Wednesday, November 05, 2008
Yes We Can.
My refusal to claim pride for things I did not earn has raised the eyebrows and (sometimes) the ire of people who know me best and love me the most. The assumption seems to be that if I am not proud, I must be ashamed. I don't see things that way.
I am not proud of being black or being a woman any more than I am proud of having ten toes or brown eyes. I am no more proud to be a United States or Chicago native than I am to be an earthling. Neither am I ashamed of any of the above. I earned none of it. I was born into it all. The rights, responsibilities, and headaches associated with all of these attributes are all mine to carry, and if given the choice, I may not choose differently, but I chose none of it, so I feel that any proclamations of "pride" or forced flag-waving would ring hollow.
I grew up on the south side of Chicago, a predominantly black area, but I have always been aware of cultural diversity. From watching Sesame Street in Spanish, to being bused across town to attend school with "the white kids", somehow I always had the sense that the world was bigger than the four blocks surrounding my house.
I was born much too late to march on Washington. Nobody ever made me sit at the back of the bus or drink from a "colored only" water fountain. I have only ever known the afro to be a hairdo - not a revolutionary statement.
I went to college in IOWA, for heaven's sakes. My closest friend for many years was a white woman. When I dance, I will shake it just as hard to Celia Cruz as I will to Beyoncé. Ditto for rocking out Rob Thomas or grooving with Neyo. Music is music, people are people, feelings are feelings, and rights are rights.
I am well aware of- and fully embrace the fact that I am a black woman. An American of African descent. I know my history and understand all of the complexities that comprise my cultural identity. I know that there are people with whom I feel a kinship by virtue of the color of my skin (making assumptions), and I know that there are people who will look at me decide that they know what I'm all about (again, making assumptions) based on the color of my skin. Thanks to my family, I was never taught to be inferior. I was never made to feel that I couldn't do anything because of the color of my skin, or that I even had that excuse. I did, however, know that I needed to be prepared to do it twice as well to get half as far as my caucasian counterparts.
I am registered as a non-partisan voter. I voted for Hillary in the primary because I thought she was the best candidate. As time went on, my thoughts started to change. Senator Obama seemed to better address my personal concerns for myself and my country, and he did it with such grace and honesty that it just made sense to vote for him. And he just happened to be a black man.
As time passed I became more and more excited about the possibility of Barack Obama becoming president. To me, he represented positive change, and the possibility of pulling us all together rather than the divisiveness that has characterized our country of late. Even his blended background and upbringing spoke to that. I think his wife, Michelle, is F-A-B-O, and their daughters are darling as can be (that's an aside). Something about him and his message makes me want to be better. So I voted for him.
And last night he won. And I felt (still feel) chills. I am more excited than I ever thought I would be - not just because a black man is president, but because we were able to come together and elect a black man as president. New voters, young voters, formerly disenfranchised voters (which includes a LOT of black people), people wanting CHANGE...we made this happen. We judged him, not just by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character, fulfilling Dr. King's dream. And for that, I am proud of my country, and for my part in this, however small, I am proud of myself - as an American, an African-American, and a woman. All of me.
Going forward, there is much to be done. Much. But today, I will rejoice, be proud, pray for my country, and for the wisdom, safety, and fortitude for our new president-elect, Barack Hussein Obama.