Wednesday, November 05, 2008

President Barack Obama

It's after 1:oo AM and the election coverage is dying down. Barack Obama is the 44th President of the United States of America.

A little while ago, John McCain gave his concession speech. It was generous and classy -- the kind of speech the "old" McCain used to give. Ironically, it may have been the best speech he gave this campaign. The man's no fool -- in his heart of hearts he must have seen the writing on the wall weeks ago. Surely he's glad it's over.

Obama's acceptance speech in Chicago's Grant Park reminded us of why so many were inspired by his campaign. Rather than being triumphant, it was inclusive. It never avoided the fact that there are daunting issues to confront, and indeed he made the point we will all need to work together as a nation to solve them. At times, he evoked Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech but now the dream was for all Americans: black, white, brown, old, young, gay or straight.

(---After a good night's sleep)

Everyone's doing this but here are a few personal notes.

Growing up in Texas I once pressed the button on the "colored" drinking fountain at the neighborhood Motts's 5 & 10. "But the water isn't colored," I said, bewildered by the illogic of the whole thing.

Despite the fact that my dad's side of the family hailed from rural East Texas, a place of virulent racism, the seeds of tolerance were planted in my parent's home. Once my mother slapped me for using the word "nigger." She angrily told me it was a terrible, disrespectful word, and I was never to use it again. I can still remember standing in the kitchen, tears streaming down my face, shocked at my mother's reaction.

I was six.

A few years later, we moved to the suburbs of Chicago. If my father's military service was the great transforming event in his life, the move to Chicago was certainly mine.

Soon after moving, I had my appendix removed. I shared a hospital room with a kid about my age: a black kid. Apparently the hospital felt the need for some degree of discussion on whether this arrangement would be okay (perhaps they figured out my parents were southerners) before putting me in the room. I don't think it mattered to my folks, at least I never picked up on it. As I look back, I think this was the first time I'd ever had any social interaction with someone my age who was not white. We discussed why we were there and made small talk.

Speaking of our move to Chicago, my mother once told me she expected people to be much more enlightened up north and was surprised to discover that in many ways northerners were more bigoted than southerners.

It was Chicago where I met my friend Dan, who I have known since the 5th grade. He came from a family where liberalism seemed to be as ingrained as conservatism was in mine. Dan was one of the great agents of change for my life (which is probably why he sensed my parents' vague disapproval). When Martin Luther King was assassinated it was Dan, among all my junior high peers, who actually talked and agonized about it.

Finally, I remember the Democratic National Convention in 1968, where Grant Park turned into a war zone. To see it last night transformed into a place of celebration and hope gave me a sense that we, as a nation, are about to turn the corner: the fever has broken on the national malaise that has gripped our country the last few years.

God, I hope so.

1 comment:

Dan Brekke said...

Hey, there, down in Texas. Great post, and a wonderful compliment to me. I've told a couple people in the last few weeks about our fifth-grade "campaign" for LBJ. I'm very happy that after all these years, we're still keeping track of each other. As my Uncle Bill would have said, with absolutely no irony, keep the faith.