone, it seemed, but those with too much melanin. We fought for this country; we loved this country in spite of its faults and because we wanted America to live up to those promises and extend them to all its citizens, not just the ones descended from Europeans or the ones who have a whole lot of money. Wanted the dream to come true . . . not just stay a dream.

Wow. I think about the history books I had . . . the ones that were full of white faces and black people only made appearances during the 1860s and the 1960s. As if we didn’t exist outside of those times. Now, if I’m blessed enough to have children, they will have a history book that prominently features a someone who looks like them for something so positive. And if my child says, “Mommy, I want to be president when I grow up.” I will be able to now say, with conviction and pride,

“Yes, you can.”

1 comment:

divisionred said...

Savannah, you broke it down...thanks for such an invigorating, reading what you wrote brought tears to my eyes because...I did cry when I saw that Barack Obama was the 44th Presidet Elect of the United States. I cried when his family joined him on the podium and I cried when he spoke as his speech was so on point...I cried just because I never thought in my life time that I would see a black man win by so many votes to become the next President of the United States. This is such a huge victory for America not just black folk but for America. I to thought about all that died to make this time even possible, Martin Luther King, Malcom X, Medgar Evers, and so many more that stood up and we don't even know their names but they were their on the March on may unsung heroes...this is truely a historical moment in American history and I am so glad that I was here to witness it. I am also glad that ny daughter who is 15 was a witness to this history making event. Thanks again for your inspiring commentary on this monumental event...take care and God Bless.