Tuesday, March 18, 2008

It's About Time

It’s times like these that I wish I were a poet instead of a political pundit. And after watching all the pundit’s on TV, I say that with no reluctance whatsoever. Where do they get these people… Never mind it’s not important in the realm of knowledge or truth.
John McCain has visited and been embraced by Bob Jones University. In this particular seat of advanced education, no interracial dating permitted. You may say, “It’s 2008. And they are Christians. Surely that can’t be”. (You are so smart – but I count on that from this readership.) In this case, however, you would be wrong to think that this can’t be. My question is, how do they call themselves an institution of learning? Or maybe they don’t — except when high level elected officials visit and need votes. Maybe they are just a religious enclave with too many young people buying their crap. And I mean no disrespect to the Little Baby Jesus, because you know he’s one of my favorites.

Barack Obama gave a speech today. I did not listen to any of my colleagues evaluate what he said. There was no need. I know who liked it and who didn’t. He talked about having an honest discussion about race. And he shared a very private story about his white grandma and how she was afraid of Black men but she loved him more than anything. And he admitted that she made racist remarks that made him cringe –because he was a half black kid. He was well aware of his color, but she clearly didn’t see him as colored – he was her blood and the precious child she was raising. For those people who doubt this as a possibility, trust me, it is. How painful and devastating this must have been for a child or a young man. But I know he is telling the truth because I know it is not only possible, but likely for a person to be blinded by love.

When my son was a child we lived with my dear friend Bebe. Her son Alan was Black She was White. Seth, my son grew up in a community where there were no Black people – although one of his friends was of Indian heritage. So when he met Alan he acknowledged the fact that he was not exactly the same and he was thrilled that his friend looked like chocolate. It was never a negative. The color was a celebration and about as important to him as liking a shirt that another friend was wearing. He loved Alan and was blind to any racial or cultural differences. In the same way, but not exactly, when my daughter Jordan was growing up she was surrounded by people of all colors and races. Her school, by accident was about ¼ Black ¼ White, ¼ Hispanic and ¼ Asian. She, unlike Seth saw no color differences. She loved her friends, without any judgments other than if they called her pig snot. I’m sure she must have noticed there was a difference but it was no more important than friends who had straight or blond curly hair. It wasn’t until she got into high school and her Black friend Reesie decided she wanted to hang out with only Black students, that Jordan discovered there were greater issues than she was prepared to discuss.

This was not how I grew up. My small town was blue collar white Italian and Polish Catholic. There were fifty Jewish families and 40 of them were mine. Not much diversity to be sure. But because there were no people of color with whom to contend, race was not a problem. I do, however remember that the Jewish kids had to stand in the back of the room when everyone else was singing Christmas carols. It was lonely back there because there were only three of us. One was my cousin Steven, who was happy not to be hung on a hook in the front of the room for his behavior and the other was Andy Hurwitz, now a Supreme Court Justice in Arizona—hopefully someday the job will be federal. Anyway, I didn’t like being singled out for something over which I felt I had no control. The good news is that my parents weren’t racists and I developed a sense of moral outrage about discrimination – color, cultural, gender, age whatever. The bad news was my introduction to cultural diversity didn’t exist until I got to college. It was a long time to wait – but at least it came.

Back to the Obama speech, which was critical in order for him to continue with the campaign succeed. I can only judge it for what he said. Certainly not for what, (as other pundits who need to say something in order to have TV time or get paid), the implications or the innuendo might have been. He said he loved this country. There is no reason to doubt this. If you were to tell him to “put that American flag back on your lapel because then I will feel assured about your patriotism”, I’m sure he would give it consideration. Not because it is politically expedient but because there are some people for whom symbols are more important than words or actions. He explained, without apologizing, his attraction to the Reverend Wright and further explained how positive elements in the Reverends character are as much apart of him as his White mother and grandmother. But here’ the most important thing he said. We need to have an honest dialogue about race in the US. And we do, until it is a conversation we can have without being self conscious about what we say.

This nation can choose to pretend that race is not a social, political or economic issue. And we can continue to allow the people who want to be President of the United States to be embraced by bigots and racists who hide behind the shields of academia. Or we can see the importance of this election for everyone in particular women and persons of color and say, “yeah let’s talk about it.” And yes the teacher did hang my cousin Steven on a hook in the front of the room. We're just sayin...Iris


Anonymous said...

Bob Jones University

A big, brood brush of racism, classism, and it ain't Harvard.

Politicians can either rise to the occasion or stoop.

Do we want a stoop for president?

We've had one for nearly 8 years. Can the country survive another 4?

W - no President has visited McDaniel College!

Unknown said...

Iris, I cried when I watched Obama's speech yesterday and I cried again when I read your comments about Alan and me. I think, as the NYT wrote today, that Obama's speech is one of the most important political talks we will ever hear. And I remember how wonderful you and Seth were to Alan. Weren't we lucky to have those times together? I think so.

Iris&David said...

We were so lucky to have shared those tumultuous and exciting times-- and I learned to eat grits and say ya'll. What more could a Jersey girl want. Alan was always a dream of a kid and the whole experience--including david and goliath was amazing. We were truly blessed.