Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Come to the Jubilee

A reader in Virginia remarked that a Black friend asked, Didn't White people realize a Black man was elected President? And when our reader said, yes, with a kind of "where we going with this" eyebrow, our speaker said, "you don't act like it."

Here I pick up this discussion, and attempt to provide something of an response.

We do
Possibly, in Virginia, this is not very noticeable. Here in the Bluest of the Blue states there was dancing in the streets. Crying at the polls. In my Facebook network -- among the liberalest of the liberal -- all statuses all day all week were about Obama. I myself changed my profile picture to Michelle's for the day, and suggested to my Southern Cousin that she craft a yard sign to read "Roll Al-Obama."

Take another look at the crowd in Grant Park.

But in Virginia, they know about Jubilee. And no doubt they expected to experience something as momentous in the City of the Monuments.

We can't experience what you are experiencing
Not really. We can experience the dawn on a new America, the glow of progressivism, the hope, and the audacity. We know the wonder of a Black man...leading America? shooot... never gonna happen. And it did. I have stood for South Africa, I have met Jesse Jackson, I know that bigotry is the chain that binds all of us, I have Dr King as my IM icon. But I can not feel what this feels like for you.

We can't express what we are feeling
It takes an extraordinarily intimate inter-racial relationship to be comfortable with this conversation. White people have no racial identity. And our ethnic identify, when we do experience it, is not the same thing. Sure, Greek America would have thrown a party had Dukakis won the White House, and Italians have been looking for their "president ending in a vowel" for generations. But didn't we make fun of Romney trying to play "ethnic," though the Mormons were a persecuted people if ever there were any whiter than the Irish.

Our multicultural nation stopped melting us all together, and that is a good thing. But the resulting Otherness with which we see each other -- in our race, gender, sexuality, disabilities, marital status, the way we pray or the way we don't -- takes a "do your own thing" turn that often deftly skirts around real empathy. Sometimes it does mean the best we can offer is to "tolerate" each other.

We worry about getting it wrong
A friend once said to me, "it's like this: Don't think of me as Black. And never forget that I am Black." She added, "I realize that's a struggle. But there it is." Even when we are thinking about race (and we do think about it more than we let on), white people can't tell for sure if what we are thinking is racist to start with.

We don't express ourselves very well
I'll speak for the WASPs at least: we can't get through an office party without something to take the edge off. Black folk are likely to come to a White funeral and say, similarly, "Don't you realize somebody is dead here? You don't act like it."

Combine all those factors, and you get a White America that is not going to throw a Jubilee. But we are excited, and we need to stay excited. We need to keep campaigning for all the things we said were important throughout this journey.

And most importantly, in the words of Harry Belafonte, we need to "...not abandon Barak Obama." By this I do NOT at all mean agree with everything he says, forgive him unconditionally for things we disapprove of, expect him to walk on water. What I mean is that we need to keep participating in our democracy and carry some of this load. Bring is back to your daily life; now that you voted, why not try it again. Now that you've volunteered, keep volunteering. Now that you have discussed politics outside of your comfort zone, keep those doors open.

and welcome him into the city.

It was to be expected, that a population that three days since were in slavery, should evince a strong desire to look upon the man whose edict had struck forever the manacles from their limbs. A considerable number of the white population cheered the President heartily, and but for the order of the Provost-Marshal, issued yesterday, ordering them to remain within their homes quietly for a few days, without doubt there would have been a large addition to the numbers present. New York Times, April 8, 1865


  1. Well said - especially the part about not agreeing with everything and walking on water. The democratic process works and black or white, he is still our president. Additionally, were it not for the archiac "one drop of 'black' blood . . ." we would be calling him "mixed" instead of "black" and, after all, isn't that we all are to some degree? Scotch - Irish or the equivalent, etc? M.

  2. Perhaps there was no big reaction because we Virginians tend to be a bit self-contained. Also, since Virginia elected a black governor about 20 years back, there might have been a sense of "been there, done that".


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