Thursday, November 6, 2008
I Never Thought I'd See The Day...
It was a whisper. “Hey Dad,” I asked him right around the time of the 2004 presidential election, “You think there’ll ever be a black president.” “Not in my lifetime.” He answered. We spoke in hushed tones, as if talking about it out loud would make it even more of an impossibility. And I figured he was right. My Dad usually knows about these things. I figured the same thing, not in this America. Not in my lifetime, not while there was still so much ignorance and hatred. Not 30 years after the white kids in my Dad’s high school teased him and fought with him for the “bean sandwiches” that my Grandma made him for lunch. Not 13 years after the police viciously beat Rodney King. Not yet, America wasn’t ready…
It was a yell. “Nigger!” And in that moment I understood. It’s different to read about lynch mobs and the KKK in textbooks or to hear Black comedians joke about not being able to get through airport security but to witness racism firsthand, that was something WAYYY different. I was fortunate, yes I am a Latino but I never had to deal with blatant racism and ignorance. I grew up in San Francisco, one of the most diverse places in the world. Sure people made jokes, but no one ever called me “spic,” “beaner,” or “wetback,” with malicious intent. I can still see Cyle seething in my mind, no provocation, nothing to deserve the slur, just me & him walking down the street to get to class. That was all it took, some ignorant, cowardly, dumb-ass punk who said it as he passed us in his pick-up truck, and then he got on the on-ramp of the freeway and drove off. Don’t even remember what he looked like, but that one comment forever resonated with me.
Somewhere in-between the whisper and the yell, I met Barack Obama, heard his speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. I had never paid much attention to political stuff like national conventions or “State of the Union” addresses, matter-of-fact I’m pretty sure I was just flipping channels ‘til I noticed something unusual about the speaker, Obama was…Black. His speech was riveting, I hung on every word he said. If he had told me to drink from the cyanide-laced punchbowl I probably would’ve done it. A young, articulate, charismatic politician, he was running for senator of Illinois, I felt bad for his opponent. I entertained a thought in my head…
It was a roar! “Barack Obama has been elected President of the United States!” Keith Olbermann announced it on MSNBC and the people that had been watching the election coverage at the student center since 1pm with me cheered. And they cheered @ Spellman in Atlanta, and in the Castro of my hometown in San Francisco, and @ Grant Park in Chicago. They were celebrating all around the country. People were crying, calling their parents. America had proved me wrong. They had spoken, and let their voice be known emphatically, they were ready.
Electing a black man as President does not erase America’s bloody and ugly history. It doesn’t erase the hundreds of years of slavery, or the fact that they forcefully went in and conquered Hawaii, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Western part of the US from Mexico, or the land that was stolen from the Native Americans and how the government then put them on reservations, or how we’re “liberating” the Iraqi people. It doesn’t erase any of that.
The election of Barack Obama as President of the United States isn’t a Black thing. It’s bigger than that. It means that the “minority” children in Mrs. Spillane’s 2nd grade class don’t have to feel bad when the white kids in the class gloat that all the presidents on the poster next to the chalkboard are white. Or no dumb statements like “This shit isn’t realistic!” every time a movie depicting a black president like “Deep Impact” or “Head of State” comes on. It means that a father and son don’t have to talk in hushed voices anymore.
People have to realize, change isn’t going to happen overnight. There’s still going to be racism and ignorance, and punk kids will still yell racial epithets to colored people. But for the 1st time ever, I, and other people around the country are PROUD to be Americans. For the first time, we have hope. There’s that cliché about America, that ANYONE from ANYWHERE, no matter what upbringing or race or gender or social class can be ANYTHING they want. November 4th was the first time I ever believed that.
And as I walked home that night, the Hawaiian sky celebrated with a beautiful pink sunset. I passed by the same spot where that guy degraded Cyle. There was silence.