In the days leading up to last Saturday’s South Carolina Democratic Primary, I was becoming an angry black woman and I believe for good reason. The Obama drama, which first began with self-anointed black activist, Jesse Jackson, saying that Democratic presidential contender Senator Barack Obama wasn’t black enough and was followed by former President Bill Clinton trying to turn Obama into the “black” candidate with all the negatively coded rhetoric it implies, was enough to make this even this iconoclastic black Republican want to go ballistic.
Watching this drama play out in the media, reminded me of my own experiences. Like Obama, I refuse to be marginalized, to be stereotyped and I fight the efforts of people to place me in a “black box” every day of my life.
What am I talking about? Here are some examples:
“No, I am not a student, I teach here.” – I can delude myself into thinking that I am turning back the hands of time so much so that I have transformed myself into the adorable 20-something I used to be but that would be a mistake. In reality, I strongly believe that am often mistaken for a student on the campuses I teach because of the dearth of black faculty at non-HBCU (Historically Black College and Universities) institutions large and small.
In the classroom, I am not the “black professor” but one whose race informs but not defines her views and approach to education and instruction which is equally, if not more, informed by years of work experience in business. (By the way, I teach business communication and public relations.)
“No, I am not a Baptist.” – The assumption here is that all black people are members of the Baptist religion, singing and swaying to gospel music every Sunday. My mother is a lapsed Southern Baptist who has a great disdain for the “hooping and hollering” that takes place during services not to mention the constant passing of the collection plate. My late father was an agnostic who didn’t believe in organized religion. As for me, I was christened a Baptist as an infant and baptized a Roman Catholic when I was six. I attended Catholic schools all of my life with the exception of college. I have dabbled in Pentacostalism. the practice of which gave me a temporary high but not the peace that comes from the solemnity of the Mass, which in itself, is, I have come to realize, a meditation on the goodness of God.
“You are so intelligent and/or articulate.” – I am not totally offended by these backhanded compliments, which assumes that black people, in general, are neither. It is also assumed that I am both because of pedigree for no average black person could produce such an offspring. My parents must be doctors, lawyers or some other professional. In reality, they were postal workers who valued education and intelligence and made sure that my sister and I had both.
“So who do you want, Hillary or Obama?” – Although I am backpack carrying, braid wearing, organic food eating chick, I am a registered Republican. And no, I not crazy nor do I need some sort of intervention conducted by “well-meaning” liberals or righteous race men/women to bring me back into the fold. I was a Democrat, but not any more. And I don’t appreciate people asking “Hillary or “Obama?” assuming they are my only choices.
I agree these are not great injustices but merely annoyances that are like pin pricks of which I have sustained hundreds — some of them more painful than others.
Just as I was contemplating whether to jump off of the curb or stab myself with a butter knife, I saw hope in the form of the returns from Saturday’s South Carolina Democratic Primary.
Obama won by a margin of 2 to 1 over his closest competitor, Senator Hillary Clinton. (WOB – Wife of Bill). And yes, he received the much expected, black vote but he also garnered votes from a healthy number of whites, from all walks of life– winning almost every county in the state. The Clinton strategy of painting Obama as the “black candidate” proved lacking if not a complete failure.
If Obama never makes to the big show known as the general election, he has already won a victory for all us who fight daily to live lives outside of the boxes.
While his decisive win was personally satisfying enough, his victory speech struck a responsive chord and nearly moved me to tears. Here are a couple of poignant excerpts:
“It’s a politics that uses religion as a wedge an patriotism as a bludgeon, a politics that tells us that we have to think act and even vote within the confines of the categories that supposedly define us, the assumption is that African Americans can’t support a white candidate, whites can’t support a black candidate, blacks and latinos can’t come together.
“We are also struggling with our own doubts, our own fears, our own cynicism. The change we seek has always required great struggle, great sacrifice. And so this is a battle in our own hearts and minds about what kind of country we want and how hard we are willing to work for it.”
The last statement reminds of a public memorial service I attended years ago for the late, great tennis player and AIDS activist, Arthur Ashe. On the program were the following words that I carry with me today: “We did had to do. When we had to do it. And with all of the resources required.”
Good luck Barack Obama and thanks for scoring one for the iconoclasts.