I’m getting hopeful about America again. Nah, not about the economy or the market, I’m excited about politics. Because after nearly 30 years of voting, I finally have a candidate I can identify with in Barack Obama. Maybe that is one of the benefits of middle age.
No matter what his critics are saying, the man knows what he’s talking about on stuff that matters to me. I finally listened to the speech he delivered about race back in March and for me, it was a brilliant piece of work.
I’ve long wrestled with my own racist and bigoted views. As a white American male, I grew up with all the baggage of black and white. I remember the fight in the 70s over forced school desegregation . That’s when black kids from inner Wilmington were put on buses and driven out to my white suburban school and ‘integrated.’ I remember white parents pulling my friends out of public school and sending them to catholic and private schools, just to avoid having their children exposed to “those” kids.
I remember the busloads of black kids who were attended my high school. I didn’t see many of them in my classes; they were tracked into “general education” and I was sent into “college prep.” I mixed with a few in my art and drama courses, but by then, it was an “us and them” issue. I didn’t speak their language or understand their culture. And because they were a small group, they stuck close together. One need only look at the tables in the cafeteria to see the division. They had their tables; we had ours. And being in the majority, I was more comfortable than them.
But that racism shit followed me around. It still does. It’s like a nasty virus that has remained in my bones despite numerous attempts to exorcise it. I’m hoping my infection won’t replicate any farther but it still colors my thoughts and that affects my actions every day.
If you are an American, you pretty well know what I am talking about. And so does Barack. He knows because his white grandmother had it and she was bold enough to admit her fear of black men. Amen to that. He knows because he sees the cost to the white community of its own racism. He understands that many of us fear and resent attempts to even the playing field because we’ve been conditioned to think in “us and them” instead of broadening our vision to embrace a ‘win win’.
Let’s face it, racism and the poverty and disaffection and crime and broken families and fear and ignorance that goes along with our racist past and present is sapping our nation. With the country financially and morally over-extended , we can’t afford to have people fail. All that fear is just too damn expensive. And Barack is talking about that. Finally.
When he is elected, as I am sure he will be unless the power brokers have again jury-rigged the election machinery, he’ll have his work cut out. It’s a bit like being asked to turn a maggoty rotting horse into a five star meal for 300 million diners. All the while, as some of the kitchen staff do the dishes, others try to piss in the broth. And out back, someone else substitutes 10w40 for the olive oil and the wait staff are supplied with gasoline to cook the bananas foster. Let’s just hope there are enough principled workers and diners to stand up to the shenanigans and others who will take back the kitchen.
There are a million good ideas out there and in spite of the forces arrayed against meaningful change, some of them will get through. And that’s why I remain proud to be an American. I’m not expecting miracles but I love being part of this huge experiment of a nation. (And even if I am on the other side of the earth, I’m a bit of a cultural ambassador, proving again that not all Americans are ignorant, gun-toting whack jobs.) I love that we keep changing, steering more closely to the mark as the years go by. Sure we’ve taken some wrong turns and it has taken some of us longer than others to realize it, but it seems as if finally, we’re getting with the program. I think Winston Churchill said it well: “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing - after they've tried everything else.”
It seems like we’ve tried everything else. It’s time to get on with doing the right thing.