“A Round-Headed Kid Can Dream...”
(Part One One Post Down)
It's Tuesday night. June 3rd, 2008
I sit there at the computer in something of a daze as Senator Barack Obama made his way to the podium, looking quizzically at the scene with my head askance the way cats do when they see something that just doesn't register as familiar in the tidy and ordered feline brain.
What was I watching?
Senator Obama's wife Michelle was waiting for him there and they embraced for a moment, with just a little bit of an extra clinch at the end that kind of said, “Let's savor this for a second, shall we?” And then, she backed up and muttered a quick something, and offered a slender left fist up for “The Dap”, which he never skipped a beat on and returned with a quick, soft “thump”.
Did they just do a quick, little “Dap” for all the world to see? A little personal affirmative that looked like they'd done it a hundred times before? I laughed inside for a moment. I've given my wife “The Dap” for jobs well done a thousand times.
When she handled an ornery relative with perfect touch and tone on a hyper-emotional phone call? “Dap!”
If I find a glorious, pre-made pitcher of iced coffee—which she can't stand—in the fridge on a boiling summer morning she's beaten me to wakefulness? “Dap!”
When she tells me of a particularly tricky work account she's managed to find an angle on to complete, and I know the sucker's been the bane of her existence for weeks on end? ““Dap! Dap!”
An unspoken, small bit of cultural shorthand that's just a little bit “round-the-way”, and I just saw...“The Presumptive Democratic Nominee for President.” work it like I do in quiet moments with someone I appreciate. It was remarkably humanizing. And then, a quick pat in the small of the back saying, “Okay...I've got this.” And she was off, while he was...on.
I've got this.”
And what exactly was it he had at that moment? Oh, only the position of the Democratic Party's nominee for the Presidency of The United States of America.
Now, once he plunged into his speech—and it was a hum-dinger, replete with fawning praise for his in-party rival Senator Clinton—I sort of had to pinch myself, because what I was seeing required a certain suspension of belief to absorb. Because I honestly did not think in my lifetime that I would see an African American presidential candidate get thisclose to as George Clinton so perfectly put it, “Painting The White House Black”. This isn't negativity, or poor-mouthing, or spin-management/underselling.
This is reality for millions of Black folks of a certain age. Call us “Boomers”, “Generation Jones” or whatever you will, but for those generations back—from those of us Obama's age and upwards, many of us find this new American reality as of June 2008 a rather daunting one. We may make more money, or have more access to higher learning, and so many other neat-o trappings of 21st century America that our forebears didn't have, but we still carry the stigma of denial of equality once the rubber of ambition meets racism's road. Many of us are old enough to in spite of whatever success we may have enjoyed, know the sting of blunt-force racism up close and personal.
I'm a year younger than Barack Obama, and I know what it's like to be chased through an all-White neighborhood in New York City with bottles exploding on my heels as a teenager, just because I showed my Black face there to get something that wasn't available near home. Came down the steps of the elevated J Train in then mostly-White Woodhaven a few years later where I saw a toddler with his mom walking past me.
The little boy pointed at me, smiled, and said “Ni-guh”, in the cutest baby-voice you've ever heard.
Mom never said a word. Didn't blink and kept on her merry way with that little, tousle-haired cherub whose soul she'd sadly already managed to partially wreck. I stood there dumbfounded for about a minute. And then I went back up the stairs and said “the hell with what I came here for”, got on the train back to Jamaica and have never set foot in that neighborhood again. That was twenty-two years ago.
Only last year, the fashion statement du jour wasn't the drapey Paul Lyndian scarves so favored by style-setters like Vogue's dandy-monolith André Leon Talley. No...the neckwear wildfire trend that swept the nation like a Klan cross too near dry brushland was the old standby rope noose. Everything old was new again. From the “Dirty South”, all the way up to the so-called “refined” North. Ironic, genocidal “cool” was all the rage. I'm surprised I didn't see an Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirt with an old lynching pic silk-screened on and the ironic phrase “Hang In There Baby” printed below it, as the noose came roaring back with such a vengeance (pardon the unfortunate pun) in the public consciousness. The Goddamned noose. One of the most powerful symbols of wanton, hate-driven violence in history made a major comeback last year.
In America, people.
And here we are one summer later, standing on the verge of seriously “getting it on”, if you will.
Color me a deep, dusky mahogany, and surprised.
Black folks are so damned used to being the perennial, gullible “Charlie Brown” who gets true equality's football snatched away every fucking time by the great, all-powerful “Lucy” that we've taken on ol' Chuck's nonplussed demeanor about the whole damn thing. This is how the shit is. Yet, we run for it every damned time, thinking the outcome'll be different just this once...
And somehow, this time...things are a bit different. Obama is somewhere I / we never expected him to be, while w-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-y deep-down wondering if he'd ever get close.
He's close. Really close. Scary close. And it requires a reboot of a lifetime of conditioning and thinking. How did we get to the point where instead of the ball being snatched away, there's a better than even chance our foot may actually touch the damned thing, or better yet...
I noted post-Iowa that Obama was more or less “surfing” a change wave as opposed to initiating it, saying:
That's what Barack Obama's doing here. He's just shooting. Tapping into “it”. 'Cause “it” is bigger than he is. And that “it” is a tidal wave begun with the Supreme Court's December 2000 judgement that Bush be installed, fluttering down into the collective water of history. The ripple began there, rolled into larger ones with the Iraq debacle, became waves then and rose higher with the repeated flouting of the Constitution—FISA, glad-handing torture, and then, the open subverting of justice, and now crests eight years later on a sweat, shit and pee-inducing Tsunami that isn't about a grumpy bark of “Throw the bums out!”.
No. This is a level beyond that. It's a “Throw the bums out, then burn down the place we were in, so we don't have to remember it and let's build some place completely new that's got no ties to the old bullshit.”
Obama just happens to be the dude who was out there on the breakers when that wave rolled in, and for what it's worth—he's riding the living hell out of it,
For all of the positives Senator Obama brings to the table, and those positives are indeed mighty ones, when I look at America's long, and unresolved history of racism—right down to last year's “noose-a-palooza”—his present nearness to the levers of power still reads as an anomaly to me and many others you would think would be turning cartwheels of joy. What could move this country to this strange precipice we stand at today?
Say hello to the forty-third President of The United States, George W. Bush.
Should Barack Obama pull this thing off, down the road, the most diamond-hard of hard-core American racists will burn effigies of Dubya's figure, as they will blame him, with some truth behind it—for the country's electing its first Black president. Bush has so trashed the country—its reputation, its infrastructure, its economy, the military, the right to privacy, the Justice Department—just about every element of any piece of government that his “King Midas In Reverse” hand has touched, that he has moved America to the point where for many more than ever before, race will not matter as much in their choice of president, and said people are seriously willing to consider the polar opposite image of the executive branch awfulness they've endured for eight years.
Commander In Chief can't speak? Let's get one who can, huh?
Commander In Chief is an absolute idiot? Can we get one who's got an above-average intelligence, please?
Commander In Chief has the diplomatic skill of an F-5 hurricane? Howsabout someone who will talk to people and exhaust negotiation before more hasty, destructive considerations?
Commander In Chief is everything people have come to utterly despise in the typical, privileged class of leadership for over two hundred years? Okay, fuck it. we will at this point actually consider someone for the job who does not even look remotely like the dude who has fucked this place to Kingdom-Goddamn-Come.
And yes...even if it means said person is a Black dude who can trace his bloodline all the way back to the Motherland in so few steps, Alex Haley's grave is probably trembling from inner centrifugal forces as we speak.
The Bushian legacy may be akin to the fabled volcanic one of the Hawaii of Barack Obama's youth. The destructive power of a earth-shattering volcanic eruption rains down boiling lava and a thick ash—burning away and fossilizing the past in so many ways. And from that hell-spawned lava, mineral-rich ash and debris, the soil becomes hyper-fertilized to the point that what grows from it...can often be spectacular.
I watched Obama speak, and I didn't pick up the phone this time—for there were indeed a few calls—and I must admit, I did more soaking in and straight looking than listening. It was history, in real time, and everything I believed up to that point was being challenged by the unfolding reality before me. But then, this passage hit me like a two-by-four to the forehead...
So it was for that band of patriots who declared in a Philadelphia hall the formation of a more perfect union; and for all those who gave on the fields of Gettysburg and Antietam their last full measure of devotion to save that same union.
So it was for the Greatest Generation that conquered fear itself, and liberated a continent from tyranny, and made this country home to untold opportunity and prosperity.
So it was for the workers who stood out on the picket lines; the women who shattered glass ceilings; the children who braved a Selma bridge for freedom's cause.
So it has been for every generation that faced down the greatest challenges and the most improbable odds to leave their children a world that's better, and kinder, and more just.
And so it must be for us.
My wife had rushed into the room early on, along with my stepson, and this time, unlike the last, she did not flinch. She did not cower. She did not hide.
She watched in full, with her hand at her mouth and wettish eyes and shaking her head. The texting-crazy lad at my feet kept silently dropping his head and thrusting a pointed finger at the screen, as if to say, “Yes!”
And me? I sat there, with my Pavlovian trepidation for his security being subsumed by what could only be called awe, as my very soul seemed to be re-arranging itself, like a computer's hard drive after a necessary, diagnostic de-fragmenting. Not to sell anything short, but I'm frankly astounded at where Barack Obama stands right now. And the hell with the complacent “Hey, I'm just glad to be here” mantra. “Here” is actually one hell of an amazing place when you look at it.
I remember the odd, glassy-eyed look on Chris Matthews' face that night, and Olbermann's self-satisfied near-chuckling at Chris' obvious discombobulation. The lovely, post-primary shade “Buchanan Purple” didn't manifest itself that night, as Pat seemed kind of melancholy—as if it were a hot August day in 1974 and he'd stumbled across a sweating, near-empty pitcher of Manhattans on Nixon's grand piano in the White House. Mostly ice, really—and looked down the hall at the Oval Office, sporting light spots where pictures had recently hung. The sight of history packing its bags. And then...the sound of helicopter blades “whup-whup-whupping” to take-off speed outside. The “Boss”...was gone baby, gone.
Pat looked on Tuesday night like he realized in a bigger way, that “The “Boss” was gone baby, gone.”
I didn't watch much more TV. I made myself a drink. A Pimms and Seven, and sloshed it about the glass and ice to chill it as I padded downstairs to the front steps. I sipped it slow, and looked up every now and then at the stars and frankly wondered to myself, “How?”
And though I knew “how”, as I'm decent with math and strategy, I still had to ask, in the face of where I live and what history has taught me.
I could hear my phone ringing upstairs. My wife called down. “It's your mother!”
I took the call. She was ecstatic. And she was angry, too. Where was the concession?
“Ma,” I said. “The hell with a concession. Do you realize what happened tonight?”
And she seemed to hyperventilate for a moment as a string of vowels and consonants came out of her mouth tumbling like a mess from “Fibber McGee's Closet”, but at the end of it all, she took a breath and I made out the words “Not in my lifetime”.
“Not in my lifetime” applied to me too. Maybe too many of us, sadly.
But here it was. And a hundred hours later or so, that concession and endorsement would come too. Classy and painful all at once. Bittersweet, yet full of vigor.
In my lifetime.
What else will I see? I have no clue. I see Senator John Sidney McCain before me. The dangerously flawed John Sidney McCain, in fact. And I see him and hear him word-salad-ing, lying, and spouting off like some primeval geyser that has only steam and bubbles and no blast. He mauls a speech like a pit bull in a slaughterhouse. He lamely dodges confrontation with his lies as if it's the year 2000 and there's no Google or YouTube to fact-check his ass before millions of pairs of eyes. I see the tepid support he garners and the “We are fucked” faces of his fellow in-party troglodytes. The ball is right there ready to be kicked for all it's worth. And the “Charlie Brown” in me fairly screams To hope is to render yourself vulnerable.
Well God-dammit...call me vulnerable. Because I'm hoping.