Thursday, November 6, 2008

Obama's Victory: My Black Skin

I stood there drenched in tears. I couldn’t stop them. I didn’t want to stop them. Each drop baptized a once painful memory, transforming it into a new truth. This is the American Dream. I felt it, for the first time. I understood, for the first time, the pride felt by others when they say those words-“I pledge allegiance to the flag…”, “God bless America…”

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!


  1. That last line really struck a cord with me: America has proven that it trusts us. That's both heartening and disheartening. Heartening that it appears that after all this time, that by and large America is growing in trust of Black people. Disheartening that it took so long, and there are still so many who don't.

    I think of what happened at NC State--my alma mater--with the hate graffiti in its free expression tunnel on campus in response to Obama's election that had to be white washed. I think of the white faces that would not turn to look at me when I smiled and greeted them with a hello yesterday, perhaps because their candidate did not win, or perhaps because of my skin in general. I know that is being judgmental, and I pray for God's forgiveness, but Tuesday was in many ways just the beginning of a long climb, not the summit.

    Although we can bask in his accomplishment, I think deep down each black person knows that Obama can not, at least not for long. He knows (or should know) what most of us know, and that is that Black people have often had to work twice as hard and do twice as much to get the same recognition as Whites. I'm not begrudging anyone that; it's just true. So I fear that unless his presidency is at least as "successful" as Clinton's, FDR's and JFK's, that he won't be remembered in any better light than W.

    But I believe he's up to the task. More importantly, I believe we're up to the task as a people and as a nation to move beyond the need for late trust being placed to true mainstream acceptance and accountability. Let's not stop with Obama, because now every child truly can believe he/she can grow up to be anything, including President of the United States.

  2. For me, watching Obama's victory speech was almost surreal...I hear my teachers at Central talk about how they had to live in segregation, and how their parents couldn't vote. I'm only 24 years old, and white--but I have been haunted all my life by the terrible wrong that my country has done. The stories. The photographs. The conversations I have had with people who lived through it all--the Civil Rights Movement, the Voting Rights Act, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X. The stories do nothing short of horrify me. Shame me. I have always, always felt guilty--as if I had done it myself.

    Last night, as I watched Obama's victory speech, I made it through without crying until I saw Jesse Jackson, and then I lost it. I thought, for hundreds of years of our nation's history, whites have treated blacks horribly, for no reason other than the fact that they were black. But last night as I watched the multi-racial crowd at his acceptance speech--almost a quarter of a million people!--I thought, we did this together. Blacks, Whites, Latinos--we did this. Whites still have so much to do, so many amends to make--but perhaps this is a start.

  3. This past Tuesday evening, I played word puzzles and games to divert my attention away from the newscasts as the results rolled in, state by state. The last time I peeked at the t.v. screen, Obama had just over 50 electoral votes on McCain. I went back to my word games.

    Then, at about 10:50 pm, my daughter phoned me. “Mom, I am so happy!” she exclaimed.

    “What? What? Did he do it? Did he really do it??” I replied. My heartbeat quickened like bird wings fluttering in my chest.

    “Mom, we have a black president! Do you know what that means? And, Mom, I’m so glad that I took the kids with me when I voted. They got to see me vote for our first black president!” Until Obama’s campaign, I hadn’t imagined that I would hold this conversation with my daughter until we were both nearly senior citizens. Her happiness and pride overwhelmed my own.

    After our talk, I did return to the television, and following part of McCain’s elegantly delivered concession speech, I watched Obama’s acceptance speech at Grant Park in Chicago, Like others, I feel huge relief that we elected a Democratic president, one who spoke of rights for all groups of people, one who consistently displayed a keenness of judgment and wisdom to lead the United States, and one who revealed remarkable insight regarding the need to build coalitions in order to rebuild our country. I eagerly looked forward to celebrating with others the next day at school.

    On Wednesday morning, I parked in the staff lot. As I stepped out of my car, I saw a fellow teacher whom I knew to be an Obama supporter. We smiled at one another. I gave him a thumbs-up. We said nothing more than, “Good morning!” Other teachers walked through the parking lot like a bunch of ex-champion boxers who didn’t see that last swing coming. I knew not to say anything to them. When I entered the school building, I sensed the disappointment of some as equally as I did the pride of the rest of us.

    In my classes, I taught a lesson geared to reflecting on the presidential election. My students wrote journals on the topic of their post-election celebrations and concerns, created a word wall of their feelings, read a NY Times article, and then participated in a structured group discussion. My first two classes, tenth graders, worked their way through resentments to allow room for both celebration and concerns to be expressed respectfully in our classroom. (Still, I endured reading more than one journal entry that I could have burned on the spot, especially the one about how “the Bible states that when we elect a dark man to the presidency, the world is about to end.” This from one of my best students, a young man whom I’d previously admired. I told him that I thought the notion ridiculous.)

    Yet, my last class of the day, senior English, erupted into a hostile and negative environment when the conservative, white students dominated the discussion by disregarding previous guidelines about appropriate and inappropriate tones in our discussion. When I began to interject, the African-American students calmly stated, “No, no, it’s okay. I want to hear what they’re saying.” But, all too quickly, one students’ outrage at Obama’s election and another’s derogatory judgments about how African-Americans should react to his win forced me to shift gears and abort this lesson.

    Today, I apologized to one of my African-American students about the situation. I commended her on how composed she was during yesterday’s discussion. "Those were difficult conversations,” I told her. I expressed my regret that she didn’t get the opportunity to read her journal. She looked away. “I’m sure that you wrote about how proud you were of Obama’s election.” She smiled. “You deserve to be proud. I look forward to reading your entry the next time that I collect journals.”

    She gazed towards me with her beautiful bright eyes. “Did you tell Tiffany that, too?” She asked. Tiffany was her friend in class.

    “I will tell her,” I said. She left to go to her next class, I to the principal’s office. I had a converse situation to address that arose from yesterday’s discussion in the class. He supported me 100%, much to my relief. I had feared the backlash of the South. My conversation with him reminded me that the Southern state where I now make my home, North Carolina, elected Barack Obama.

    I’m looking forward to this weekend. I will go into town and rightfully celebrate!

    Peace and Power!

  4. Thank you, for your wonderful article. Many of the thoughts and feelings I too share with you. I am Educated, I am Beautiful and Yes WE Can make a difference. I can see that this is just the beginning of a new climb but, with God I can do all things!

    Tuesday, was the first night that I began to dream... I began to see my visions and possiblities dance and climb and jump leaps and bounds. I began to realize that my Master's Degree was not in vain... and I will get hired because of my knowledge and not denied because of my skin. I WILL tear down these negative thoughts of being BLACK in the south... Not Atlanta but, a rural places where blacks have to beg for a position and be cruel to others remain in them. There will be a Change... And, I will be the Change I want to see.

    Also, I love there family dynamics. What an example!!! I love the LOVE! the unrequited love exhibited by the Obama's!

    Thank you for your article. What wonderful thoughts and express.

  5. As we reflect on what Obama’s victory means to each of us, consider the following:

    Despite the high African American vote turnout, that’s not what elected Obama. Even Lavonia Allison, the victimization spinmeister, remarked that his election could not have been possible without the support of a lot of white people. That support was apparently a surprise to a lot of blacks, a real tragedy given the progress in racial relations over the past fifty years that wouldn’t have occurred without white support. Just proof that it takes time to change mindsets on all sides.

    The racially challenged whites and their progeny are now far outnumbered by the rest of us. They can be vocal about their fears of an Obama presidency (see JAE’s account), even those that are unfounded in fact, but will eventually be forced to face the reality before them. Similarly, blacks that only see the world through victimization face a new reality as well.

    Carl has eloquently discussed what the Obama win means for him as a black man. Most whites can empathize with his joy, even though they’ve never felt the full influence of what it means to be black. The victory also carries many other meanings, however, some of them sobering.

    As Juan Williams stated, “The idea of black politics now tilts away from leadership based on voicing grievance and identity politics based on victimization and anger. In its place is an era in which it is assumed that talented, tough people of any background will find a way to their rightful seat of power in mainstream political life. The Jacksons, Sharptons, and Rev. Wrights remain, but their influence and power fade to a form of nostalgia in a world of larger shared political agendas.” We are all Americans.

    An ABC TV news interview in a black barbershop provided the view of one of the customers that,” Now those young gangsta punks won’t have being black as an excuse; they’ll have to make something of themselves.” Some of the comments in this forum echo those sentiments. As pmeggett1217 noted, accountability not only follows trust but is essential for it.

    Unfortunately, we also have the comments of the Los Angeles woman who shouted, “It’s time to shop. I can’t wait for Obama to get me some of that $700 billion.” Hope she doesn’t hold her breath.

    There is still discrimination against people of all colors in America, unfortunately even by other people of color. However, Obama showed that even children of a repressed minority can maximize their strengths and overcome negative stereotypes through achievement.

    Reality will set in. Obama will not be able to deliver all that he promised any more than any other politician. Economics and politics will see to that. He will be the president of ALL the people, and their competing interests will temper his actions. He will disappoint all of us at some point.

    Obama has accomplished a major goal just by getting elected and proving to others what is possible. His presidency will now depend on whether he is who he says he is.

  6. I have a different perspective of the election. Rather than a vast sea change, I saw his vote as the realization of a possibility that has existed for years. As the talk of racism and division in our country has gone out over the airwaves, real change has been occurring. I know you wouldn't realize it listening to Black leaders, but its been getting better for years. I can honestly say that I think America would have been ready for this four years ago; it just happens that this year Obama was ready to run on a national stage. It is a pivotal moment, but has been years in the making. Think back: how has it been creeping in? Why wasn't it news, good news of a society coming together?

  7. This article gives the light in which we can observe the reality. this really is really nice one and provides indepth information. thanks for this good post.