Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What today means

I can't imagine what it is to be oppressed, or discriminated against, or reviled because of what I look like. Not really, even though I was ostracized as a child for having short hair (in the 1970s, this was a sure sign of being a dork and therefore someone no one wanted to associated with) and glasses (which was a sign of being non-athletic/wimpy, even though in my case that was untrue), and being puny (I was a year younger than everyone in my class, and matured physically later). I can't know what it is like, for the simple reason that I outgrew, eventually, all of those mischaracterizations and stigmas, and through hard work overcame (for the most part, at any rate) the psychological damage my schoolmates inflicted on me. For African-Americans and other people of color and ethnicity, however, there is no "outgrowing" one's looks, and in many parts of the country and for many people, skin color, or hair type, or speech patterns/languages, or some other obvious attribute still outweigh any individual personality or character traits in determining how a person is treated or thought of.
And this has been going on for centuries.
It is over half a millennium since Christopher Columbus "discovered" the Western Hemisphere, and not much less than a quarter of a millennium since this country was created, but only today will we as a country overcome part of this barrier and see the inauguration of a man of color to the Presidency.
Did William Lloyd Garrison foresee this event when he published the first issue of the Liberator in 1831? Could Abraham Lincoln know this might happen in 1862 and 1863 when he wrote and enforced the Emancipation Proclamation? When Justice John Marshall Harlan decided in 1896 to become the only dissenting voice in the Plessy v. Ferguson "separate but equal" case, was he imagining a day like today? In 1947, did Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson think what could happen someday when they broke the color line in Major League Baseball? When the Plessy abomination was overturned by a unanimous Warren Court in Brown v. Board of Education, did those nine men envision what might transpire almost 55 years later? Did LBJ knowingly destroy the Democratic Party in 1964 and 1965 by ramming the Civil and Voting Rights Acts down the white majoritarian country's throats because he thought this would eventually come to pass?
I doubt it.
All of these men (and countless other men and women of all colors), though, knew what was right when they did these things, and acted upon that knowledge, paving the road to today's events. "History" can be made in a lot of different ways, and unfortunately, many of those are demonstrably wrong, and maybe even evil. Not today, though--not today. Let's all take at least one moment today, and pause to absorb the history that we are witnessing. For those of us who voted for Barack Obama, we can all take just a smidgeon of a place next to those great men of the past knowing that we, too, helped make today's history. For those of you who did not, even you get to share in the event, because today is all about overcoming prejudice, and bigotry, and exclusivity. Today is about uniting as a country and looking not still forward, but around, to that place and time where "all God's children" can join together, while also acknowledging that we have not finished the journey quite yet.
Because I know Martin Luther King saw this day coming . . .

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Blogger Slangred said...

Amen, sweet boy, amen!

12:49 PM  

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