I'm Proud to be an American... Again
(Photo courtesy of DUer Bob_Weaver.)
It's hard to not sympathize with or at least understand First Lady Michelle Obama's admission of being proud of her country for the first time. Even I, a white man who'd never endured the slings and arrows of outrageous racism, knew from the start exactly what she'd meant.
Barack Obama is our first African American president. Do not let the impact of that world-shaking and unimaginably historic statement to get blunted or made innocuously smoothed by public, academic and media iteration and reiteration. Do not let it become familiar or to take that for granted.
President Obama was elected almost 25 years to the day after President Ronald Reagan signed into law a bill making Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday. It was a bill that, even just one generation ago, was met with Congressional apathy and a shamefully virulent and petty filibuster by Senator Jesse Helms, possibly the most racist man who ever slithered through the Senate since the heyday of the civil rights movement.
As recently as the 109th Congress, Bill Frist, then Senate Majority Leader, had blocked a roll call vote when Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana attempted to introduce a resolution (in the dead of night when most CSPAN viewers weren't watching) apologizing to the surviving families of African American lynchings. 12 Republicans, roughly half of them from the south, voted against it.
Even as recently as last year, all but one Republican (Tom Tancredo) avoided an NAACP-sponsored GOP presidential debate.
Barack Obama's ascendancy to the Oval Office was much more than a vindicating blast of defiance of the thinly-disguised, race-based status quo that still shares our homes, jobs, public places and, yes, even our government. It was a successful defiance of a media that, less than a year ago, had long since tried steering us to the predetermined, almost Calvinistic conclusion that it would come down, as always, to two white people: Hillary Clinton or John McCain.
Fox notwithstanding, the media are racist in the most passive of ways. It's racism delineated not by what it says about people of color but by what it doesn't say about them. It's a media that will invariably and inevitably default to the pretty or handsome white victim while happily devoting equal time for black perpetrators, whether or not they exist. For every Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo or Rodney King, there are literally 100 Ashley Todds.
Then Senator Obama could've easily become a victim of this racism-by-exclusion. But he wouldn't allow it. And neither would nearly 72,000,000 progressive-minded Americans who chose democracy over demographics. Vigilance over fear. Patriotism over arrogant, unilateral nationalism. Pride over hubris. Intelligence over deviousness.
Since yesterday, I am prouder to be a citizen of the United States of America than I was even on September 11th and no one had to die to arouse my patriotism. I find myself actually walking with my head held an inch higher, my back straighter, my heels striking the ground with more authority as I walk with an extra spring in my step. For the first time in eight years, I can once again refer to the occupant of the Oval Office as my president without having to use scare quotes.
For the first time in ages, I am proud to be an American, proud of my president and hope to be proud of my government. And I am not merely proud that my President is African American. I am proud also because we chose to elect him to the White House and, in doing so, eschewing the media and right wing fear mongers. I am proud of my fellow Americans. I am only starting with President Obama.
We are a nation that is much more valuable than the sum of its parts, with a much greater identity and sense of purpose, perhaps even destiny, than the sum total of our self-perceptions. It took America a while to rouse itself from its petroleum- and carbohydrate-induced slumber but we showed enough trust and faith to elect a black man whom we felt was qualified to lead our roiling and reeling nation than a white man who was not.
And, in a carefully staged photo op, President Obama, just an hour into his administration, before attending the Inaugural luncheon and long before any of the ten inaugural balls, was filmed and photographed signing documents on his desk at the Oval Office as a way of telling the American people that the transition of power was seamless and gapless, that someone was in charge from Minute One. It was very choreographed, very planned but very pragmatic and very reassuring.