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
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
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
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
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 uncles...you 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.