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On Race and the Obama Presidency

photo credit Pete Souza for the White House

On November 6th of 2008 I wrote this post. I want to draw specific attention to this part:

“But Leah and Simon especially because they’re having a baby in six weeks and their baby will never know of anything different than having a black president it will be natural to him and forever be a grip on my heart and something that I remember vaguely thinking about. Just as it will always be baffling to my father that Garrett and I have always experienced integration (its ups and its harsh, harsh downs) as it’s always been natural to us but a grip on his heart.

There are these little tiny babies who will always think of this – what just happened – as ordinary. And they will have that luxury and life because one day in November several million of us chose to lean on the idea of hope a little more than we had in days, weeks and months prior. It was one day in November when we said we could and so we did. We hoped and then we changed.”

At the time I was full to the brim of nothing but good feeling. I remember that night so very well; how I sat on the floor of my hotel room and did nothing but cry. Not only because everything that I, as a person involved in politics had worked toward but the greater feeling of being a young, African American woman who just saw the country’s first black president. What people my parents’ age and older had worked for might come to fruition in the ultimate way. The accomplishments of electing a black man as president of the United States – the enormity of it – would and could never be lost on me.

I also remember the vagueness from my father – born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama during the 1950′s and 60′s – couldn’t bring himself to the level of pure joy and relief that I felt in watching something so great happen. It wasn’t a lack of happiness but, perhaps because he had lived through similar changes in his lifetime that he knew he had to remain skeptical. But I, in my 25 year old naivete couldn’t fully comprehend the past but was excited to move forward.

And today I sit here with a stomach full of dread know with an inkling of what my father knew four years ago: A black man moving up in the world does not lead to a more evolved population. Having a black president doesn’t, did not and will not turn the country into ‘post-racial’ America. In a recent New York Times article, Jodi Kantor explored President Obama’s relationship with race and blacks in America. In short: it’s something he does not and cannot dwell on as it only brings out greater division in an already tumultuous time in America:

“[The president] is more circumspect, particularly on the question of whether some of his opposition is fueled by race. Aides say the president is well aware that some voters say they will never be comfortable with him, as well as the occasional flashes of racism on the campaign trail, such as the “Put the White Back in the White House” T-shirt spotted at a recent Mitt Romney rally. But they also say he is disciplined about not reacting because doing so could easily backfire.”

The above is what I dwell on: the t-shirt, conspiracy theories that the president is a secret Kenyan Socialist who is possibly in bed with the Muslim Brotherhood. If he comments on a national story of a young black man being shot and makes it personal that it’s only about race. But my biggest pet peeve continues to be the blatant disrespect.

No member of Congress would have dared yell out “YOU LIE” to President Bush or President Clinton.

No member of Congress or politician would not refer to the President of the United States of America as anything but.

No one has ever questioned the authenticity of a president’s birth certificate.

Not everything is about race. I am reasonable enough to realize that some anger can be a manifestation of a crappy economy compounded by job loss. Some of it can be attributed to rising cost of living and the inability for many to keep up. Some people just don’t like President Obama. I spent 2000-2008 despising George W. Bush. It’s the absolute vitriol that causes me to catch my breath. The pure hatred that there is an African American (sometimes emphasis on the AMERICAN because that is what he is) in the White House and that in 2012, skin color is something to be feared.

And it’s their fear that scares me.

I think about race and this White House administration often but to say something invites a conversation that I’m either unprepared for or bitterness and eye rolls and then there was the time that someone on Twitter called me a ni**er. So, I say nothing but sit back and save these conversations for family and certain friends who can nod right along with me and understand the quandary of a black man in the White House and wonder what it will take for others to realize that we – African Americans – aren’t scary or different but want the same things for ourselves and our families as everyone else in this country. What will it take to realize that?

What really got me thinking and speaking out loud was a comment that former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu made last week on Colin Powell’s – a Republican – endorsement of Barack Obama based on the latter’s foreign policy.

Can I be blunt? It’s stupid, asinine, offensive ridiculous and proof that anyone can run for office. It’s also proof that no matter how far we come as a nation, there are many miles to go.

Keep the conversation going with Heather Barmore at Poliogue: The Art of Political Dialogue, Twitter and Facebook.

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