Election '08: Very Old Tears
My friend and guest blogger, She Wants Revenge's Justin Warfield, recently posted -- to great response -- about his great anticipation of yesterday's election (see Election '08: The Night Before Christmas). Here's his follow up to how he and his family felt when it finally became clear yesterday was truly historic.
Very Old Tears: Musings On a Lefty With a Jump Shot Taking The White House
By Justin Warfield
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
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It’s been a long hard road, but we’re finally free.
Today is a new day.
A day of hope, a day of relief… a day of freedom.
A weight has been lifted, an obsession removed -- because it’s finally over.
No longer will we juggle five browser windows, BlackBerry alerts, and four hours of cable news on the DVR. No longer will we angrily debate our few republican friends on Facebook about socialism, taxes, '60s radicals and Islam.
Now we can get on with our lives and use our computers for what they were intended -- iTunes, correct sticker placement for coffee shop viewing, and sending your friends links to disgusting shock sites.
Of course I’m only half joking, as I obviously understand the weight of what happened last night, not just for black Americans, but for all Americans, big D democracy, a youth just now getting involved in the political process, and the entire Western world -- (and if the president-elect doesn’t move further to the center and prove even more hawkish, perhaps the Eastern as well).
As I sat watching the states come in, I felt the confidence that a mandate would sweep the country, a rejection of eight years of Bush, the neocon movement as a whole, and what president-elect Obama likes to call the “politics of division.” Once Pennsylvania came in blue, I knew it was over, and as I smiled and assured my wife as much, I actually believed it.
Later, eyes glued to the numbers on the screen like a passerby who’s heard the screeching tires in the intersection and sits frozen, hungrily awaiting the sound of crashing metal and carnage, I got so caught up in my own electoral math as I added up Hawaii and California, that I was completely caught off guard when suddenly it was called and MSNBC projected him the POTUS.
Perhaps it was the bromance I was having with Chris and Keith, perhaps it was David Gregory talking over them and making me want to punch him through the screen, but suddenly and without warning, I saw it on the screen, jumped up, yelled out loud and ran upstairs to the bedroom to privately await the inevitable emotions that I’d been suppressing for over a year.
I can’t quite name from where the emotions came, all I can say is that the tears felt old.
I cried along with Jesse on the screen, the guy I’d hated for whispering on national TV that he’d like to chop Obama’s balls off for not taking up the causes of the black community.
But now, I just saw him as a man. A man who was able to put his own ambitions to the side, as if for the first time in many years all the rhyming and showmanship were stripped away and he was simply the black activist who more than 40 years ago stood over the body of Martin Luther King, and now here he was in Grant Park watching history unfold, a history he helped to shape, and it looked as if in that moment, that was more than enough for him.
My father phoned me, and though he wasn’t crying like the schoolgirl that I was, hearing his voice was almost too much, so I exchanged quick pleasantries and “Can you believe-its" in the awkward manner usually reserved for the uncomfortable banter of straight men changing next to one another in the locker room at the Hollywood YMCA.
Then my mother phoned, and she was an even bigger wreck than me, so clearly I couldn’t stay on the phone with her.
Finally, I lay in bed, watching people celebrate in the streets of Harlem, Chicago, Kenya, Atlanta, and even outside the White House.
I changed my iChat away message to, “Mandatory afros in effect, immediately!”
I watched as my friends, mostly white, who’d all changed their “online middle names” to Hussein, suddenly changed their Facebook status to, “For the first time in my life I’m proud to be an American,” and it struck me, that it was now OK to say aloud that simple truth that Michelle spoke many months ago yet had to recant on the campaign trail so as to not come off as the Angela Davis to Cindy’s pill’d up Vanna White.
I too, as silly as it sounds, was and am more proud to be an American than ever before.
As a kid growing up, the American flag held no significance, the motto’s and slogans all hollow, a Mad Ave. line sold to squares, stamped on Wal-Mart T-shirts and reserved for Caucasians.
Patriotism to me has always been the great hiding place of racism.
Funnily enough, I have always wanted a big, soaring, eagle tattooed across my chest. It’s claws clinging to arrows, the flag draped beneath its wings.
But I wanted it for the imagery and how utterly hardcore it would look, not cause of the meaning, the meaning was lost on me and had been co-opted by three-strike felons on Lockup and leather skinned vets, but now that America had finally lived up to the promise of what it was meant to be I could get the eagle chest piece for what it meant to me.
America had spoken, and for the first time black men and women felt like Americans. Period.
I’m telling you, if you know any, just ask us.
Never mind that it was primarily blacks, Mexicans, college educated whites, the youth, and retiree Jews who decided, the fact was it was a majority, even if a majority of minorities, that sent Obama to the white house, but even more important, the process was allowed to play out without hanging chads, supreme court rulings and broken dreams.
Sure there are those whose anger and resentment will never subside, who will never support a black president, and who may even wish the worst for this man, but the best man won, and he may one day be known as one of the great presidents of all time, and no matter what his presidency looks like, just on what he’s achieved thus far, he’ll certainly go down as one of the great Americans of all time.
So with a resolve to get that tattoo once and for all, I wiped the tears and went back downstairs, kissed my wife and son who’d been watching with our dear friend, and we watched in awe and tried our best to place this in some sort of historical context.
As women and men of all age and race cried on the television, it occurred to me to phone my grandma.
Originally from Mississippi but having lived in South Central for well over 60 years, she was the one person whom I felt I really needed to connect with at that moment to gain some perspective.
After the phone was passed from cousin, to auntie, I heard my grandma’s voice say, “Hello” which was odd, as she normally answers the phone with, “praise the lord.” But I jumped in and immediately asked her, "Did you ever think this would happen in your lifetime?"
“No I didn’t,” she replied.
She said when she was a child growing up in Mississippi she had to drink from colored drinking fountains and use colored restrooms, so no, she never thought that this could happen in her lifetime.
And though I obviously knew that these type of injustices and struggles had affected my family like every other black family in America, it was the first time she’d ever spoke of anything like that, and just as quickly as she spoke the words, I knew that those days were further behind us than they’d ever been before.
Earlier in the day I’d cast my vote for the first black president while holding my son, the generational significance poignant and something I could tell him when he’s old enough to understand.
And later that night after the results had come in, I told my wife, a white woman, that before, I had wondered how we were going to explain race and being “mixed” to our son, Bowie.
She said that now all we had to do was point to the president and say, “you’re like him.”