Archive for November, 2008
Feeling the Love
Sunday, November 9th, 2008

Before I saw my son crumpled on the floor, I thought I understood what Barack Obama signified. When the words "President-elect Barack Obama" flashed across our basement TV, the whoops from my son Darrell, 23, and five friends were deafening. Flinging open the door, Darrell and his friend Phil ran into the night as if fleeing a room too small to contain the moment. Another friend, Paul, stood frozen and blank-faced before the TV. Hugging him, I felt his shoulders heave with sobs. Darrell, too, was crying— something I hadn’t seen since 1996. After several calls to buddies that ended with "I love you, man," he finally collapsed to the floor.

Few people are less likely to dissolve into teary displays than young black men. Their elders seemed equally stirred. My brother turned off his phone because he was "too emotional" to speak, pundits Roland Martin and Juan Williams opined with glistening eyes, Colin Powell barely held it together, and Jesse Jackson stood wet-faced in Grant Park, looking stunned and agenda-less. But older black men have felt racism’s jolts more directly; their behavior models never included rappers whose reps were built on how many times they’d been shot.

So I was stunned by Darrell’s crew and by the scores of damp-eyed young brothers they later joined outside the White House to share hugs and high-fives. Back at home, my son was still floating. "Everything’s different," he said.

Maybe it is.

Whenever someone suggests that race doesn’t matter, I think of the old Redd Foxx joke that only a nuclear war could make it moot: We’d all be black— and crisp. But there was nothing funny about my cocky son crumpled on the carpet or about countless black professionals, workingmen, college students and street toughs dissolving publicly into tears.

Before Obama’s election, I wrote: "When all is said and done, it isn’t about a black man rising to where Barack Obama finds himself. It’s about this black man. At this particular moment."

Skin color didn’t vault this candidate into the presidency. What got Obama elected was Obama.

His fluency with words and ideas. His imaginative campaign. His unflappability. His penchant, displayed in the debates, for agreeing with foes before pointedly telling them where they’re wrong. At this particular moment, calmness, inspiration, creativity and alliance-building were catnip to folks facing two wars, recession and a waning international reputation.

Yet the power of what Obama’s skin color symbolizes is undeniable. He’s a black man— half white, but so brown there’s no confusion as to how he’s identified. As moved as I am by revelers in Japan and Brazil, I keep thinking about the guys in my basement.

No group in America is more feared, stereotyped and misunderstood than black men. Centuries of rejection, fear and hatred have taken a toll; is it surprising that so many display self-doubt and self-loathing? Economics alone can’t explain many young brothers’ seeming contempt for their own women, their exaggerated displays of machismo in dress and attitude, or the scores who’ve blown each other away out of perceived disrespect. Truly confident people don’t need to trumpet their masculinity, their power.

But the men downstairs were lucky— college-educated, employed or in college, with dedicated mothers and father figures who’d taught them to respect women and their own worthiness. So why were they losing it?

Everything in human existence comes back to love— whom we love, how we love, whether we are loved. The lack of love shrinks and deforms us; its presence helps us grow and expand. To black folks, Obama’s hordes of volunteers and enormous rallies represented more than a populace weary of shrinking possibilities. They were an outpouring of love— not just of the effortless politician who’d captivated them but of that which they hoped their nation was capable of.

On Tuesday night, my son and his friends saw their neighbors give their trust— their love— to a man whose grace, facial features, commitment to doing the right thing and multicultural view resembled theirs; a man who could have been their father, their cousin— or them. Their response wasn’t just about the notion that they, too, could become anything. It was about the suggestion that they could be embraced in ways that others have long taken for granted.

If people could cut through the invisible thread of racism woven in the nation’s fabric for Obama, maybe they’d do it for them.

Darrell, too, is a black man— who’s been unjustly stopped by the police, followed around stores and patronizingly told, "You speak so well!" At some point, his Nikes will touch the ground. He will again perceive intolerance’s sting and realize that perhaps everything isn’t different.

But enough is different right now that tears, "I love yous" and a collapse to the floor make perfect sense.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company



Let’s Forget Our Racist Past and Celebrate Change
Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

With the nation possibly on the brink of electing Barack Obama, what fascinates me is not the transformation promised by the “Change You Can Believe In” candidate. It is the change that had to occur within the rest of us to get him here.

Grief expert Molly Fumia has written that to be joyful in this world is “a brave and reckless act.” Such courage springs not from the certainty of human experience but from the surprise. It takes courage in a cynical world, she says, “to be happily surprised.”

What could be braver or more joyfully stunning than the nation’s embrace of a presidential candidate who is the son of a white Kansan mother and black Kenyan father—the product of a union that not so long ago would have been banned by 30 states? Some are dismayed by this astonishing event; others seem almost blase, viewing it as “inevitable progress.”

But change of this magnitude does not just happen. We make it happen. Few of us know how to get our minds around something so seismic, so we pretend it is not such a big deal.

Yet while media types prognosticate about the “Bradley effect” and people waving monkey dolls at rallies, Americans have been quietly wrestling with their private response to this once-unimaginable phenomenon.

It is one thing to believe that you aren’t prejudiced. It’s another to exercise your largely untested tolerance through your vote for the world’s most important job.

We should not pretend that such choices are easy. Doing so dishonours the hard work it can take to transcend being raised in homes, communities and a nation where racism was actively asserted, subtly suggested or bubbled beneath the surface.

As a black American, I should have easily rejected the whispers that suggested that I, and nearly everyone I loved and admired while growing up, was inferior. Yet for years, I worried that my hair, skin colour, body type, speech, intelligence, loyalty, morals — all the things I worked to perfect as a girl, student, daughter and citizen — were deemed less worthy because I was a Negro.

If I could absorb such self-limiting claptrap; if the mother who adored me could describe my slightly kinky hair as “not nearly as bad” as her own; if one of my sons could say at age 4 that he disliked his terrific day-care centre because “there are too many black people there”; and if the blond best friend of another son could tell his mother that he did not like black people and that his buddy Darrell just couldn’t be black — how could I doubt racism’s subtle insinuations in everybody’s psyche?

Traces of intolerance, it seems, are in the water we drink, the air we breathe. One can’t just stop drinking or breathing.

If you’re black, do you allow this unforeseen turn of events to challenge your assumptions — and allow that racism may be less intractable, and people more open-minded, than your experience suggested? Isn’t that what Michelle Obama’s much-maligned comment about “really” being proud of her country for the first time as an adult was about — being proud as a black person?

As a descendant of slaves whose observations and experiences taught her to worry as most black women do: that prejudice might prevent her daughters’ wonderfulness from being embraced, her own brilliance from being acknowledged and her fellow citizens from trusting their children’s future to any black man, even one as extraordinary as her husband?

The pride that such women feel over their countrymen rallying after Sept 11, Hurricane Katrina and every other crisis is real — and informed by the knowledge that that’s what Americans have always done. But even the most optimistic black folks doubted America was capable of this.

Being happily surprised by your neighbours’ openheartedness is a good thing. It lifts everybody — and we need to be buoyed as the nation wades into waters this unfamiliar.

Change is scary. Certainly, some “undecideds” are actually quite certain — of their reluctance to help launch a black man, no matter how eloquent or inspiring or seemingly attuned to their needs, into the presidency.

The campaign’s undercurrents exert tremendous pressures on us all. Witness the hoax by the McCain volunteer who reported that a backward “B” carved into her face was the handiwork of a big black man angry about her presidential choice.

Hoping to spark anti-Obama backlash, she instead showed how insanely such undercurrents can spur some to behave.

Now that even stable people are saying that the change they crave most is for the election to be over, I have a suggestion:

For one shining moment, let’s call a halt to our red-blue bickering and predicting. Rather than glancing back at our racist past or peering into our uncertain future, we’ll allow ourselves a brief celebration of now.

We’ll be brave and reckless enough to be happily surprised by one undeniable change:

Against all sensible odds and reasoned predictions, untold numbers of Americans of every persuasion have opened their hearts, minds and souls to the possibility that a black man is the best choice to lead them.

Whatever happens, an immeasurable amount of light has illuminated our darkness. Once such doors have been pried open, it’s hard shutting them as tightly as before.

That’s a change worth believing in.

© 2008 Nation Media Group. This article was taken from BDAfrica.com. BDAfrica carries a selection of stories from the newspaper Business Daily, published out of Nairobi by the Nation Media Group.



Obama’s Nation
Sunday, November 2nd, 2008

With the nation possibly on the brink of electing Barack Obama, what fascinates me isn’t the transformation promised by the "Change You Can Believe In" candidate. It’s the change that had to occur within the rest of us to get him here.

Grief expert Molly Fumia has written that to be joyful in this world is "a brave and reckless act." Such courage springs not from the certainty of human experience but from the surprise. It takes courage in a cynical world, she says, "to be happily surprised."

What could be braver or more joyfully stunning than the nation’s embrace of a presidential candidate who is the son of a white Kansan mother and black Kenyan father— the product of a union that not so long ago would have been banned by 30 states? Some are dismayed by this astonishing event; others seem almost blase, viewing it as "inevitable progress."

But change of this magnitude doesn’t just happen. We make it happen. Few of us know how to get our minds around something so seismic, so we pretend it isn’t such a big deal. Yet while media types prognosticate about the "Bradley effect" and people waving monkey dolls at rallies, Americans have been quietly wrestling with their private response to this once-unimaginable phenomenon.

It’s one thing to believe that you aren’t prejudiced. It’s another to exercise your largely untested tolerance through your vote for the world’s most important job.

We shouldn’t pretend that such choices are easy. Doing so dishonors the hard work it can take to transcend being raised in homes, communities and a nation where racism was actively asserted, subtly suggested or bubbled beneath the surface. As a black American, I should have easily rejected the whispers that suggested that I, and nearly everyone I loved and admired while growing up, was inferior. Yet for years, I worried that my hair, skin color, body type, speech, intelligence, loyalty, morals— all the things I worked to perfect as a girl, student, daughter and citizen— were deemed less worthy because I was a Negro.

If I could absorb such self-limiting claptrap; if the mother who adored me could describe my slightly kinky hair as "not nearly as bad" as her own; if one of my sons could say at age 4 that he disliked his terrific day-care center because "there are too many black people there"; and if the blond best friend of another son could tell his mother that he didn’t like black people and that his buddy Darrell just couldn’t be black— how could I doubt racism’s subtle insinuations in everybody’s psyche?

Traces of intolerance, it seems, are in the water we drink, the air we breathe. One can’t just stop drinking or breathing.

But if you’re white, whom do you tell that you’re struggling with voting for Obama not because of rants about "socialism" but because of deeply rooted fears that are difficult to examine, let alone admit?

If you’re black, do you allow this unforeseen turn of events to challenge your assumptions— and allow that racism may be less intractable, and people more open-minded, than your experience suggested? Isn’t that what Michelle Obama’s much-maligned comment about "really" being proud of her country for the first time as an adult was about— being proud as a black person? As a descendant of slaves whose observations and experiences taught her to worry as most black women do: that prejudice might prevent her daughters’ wonderfulness from being embraced, her own brilliance from being acknowledged and her fellow citizens from trusting their children’s future to any black man, even one as extraordinary as her husband?

The pride that such women feel over their countrymen rallying after Sept. 11, Hurricane Katrina and every other crisis is real— and informed by the knowledge that that’s what Americans have always done. But even the most optimistic black folks doubted America was capable of this.

Being happily surprised by your neighbors’ openheartedness is a good thing. It lifts everybody— and we need to be buoyed as the nation wades into waters this unfamiliar.

Change is scary. Certainly, some "undecideds" are actually quite certain— of their reluctance to help launch a black man, no matter how eloquent or inspiring or seemingly attuned to their needs, into the presidency. The campaign’s undercurrents exert tremendous pressures on us all. Witness the hoax by the McCain volunteer who reported that a backward "B" carved into her face was the handiwork of a big black man angry about her presidential choice.

Hoping to spark anti-Obama backlash, she instead showed how insanely such undercurrents can spur some to behave.

Now that even stable people are saying that the change they crave most is for the election to be over, I have a suggestion:

For one shining moment, let’s call a halt to our red-blue bickering and predicting. Rather than glancing back at our racist past or peering into our uncertain future, we’ll allow ourselves a brief celebration of now. We’ll be brave and reckless enough to be happily surprised by one undeniable change:

Against all sensible odds and reasoned predictions, untold numbers of Americans of every persuasion have opened their hearts, minds and souls to the possibility that a black man is the best choice to lead them. Whatever happens, an immeasurable amount of light has illuminated our darkness. Once such doors have been pried open, it’s hard shutting them as tightly as before.

That’s a change worth believing in.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company









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