some of us are brave
For a long time Vivian would not, could not, let herself believe.
My mother is an old school civil rights, community-organizing soldier. She registered people to vote in the 60s, became an EMT to launch a community ambulance program while in college, and kept the complete collection of Huey, Stokely, and Dunbar in the house that her child might find a little free-thinking during my free time.
But she could not accept the reality of a Barack Obama.
See, I think you have to have seen just how ugly, how nasty a human being can be to understand how incredible Barack was and is to some folks like my mother. I mean, you have to see a 65-year-old darling grandma of four straight out of a Norman Rockwell ad call your child a nigger when you moved into the neighborhood. I mean, you need to see the actual grandchildren hanging from the hem of grandma’s dress while she relishes the feel of the word nigger as it travels from her poor, white soul at your smart, well-mannered daughter to get it.
You see that kind of thing and it is easy to start thinking that, as my father maintained until the last minute, “ain’t no way in hell them white folks gonna vote for Barack.”
So, I had to drag Vivian kicking and screaming to her first Barack Obama house party back in 2007. I couldn’t put my finger on it but I could just feel that something was happening with that man and I wanted to say I was there. That’s the thing for those of us who were raised revolutionaries but who missed the revolution. We stay looking for one.
Anyway, I loaded Vivian into her nice Mercedes and with each half mile closer to the destination I was glad I had. My cheap Korean import would have been very out-of-place in Myers Park, the side of town where Charlotte, NC’s moneyed set have lived, died, and inherited for a 100 years or so.
There would be no impromptu fish fry at this stately home. No jokes about Kid’N’Play and other kinds of house parties. These people had read the free instructional materials the Obama campaign mailed in full. There were directional signs, hors d’oeuvres; a permit for extra street parking and even a friggin’ credit card machine for donations.
We were not in Kansas anymore.
For the next two hours Vivian and I shared stories about our political pasts with about 15 people. We passed the cheese, demurred the offer of wine, and wrote our first checks for the Obama campaign. As we were leaving we didn’t even make it to the sidewalk before Vivian turned to me and said, “Oh my God, we were the only black people there.”
She became a believer that night.
And I became a one woman Harriet Tubman for Obama.
I went to house parties. I set up a donate page on Obama.com and spammed my friends. Mostly though I was provocateur in every setting where people like my father expressed incredulity that a black man stood a chance. I told them about how those white folks were writing those checks that first night. I told them this was different, could be different. I assured my aunt, the bible thumper, that Obama did believe in white Jesus and black churches. I promised my ex-boyfriends that they would not have a warrant served on them when they showed up to register to vote.
I translated Barack’s message into Negro-speak and I was happy to do it.
That’s why it kinda hurts that I don’t speak up as fast, as loudly, as often if at all when people start murmuring about how Barack knows he could say something about poor Trayvon.
My folks don’t always understand constituencies and lobbyists and judicial appointments but we tend to have a fairly well attuned meter for right and wrong. And this Trayvon murder, the cover-up, the mainstream media’s initial shut out of it all – it all feels wrong to us.
And our preachers aren’t such good revolutionaries anymore. They’re old or praying for prosperity or both.
Our teachers don’t have black schools and safe spaces to murmur anymore. And even if they did the schools are too far from where we live for us to get to them or to feel safe when we do.
So, it’s not that we’re ignorant of the rule of law, per se, but we’re desperate. That’s why we look around for the first friendly face in the crowd to ask, “Please, do something.”
Me? I get the politics. I even sympathize with them. The last thing a black President needs is to re-fight the Civil War with white folks still so angry because he exists that they’d relish the bloodshed. I know Barack does not have the political cover to spend any capital on a dead boy in a local shooting in an unfriendly state. He doesn’t have a majority, can’t appoint a judge, and if white folks stop donating he can’t exactly write a billion dollar check to finance his re-election.
I get it.
And still I speak up a little more slowly, a little less often, a little more softly.
I’m hurt, too. And agitated. I’m as angry as those white folks itching to secede only I have a reason to be angry. My boogey-man is real. He is killing black children and no one cares and I am mad. And hurt. Have I mentioned how much it hurts?
So, even though I understand I have to say that I wouldn’t be too mad if Barack jeopardized his second term with a few words about a dead boy in Florida. I know it wouldn’t help. If anything it would hurt. I know all of that which is why I’d forgive him if he couched it in patriotic language.
America is not the Wild West.
We are a faithful people who value life.
We do not sanction vigilante justice because we cherish the rule of law so many soldiers die to protect.
He could pretend Trayvon’s name is Trip for all I care.
Just…if something could be said. No matter how he said it, I’d take it. We would know what you were saying.
Because black folks? We can hear dog whistles, too.
Sometimes, even, we hear them when no one is whistling.
Note: I said I don’t do personal revelations online anymore. But, sometimes I lie for a good cause. This is one of those times.