Yes, Lashawn, Your Child Could Be President

22 10 2008

Only white, Christian males have ever been president in the U.S. As a white female growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, I never even considered that I could ever be president or that any girl could. Now I believe it will happen in my lifetime. Hillary Clinton certainly helped pave the way.

I saw the movie “The Secret Life of Bees” today. It is set in 1964 when racial prejudice meant a black man might be beaten if he were seen in public with a white woman, there were separate “colored” entrances, and the Ku Klux Klan would burn crosses and terrorize black people. As a child growing up in east Tennessee, I remember seeing those crosses burning and recall my grandfather calling the hired hands on his farm “niggers.” Even then I hated the demeaning sound of that word. I remember we had a childhood rhyme we would chant “Eenie, meanie, miney moe. Catch a nigger by his toe. If he hollers, make him pay $50 dollars every day.” It was a way to decide who went first by pointing first to me and then to the other person as we recited that rhyme. I didn’t think about the racial ugliness of that at the time. It seemed harmless. It wasn’t. It was reprehensible.

Children born into a world that eyed them with such hatred, disdain, and invisibility certainly could not imagine even being considered equal to white children, much less attaining the highest office in the land.

Things have changed. The Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964 to ensure equal rights for all people, but attitudes and real change take time. There is still a lot of prejudice against people who don’t look like us or have a funny sounding name or have a non-Christian religion. We’ve seen it in video clips of people at McCain/Palin rallies who say they could never vote for a “colored” man or accuse Obama of being a Muslim as if that automatically means he is a terrorist. These incidents peel back the ugly layers of prejudice that still exist throughout our country.

And yet, there is progress. I have spent quite a lot of time talking to and hanging out with African-Americans. When Obama was in the primary battle with Hillary, they were sure in the beginning that not many white people would vote for a black man for president. White people had let them down and worked against them all of their lives, going back over two centuries; this would be no different. They were in shock when Obama actually won the nomination. That obviously wasn’t possible just by a strong black vote; white people were actually voting for a black man!

And now, we are on the eve of a bi-racial, self-declared black man becoming the most powerful person in the world. We still have a lot of hatred, divisiveness, exclusivity, and unequal opportunity. But now, Lashawn, and all those other black, Muslim, Hispanic, etc. mothers, you can turn to your child – be it a boy or a girl – and say “You, too, could be president one day. You can be anything you want to be!”

Change is coming…long time coming.

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