I understood what Michelle Obama meant when she said “this is the first time I’ve been proud of my country.” She was attacked for failing to embrace what others took for granted. Yes, she and her husband, Barack, are the beneficiaries of the opportunities offered those who live in this country. Both were able to pull themselves up from their own boot straps and create success from woeful pasts. Sometime was missing. Something so deep that no words could express the angst within her spirit.
She felt the change coming when she made that statement. A whirlwind of emotions stirred within her because of what she saw and felt-people coming together to pave the way for her husband to become President. Hope caught hold and she couldn’t hold it in-yes, I’m proud of my country, and yes, it is the first time I have felt like this.
My friend April Garret called me the day after the election. “Carl you know I love being black. My black skin feels so much better today,” she said. So true. I have always loved my skin, but have walked in fear that others would use it against me. I stood there waiting for something to go wrong. It all seemed too good to be true. Not in America. Not given our history. America isn’t ready for my skin. I trembled with each projection made. He won Virginia, it’s getting closer. He won Ohio. Could it be?
My heart wouldn’t stop beating. So many memories now. I remembered the day Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. As I walked home from school, three white boys grabbed me, threw me into a tree, kicked me and then spat in my face. “Your King is dead Nigger,” I cried there cuddled under the tree. Why me? What had I done? It then came to me-they hated my skin.
Other memories kept coming. Like the day I walked into my high school counselor’s office to talk about my future. I sat in the chair across from him. He never pulled my file. He talked to me about learning a trade. I told him I wanted to go to college and become a writer. He told me I was wasting my time. He never looked at my grades. I wondered why. He hated my black skin.
I reflected on the hostility I carried because of my skin. I remembered how my former in-laws told me to give up on school and take a job washing dishes at the nearby restaurant. “You think you better than everyone else,” one of them told me. I left the room and cried. I cried alone in hope of support from someone, anyone, who would tell me I have more to offer, that I have a talent and that I should pursue my dream. They too hated my black skin.
I watched Jesse Jackson cry. I wondered what he was thinking. Maybe it was King’s dream. Maybe it was his own quest for the White House. Other’s cried too. My tears overwhelmed me. I went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror. I took a look at my skin, that beautiful black skin, and I loved me in a way that had escaped my grasp. “They love you too Carl,” I released the bitterness of the years. “They love your black skin too.”
I looked deeper, much deeper, and then the words came out. “You can love your skin too.” I looked at my skin. It had been the reason for my hostility and the crutch of my pessimism. “Look at this!” I cried out. “Look at this Fredrick Douglass. Look at what you helped do. Look at this Fannie Lou Hammer, look Marcus Garvery, look at me Emitt Till, look Medger Evers, Abner Luma, look James Byrd, look Shirley Chisholm. Look at this!”
Look at this skin. Look at this freedom. Look at this unity. Look at this America, this new America, and shout with me. Shout as loud as you can. Wave your black fist high and shout with me-God Bless America, land of the free.
This is my country too! Thank you America for giving us what we have needed. It’s more than those 40 acres and mules you promised. You have proven that you trust us. Thank you.
Look at my black skin!