Friday, October 19, 2012

Politics is as personal as ever, day 6: It matters.

"I want to know if my hair is just like yours."
          You know, I've always had this dream that I could teach my kids to feel the Earth rotating.  I thought if we never used words like "sunrise" and "sunset," if we never gave them any of that mythical data, they might actually understand that it's us who move.

          "Almost bedtime," I would tell Hot Shot when she was still in diapers.
          "Why?" she'd ask every night.
          "Because it's getting dark," I'd point out.
          "Why?" She was relentless.
          "Because our spot of the Earth has turned away from the Sun."  So was I.
          I wanted this for our kids because I couldn't possibly imagine what it would be like to look up at the sky and not see the Sun moving across it.  To wake up at dawn, paddle out on a lake and feel the planet spin until that distant orange star came into view.  If you could experience the Earth's rotation and it's relative position to the Sun, then what else could you experience?  What else could their little bodies know that I could only take on faith?

          Thus far, my personal-is-political posts have not required faith, or hope.  They've been about quantifiable change we don't just have to believe in, but change we can countTax credits turned into housesDing-Dongs replaced by red leaf lettuce.  Stimulus money sprouting jobs, health care, better roads, and local cantaloupe.  But Obama's presidency has made a significant subjective impact on our family as well.  It's not a result I can capture on a table, or something I can pin to a particular piece of legislation.  But it's probably bigger than that down payment on our house.  Because here's the thing: when our children hear the word "President," they picture a tall skinny man with dimples, and big ears, and brown skin.  He's the only one they've ever known.
          Now I know during his first campaign everyone worked really hard at pretending this election didn't have anything to do with identity politics.  The candidates didn't want it to be about identity politics because Obama didn't want to get pigeonholed as only appealing to Black voters.  And McCain didn't want to get pigeonholed as an establishment white guy.  And Clinton couldn't win with just women on her side.  So they had to stay quiet about all that.  They had to pretend it was just about the economy, or the wars, or whatever else seemed like it ought to be more important than the color of their skin. And the voters?  Well, we all went along with it because we certainly didn't want to think we were choosing our commander-in-cheif based on who had more melanin.  But the fact is, it was exciting.  Thrilling.  Mind blowing.  And when President-Elect Obama walked out on that stage at Grant Park the night of the election, and when Oprah, and Jesse Jackson, and John Lewis stood there among the crowd, tears just pouring down their faces, it was as if Obama walked out on that stage and said,
          "Guess what... I'm Black!"
           And it was as if we all looked up at him, just so very proud of ourselves, and said,
          "Oh good, we thought so!"
          But I was happy to say it then and happy to say it now, it matters to me that our President is Black.  It does.  It matters!  And it matters because when little Jacob Philadelphia in that picture at the top of this post, when little Jacob got the chance to meet the President he whispered,
          "I want to know if my hair feels just like yours."
          See, if it didn't matter, he wouldn't have asked.  If he didn't somehow have the message that hair like his is unusual, or abnormal, or bad... if he didn't already have that feeling, he wouldn't have needed to know if the President's hair was the same as his own.  So it matters.
          And it matters the President is Black because he knows what it feels like to be that boy.  To be little Jacob Philidelphia and feel like you just won't believe the President has hair like yours until you put your hand right on his head.  It matters because President Obama knew just what he needed to do.  He brought his head right down even to Jacob's face and said, "Why don't you touch it and see for yourself?"

          So it turns out to be a losing battle with the Sun thing.  "Sunset" is just so much easier than "our part of the Earth is blah, blah, blah."  And I regularly hear my children saying mythical things like "it's time to get out of bed Mommy.  The sun is up!"
         But it turns out I don't really care.  Because imagine what their brains have the capacity to know that mine do not.  Imagine a generation of White children who look at the President and see a man with hair like that kid they sit next to in class.  Imagine a generation of Black children who look at the President of the United States and see their own hair, and nose, and lips, and skin.  Imagine.
         I don't know about you, but I'll trade in that rotating Sun for a dose of  touch-it-and-see-for-yourself any day of the week.

1 comment:

  1. Getting to another heart of the matter! Thanks, Liz. I sometimes wonder about the compromises Pres. Obama has made while in office... critics on the left are often angered by his negotiations. And I wonder - I wonder about the "partisan" resistance he has contended with. Partisan might just be code for racist. The idea that he is not one-of-the-old-guys (old white guys) would have been a similar challenge for Clinton, too. Only she wouldn't have had her birth cert. questioned - but maybe her heterosexuality. Wait, it's not against the law for the pres to be gay, right? (At least not yet.)

    So I might have wanted more. Expected more. But I might have been unrealistic. I might need to remember that his presidency is historic not because he is Black. His presidency is historic because of how much resistance there is to Black folks in power - and we are all finally getting to see how that affects people's options - even in the highest office in the land.