A Letter from a Friend

Posted by Melvin Bray on November 7th, 2008 filed in Useful Perhaps

A dear friend of mine just sent this to me. I offer it in part as the beginning of an answer to my blog-friend Aerin’s gracious and largely rhetorical inquiry…

Hi Friends,

Today I was reading an article in US News & World Report about the historic significance of Barack Obama’s election. In it, journalist Robert Schlesinger encourages all of us to focus on what this election truly means to our country. This election has changed the narrative of American history regardless of what happens once Obama and his family are comfortably ensconced in the White House and subsequently at battle with the current state of American politics.

I was not involved in any Obama campaigning and should probably admit that my cynicism about race in this country caused me to reserve a kernel of disbelief and mistrust in the system. When I was driving home and I heard that Obama was President-elect my kernel was shattered and cast away. I cried and celebrated and honked my horn with millions of people all over the world. And yet, what remains is a country, a world even, that still needs work.

I know that we must continue to work because right here in my adopted home state of Georgia dissatisfied citizens resorted to vandalism and fear simply because a black man has been elected president. As a black teacher in a private school located in a mostly affluent, white area of Atlanta I see the seeds of discontent and racism present in the uncomfortable faces of people I stand in line with at Starbucks. I feel pain when a co-worker tells me that her African-American son was ridiculed at school by white classmates who told him that Obama was a terrorist who will ruin this country. These types of summations are rooted in our deepest fears about race and its correlation to power. If race, read: being white, no longer signifies power and “rightness” then we have a great opportunity to do a lot of re-education and rebuilding across large swaths of this country.

I was reminded of this reality when I started to read the comments section of the Robert Schlesinger article:

* “As for a large majority of new voters I also believe, that the Black’s voted mainly for race, without any understanding of any kind of politics in there country. Most NOT all were uneducated academically, most are high school drop outs, and voted strictly because they were of a black or mixed black race and thought that vote stood for more free stuff, because Obama did preach that he would fix many if not all of there ills including unemployment food stamps and help of all kinds. To them it was shall I say “Christmas”.”

* “Not since that sex adict defiled the White House has there been such a disaser as Mohamed Obama’s e;ection! Guess there will be boggying down the halls and shouts of ” you dirty MF” resonating in the hallowed rooms of the White House! What joy,the bastardization of our country!!!!!!!!Send Obama and his family back to Kenya!! Bet his daughters won’t go to a public school in DC,aka definitely colored! You residents of DC are good enough to vote for him but not good enough for his kids to associate with yours!!”

Let me not even begin to address the clear grammatical problems with these comments, which in my opinion does serve to negate them. ( Full Disclosure: I am an English teacher) What is at issue here is that while Obama has united sections of America previously divided we do have a large number of people who were pulled in the other direction, or rather chose to stay where they were and continue to embrace stereotypes, fear, and hatred. These people are America too. Even in our joy of what Obama’s presidency means we must continue to be vigilant, vocal, and active in our schools, churches, and local politics. We must require each other to examine our language and ourselves and help facilitate change.

I, for one, am happy to continue to work for and facilitate change in my community when we have a President who is not afraid to at once decry bigotry and require accountability on the part of the people. We have some momentum in this country that we have never had before. It is time to focus not only on breaking barriers, but also on the painstaking process of healing. As Chicano activist Luis Rodriguez states: “Healing involves going to the wound, not recoiling from it. The wound, the damage, can be the mother of our rebirth, the reconciliation. If revolution isn’t about this, it isn’t about anything.” Right now is the time for us to embark on that journey. Yes we can.

Yaisha Caron Harding,
A black woman who finally gets to feel vindicated for having an “ethnic name”

One Response to “A Letter from a Friend”

  1. Aerin Says:

    Wow. The article she quotes makes me sick to my stomach. (That’s happening to me a lot lately – with Prop 8 in California passing and Amendment 51 in Colorado NOT passing….but anyway…) I appreciate Ms. Harding letting you post that – I really liked reading it (then again, I was an English major!)

    Okay, on to read your next post 🙂

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