Friday, January 9, 2009

thinking positively

*see note at bottom of entry about this photo

ok, so i put it on the line and entered the essay contest held by the presidential inaugural committee. did you hear about it on NPR? i'm not ashamed to say i didn't post about it yesterday because i didn't want to encourage more competition. ha ha

they are going to choose 10 winning essays and pay the person's way to DC, plus give them tickets to the parade, the inauguration, some neighborhood ball, and 2 nights' stay in a DC hotel.

there was a half-joke, half-seriousness going around at my house over the holidays about thinking positively. so at one point, my mom, sister, and i were driving around the mall parking lot "envisioning" empty parking spaces, trying to use that positive thinking to our advantage. we ended up stalking someone to their space.

but i digress. i'm trying to practice that more in my life lately. i wouldn't call it a resolution or anything. i don't really agree with doing that, because i feel like i just set myself up for failure. but my sister, who's a counselor, told me that if we have negative thoughts, they often turn out to be true, mostly because our energy is focused on thinking those negative thoughts. she has a much catchier way of saying it, so sara, if you are reading this, feel free to comment and give us your short version. (i don't think she reads this though...)

anyway, i heard about this essay contest on NPR, and i thought, well, i think i'm a pretty decent writer. i have things to say. i feel passionately, for the first time in my life, about politics, about who's president. heck, i almost cry every time i see obama's face on the news (don't tell rick; he'll make fun of me for being too emotional...).

so i thought why not enter? what do i have to lose? and i'm thinking positively. so now i have to line up a ball gown and find someone to keep our kids. any takers? :)

here's what i wrote. feel free to leave your thoughts--just not negative ones, if you don't mind, since i'm trying to focus on positive energy at this point.


Apathy. Ignorance. Naïveté. Not long ago, those words were me, in a nutshell, related to politics.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m a smart, educated, interesting, outspoken person. It’s just that learning about, getting involved in, politics seemed, well, boring. Useless. Hopeless. That is, until Barack Obama came on the scene.

The funny thing is, my husband majored in political science. He’s one of the most astute people I know when it comes to knowing things about and predicting outcomes related to politics. So when he saw Obama speak at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, he told me, “I think that guy is going to end up as president one day.” Little did he know just how soon that would become true…

To understand why it is such a big deal that I voted for Obama, that I attended one of his historic rallies (with a baby in tow, no less!), that I am sitting down to write this essay in hopes of attending the once-in-a-lifetime inaugural event, I should share with you my beginnings.

I was born in Hope, Arkansas, in the early seventies. You know, the town Bill Clinton hails from. For a while (before Clinton), its claim to fame (in the Guinness Book of World Records) was that one of its residents grew the largest watermelon on record.

Even though segregation was officially over by the time I came along, the stubborn roots of racism had not yet been weeded where I lived. My parents owned a chicken farm on the outskirts of Hope, so I attended a very rural school that held all 12 grades within its walls. I don’t remember knowing even one black student. At holiday family gatherings, the racial epithets flew. I knew there was something inherently wrong about having the kind of negative attitude some of my family members** had toward blacks especially. But as a rural, southern, white female, I didn’t really stand a chance of learning about diversity.

As I grew into adulthood, I didn’t carry an attitude of hate toward people of other races, but I certainly didn’t possess a posture of tolerance, of acceptance, of nonjudgment. All the jokes, stereotypes, southern “sayings” I had heard as a girl from those around me had become part of who I was, so I didn’t think anything of saying phrases like “ni**er rig” or assuming “all blacks like fried chicken and watermelon.” Incidentally, I love both fried chicken and watermelon—because I’m from the south! So I have no idea how southern whites can make this statement without naturally incriminating themselves. 

Then I met my husband. He grew up in a small, rural, southern town as well, but he had radically different views about race. One afternoon, in a dusty tobacco warehouse when he was just 15 years old, he was just about to be beaten up by some white boys who were much bigger and older than he, when suddenly he was rescued by some older black boys. These same boys later took it upon themselves to become his protectors—on the basketball court, when he was the skinny white kid and they would run slower so he could “catch up”; on the football field, when they would pass him the ball to “make him look good.”

As I spent more time around my husband, I began to notice my prejudices. My deep-seated judgments. My wrong attitude. And slowly but surely, I changed.

So there I was, working out my issues related to race, but completely indifferent to all things political. And this one area is his passion. I was relieved anytime we had friends over who could “talk politics” because he could have the conversations he always wanted to have with me, except I felt like I couldn’t participate because I didn’t know enough—and I didn’t really care to know enough. I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything.

Ever since I was old enough to vote, I have voted. And most of the time, Republican…Part of my small-town, southern, church-going roots. Of course, when I did vote, I voted blindly, without knowing anything about the candidate or what he stood for. I just knew that in my church, inside my home, everyone talked positively about the Republican candidate and negatively about the Democratic candidate.

But then my husband changed all that, too. He convinced me, in the 2000 election, to vote for Ralph Nader. We were living in Texas at the time, and he was opposed to Bush winning, but we knew that George Bush would certainly carry Texas. So, my husband, being the renegade that he is, told me, “Let’s vote for Nader instead. It will make a statement.” Well, I’m agreeable. So that’s what we did. And it felt good to stand up against the machine, even if no one really heard us. That was the first time I ever felt a thrill related to politics. That rush of adrenaline, like I was doing something exciting, something edgy, something that I was proud of.

Well, we all know what happened after Bush took office, so there’s no need to recount the story here. The worse the world got, the more people died in Iraq (both Iraqis and U.S. troops), the more I heard Bush speak on camera as if he were a 5-year-old (actually, no, my 5-year-old is often more coherent than he is), the more angry I got. The more I wanted to know about politics. About how it all worked. About what we could do to try to get out of the mess he had created.

Fast forward to 2007. We now have three children, who will all bear the burden of the country, of the world we have abused (or have allowed others to abuse). For the first time in my life, I read up on the candidates, I listened to pundits, to news shows, read political blogs. I can’t afford to be apathetic anymore. The world is crumbling around me, and how can I, in good conscience, sit idly by and not think about what effect our actions are going to have on my children when they are grown? Or even before then?

When I began to listen, really listen, to Obama’s words, I felt like for the first time, here was a politician who was a real man. Someone who actually meant what he said. Someone in whom I could place my hope, my trust. It felt almost Messianic, truth be told. And he is a Democrat. AND he’s black. That’s about as far from my roots as I can get in a choice for president. But honestly, I believe what he says. I trust that he is doing the best job he can. I can see that he is a good man, a good father, good husband, and will be the best president he can be. He responds with grace in times of crisis. He never smirks, never speaks rudely, never raises his voice. He is the calm in the storm. 

I can look at my children and tell them (as we so often did during the election) about this man we elected to be our president, and I can be proud that I was a part of that. A part of the history-making. This is now part of my story. And being a part of the inauguration would just make the story that much sweeter.

**dad, i know you are reading, and i'm not talking about you and mom here. i'm thinking more of aunts and know who they are.

* this photo was taken at a gas station somewhere between tampa and richmond. it has nothing to do with the post, although i could say it represents my southern roots, or my short upbringing on a chicken farm, or my growth from seeing things "black and white" to more in shades of gray. (oh, i really like that last one!) but i just wanted to show it off here, because i'm proud of it, that's all.


karin said...

I love your essay and I second it! I am so hopeful that the future can be better than the past or the present. I know one person can't change everything, especially the mess we are in,but I think it's possible that this president can inspire enough of us to be the agents of change around us and that will result in a stronger more unified country. Thanks for sharing what you so honestly and eloquently wrote..I know it's kind of a soul-bearing thing to share on the blog world. I hope you get to buy that ball gown and get to see history happen!

Amelia Plum said...

kristi your essay is wonderful, very honest and eloquent. there's so much shame attached to racism that many won't even look at there inherently racist ways, when it often happens because ignorance/naivete due to the environment you're raised in. it takes a lot of guts to question your roots and write your story. here's hoping it get you to the inauguration!

Amelia Plum said...

forgot to say that i like the photo too!

Sara said...

here's my tardy comment - "what we believe is what we create."

good essay, you are so brave to blog. i'm always amazed at memories & their elusive quality at remaining in focus for one person & fuzzy to another. i don't recall the "n" word being used frequently but do know that we grew up w/out much contact w/ african americans. don't forget our time in tx, though, which led me to wonder why there were no latinos @ Tussing elementary when we moved to va. that was a serious question for mama to answer when i came home from school the first day.

oh, and i'm still doing my visualizing exercises. so far, no milk has appeared in my fridge & the laundry is still in the hamper.