"Jim Crow was the law of land…In order to survive you just learned what to do and how to work within the system. We were taught when we went to a white person's house, to go to the side door. We were taught when you got on a bus, to go to the back…You had sense enough to know that a lot of things were not right. You could live in those conditions forever or prepare yourself to change the conditions and make them right."
Last night, my husband asked my father whether he ever dreamed he would see a black man elected president. "I surely did not," Daddy replied.
...But there is one thing that I know for sure Barack Obama can help do that his opponent cannot: "normalize" the black family in America's eyes.
Last night, viewers of the Democratic National Convention spotted what is the rarest of things, according to media and statistics: a traditional, loving, black family. Wait...wait...I know that families come in all different varieties, and that families comprised of a single parent, same-sex parents, parents of different races and groups of extended relations, are as loving and valuable as the traditional model we insist on calling "the all-American family." It's just that I rarely see families like mine and the ones my husband and I grew up in on TV and in pop culture. (Clair and Cliff, where did you go?) It has been decided that relations between black men and women are dysfunctional, that all black women are unmarried and unmarriageable, that black children don't have fathers. (Related note: When my husband and I lived in Chicago, in a condo between downtown and the South Side, we noticed something odd about the card selection in the nearest Walgreen's, situated in the historic black neighborhood of Bronzeville. The selection for Father's Day cards, and birthday and seasonal cards for dad, was freakishly small. It was as if the store manager had decided "why bother," what with all those stories of absent daddies and dire predictions about the extinction of the black family.) So, forgive me if I get a little thrill when I see Sasha and Malia Obama become excited at their father's visage on a big, convention center screen. And pardon if I cheer a bit when the Democratic candidate and his wife bump fists, when she affectionately ribs him on the campaign trail, or when he rests his palm lovingly on the small of her back. Yes, Virginia, there are happy, black families.
I also appreciate how having a black family constantly in the news spotlights little cultural flourishes that are black and American, but invisible to the mainstream--like the Obama kids' "girlpie" hair that is sometimes "pressed," sometimes in twists, sometimes in cornrows, sometimes fuzzy in the way that black girl hair gets fuzzy. I worry about those little ones, who may have to experience adolescence in the public eye, but maybe, by watching them grow, it will be harder to "otherize" black women into "nappy-headed hoes."
And so it is back to work. Oh yes, we can savor the moment for a while, for a few days, perhaps a week. But well before inauguration day we will need to be back on the job, in the community, in the streets, where democracy is made, demanding equity and justice in places where it hasn’t been seen in decades, if ever. Because for all the talk of hope and change, there is nothing–absolutely, positively nothing–about real change that is inevitable. And hope, absent real pressure and forward motion to actualize one’s dreams, is sterile and even dangerous. Hope, absent commitment is the enemy of change, capable of translating to a giving away of one’s agency, to a relinquishing of the need to do more than just show up every few years and push a button or pull a lever. Read more...
Even as I struggle to put into words the emotion of this moment it is to generations long past that I am drawn.
To the women who organized then and now...who created the techniques that were applied so brilliantly in 2008.
To the brave people who sat when told to stand...who marched when warned to stand home...that spoke when cautioned to be silent...and to those who gave their lives to the cause of social justice.
And I am humbled that I watched the history of their creation last night.
Now, we begin. Read more...