Tuesday, January 20, 2009
I, too, sing America
"She promised all the sweetest giftsPresident Barack Obama.
That only the heavens could bestow
You bring your light and shine like morning
And as you so gracefully give
Her light as long as you live
I'll always remember this moment..."
— Sade, The Sweetest Gift
Amazing grace, how sweet that sound.
The day universally acknowledged by us brown folk as the one we never thought we'd live to see, the one my mother told me was a pipe dream a mere two summers ago, the one which served as a pilgrimage to our nation's capital whether you were from Brooklyn or Birmingham, the one that compelled me to brave the frigid cold and daunting crowds to be an eyewitness to history.
I was born twenty-nine years ago today. My first born day ushered in the era of greed, irresponsibility and neglect to our working class which I pray has come to an overdue end with the changing of the guard.
My parents emigrated to the United States from the West Indies during the 60's in search of a better life. My father inspired by his countryman Stokely Carmichael and the civil rights movement stressed the importance of political activism. I remember coloring homemade signs and counting out buttons as a hyperactive eight-year old in a cramped church basement, nagging him as why he was working so hard to elect Jesse Jackson during the chilly winter months of 1988. As a child, I couldn't fully grasp what the big deal about a Black president was. After all, I learned about Eric Williams and Michael Manley alongside Abraham Lincoln and John Adams from early on. He had lived through prime ministers and heads of state who looked just like him before becoming a freshwater Yankee. So, what difference did it make?
He tilted my chin upwards to his serious eyes and said, "Because our hearts and minds need to match our Constitution if all people really are created equal. We're not there yet."
In my experiences traveling abroad, I've always been struck by how nationalism by people of color in other countries differed so much from what I came to live and learn here at home. Even if their skin was darker than mine, their pride of country was never a question. If you're from the Dominican Republic, you name it. If you're from Trinidad, you claim it. But in America, it boiled down to "I'm Black." Period. It was the only place where regardless if you were born and raised here, somehow we were made to feel apart from our own country. Look no further than in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when our own citizens were labeled "refugees" repeatedly by the mainstream media for days on end. Carrying on the complicated but necessary exercise of critical patriotism, to hold a mirror to America's conscience, forcing the nation to live up to the guiding principles enshrined in the Declaration of Independence can leave one feeling like a stranger in a native land.
But as I watched the son of an African economist and an anthropologist from Kansas raise his hand and repeat "I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear...," the tears flooded my eyes as a cleansing release. The anger and xenophobia whipped up in the witching hours of the general election became dead weight. The romanticized immigrant story of Ellis Island became threaded into the story of my mother and father. The stars and stripes became a symbol of not what was perpetually wrong, but what could be made right.
And it felt like that the hope of a cocoa colored girl with a funny last name can finally believe America has a place for her too.
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