A Single Lifetime
A Single Lifetime
By David Glenn Cox
Surviving to over age 50 is no major accomplishment, in and of itself. It's only a chance to see things and experience things, and sadly, most of it for the worse. As a child, playing in the sun was not seen as a danger; the polar ice caps weren’t melting, or at least we didn’t know about it yet. Gasoline was .29 cents a gallon and seat belts were a novelty only required in the front seat.
But I started life on a wholly segregated, post-World War II street, in a wholly segregated block, in a wholly segregated suburb. African Americans didn’t exist in public life; there were no African Americans on television except Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis Jr. and Louis Armstrong. No African American news anchors, or weather people, or sports reporters. There were few African American movie stars. Sidney Poitier is the only one that comes to mind.
In 1961 we moved to Dallas, Texas, and I was exposed for the first time to racial and religious prejudice. We had moved into a new house and the lawn was overgrown. A neighbor lady came over and introduced herself and asked my mother, “Where did you find a white yard man?”
“Oh, it was easy,” she answered. “I married him.”
Some neighborhood children invited my sister and I to go to the community pool with them, but after finding out that we were of the Catholic persuasion, they left without us. I was a small child and I couldn’t understand how it could matter what church we attended. That was my first small taste of American prejudice, and my mother explained it as some people are just afraid of anything different and some can only feel good about themselves when looking down on someone else. For years I kept an ash tray from a dry cleaners in Dallas because inside of it was the motto: For discriminating people!
I remember, about the same time, running into the house to get a drink and hearing a voice on the television. A voice like I had never heard before, a voice that stopped me, a child, in my tracks. It was a voice that, if God spoke to you, that is what he would sound like. I was a kid. I knew nothing of left wing or right wing politics, but that voice stopped me in my tracks. “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."
In 1964 we moved to Montgomery, Alabama. My father, not liking the job in Dallas, took a job in Montgomery where I was exposed to an entirely new world. While the neighborhoods were segregated, the shopping was not. The library was having their annual book sale, but what was on sale was mainly text books because, at that time, students in Alabama had to purchase their school books. Just one of a hundred ways that African Americans were denied access to education. Sure, it impacted poor white students as well, but poor blacks outnumbered poor whites ten to one.
Montgomery still had downtown movie theaters then. Along the side of one that still stands today was a steel staircase that, if you didn’t know any better, you might mistake it for a fire escape. Being ignorant little white children, we wanted to sit in the balcony but were told the balcony was closed. It was a mystery to us, as it appeared safe enough. But as we looked we couldn’t find a stairway to the balcony except for that steel-framed staircase outside. It was federal law that had closed off the balcony and it occurred to me later that without an internal staircase they had no access to restrooms or the candy counter.
This struck me as mean spirited and vicious. The candy counter was one thing but the restrooms were another matter. The city, faced with forced integration of public pools, chose instead to fill them in and have none. This, to many in the white population, didn’t seem extreme or incredibly cynical but necessary and something that they were forced to do by militant blacks and rabble-rousers. Why, you scratch any black militant and right underneath you’ll find a communist. Martin Luther King was called a communist in the local paper right up to the day he died.
The white population was frightened and the politicians exploited that fear. But Montgomery was a pretty dull town in 1965. So when the marchers started from Selma my dad loaded us up in the old Chrysler to see them. Riding down Hwy 80 I saw the marchers and the state troopers and lots and lots of police cars. I saw the Edmund Pettis Bridge for the first time and recognized it from television. Returning to Montgomery my father tried to get us into downtown but the police had the roads blocked so he attempted to sneak us in on a back road. We got close enough to hear loudspeakers but not close enough to hear what they were saying. We could see the dome of the capitol with the Stars and Bars blowing in the breeze.
That was as close as we got to downtown and shortly after that we returned to Chicago, but things were changing. A TV station hired a black anchorman, and Diahann Carroll starred in a sitcom with black actors. A young, black comedian named Bill Cosby was a hit on the TV show "I Spy." While progress was being made, feelings among many in the white population hardened. Graffiti was ugly and many saw it as African Americans never being satisfied. I remember thinking, I wonder how they would feel as a child seeing the swimming pools filled in rather than let you swim in them. Or taking a date to the movies, up a long flight of steel stairs, outdoors, and paying your money but not being able to use the restroom.
Slowly blacks were getting elected to state houses, and city councils, and becoming mayors, and even governors, and lo and behold, the sky didn’t fall. I ended up back in Montgomery and much had changed, both for the better and the worse. The political division, rather than being Republican and Democrat, was black versus white. For nine years black members of the city council tried to get a section of Cleveland Avenue renamed Rosa Parks Drive. The section ran through several black neighborhoods but many in the white population saw it as blacks still pushing for more. That same city council, with a white majority, renamed another major street after a retiring republican congressman, with just the bang of a gavel.
An African American congressman got a section of I-85 renamed the Martin Luther King Memorial Expressway. The dedication sign was vandalized repeatedly until it was moved overhead, out of reach. But attending an integrated high school named for the president of the Confederacy was tenuous. The back and white populations were more distrustful then hostile. Conversations were short and rare; it was a segregated school in an integrated building. We were guinea pigs in a way. We were always filling out state or federal paperwork as government tried to glean knowledge about us, both white and black.
One day in home room the teacher began to pass out a state form, on white paper for white students and yellow paper for black students. I had already started to fill out my form when I heard a murmur from the black students. They would not fill out the yellow form; they wanted a white paper form. Why was theirs yellow, they asked. I got it, and understood just how easily these things can become institutionalized without even thinking about it. The black students were refusing to fill out the yellow form and began crumpling them up and throwing them in the trash can. I crumpled up my white form and threw it away, as well. It didn’t make me a hero; I did it as much for my own personal rebellion, but it cost Hillary Clinton my vote.
When Hillary Clinton came to Selma to celebrate the anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery march, she kept saying, "y’all." Right, people who live in New York and attended Ivy League schools always say y’all. She was trying to draw a parallel between herself and Dr. King, when in fact she didn’t do any more than I did, crumble a form and throw it in the trash. She might have been supportive but that doesn’t make you a hero, and certainly draws no connection to a man who took a bullet to the throat.
I used to ride the bus to work in Montgomery; the ridership was 98% African American, and me. Most were women going to work. I would sit behind the bus driver, a man about my age, and we struck up a friendship, talking politics each day on my ride. One Saturday an elderly white woman pulled the cord, and as she got to the door she turned and said, “Thank you, Boy.”
I could feel my own ears burning with embarrassment. I stammered, “I know that’s got to piss you off.”
“Not really,” he answered. “Her kind is dying off. She just doesn’t know no better; the graveyard is taking care of her kind.” He was right, I never again heard a black man referred to as boy, and even in the South I don’t hear African Americans referred to by the N word. Not to say that it doesn’t go on among rednecks, Yee Haws, and uneducated Billy Bobs, but as a society it is considered an ignorant thing to say. In my lifetime the transformation has been amazingly swift. If, however, I’d lived under the yoke I’m sure it’s been a painfully long, uphill slog.
We are less than one week from possibly electing the first African American President of the United States, and I intend to vote for Barrack Obama. During the primary here in Georgia, Obama received 40% of the vote. Amazing when you consider that in my lifetime Georgia had a governor that campaigned with an ax handle to, as he said, “Put 'em back in their place!” Where, in my lifetime, most blacks in Georgia were not even allowed to vote. Yet today Georgia is a better place for that struggle, a better place for its white citizens as well as its African American citizens. A place where an African American candidate for President can garner 40% of the vote.
He may not win but the fact that it is even close is an amazing thing to see in one lifetime. But I’m voting for Barack Obama not because he is African American or half African American, I’m voting for him because I think he is the best man for the job and race has nothing to do with it. But this is the dream realized and we would be lying to ourselves to ignore it. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
and yes it is an amazing thing.
No matter how disgusted I am with Obama's willingness to renig on principles to win the presidency (FISA, the bailout, Afghanistan, Palestine, Pakistan etc...), I can't help it, I feel joy that finally an African American will sit in the White House that was built with unpaid slave labor and be the CEO of a nation that's still hanging nooses from trees in the courtyards of Central Louisiana High Schools.
It's amazing and he's putting on quite a mesmerizing show. His personal grace and charisma are a welcome thing too because White America needs to see more successful Blacks and not be afraid of us as if we carry cooties.
One more barrier the elites use to keep people divided has just been broken.
I don't think many White people can understand what a head trip having a Black President is going to be for most Black Americans. Even though Obama isn't overcoming for Martin Luther King's main dream of justice for all, he's crashed the gate and millions of young Black Americans will finally feel as if they can at least get a seat on the same boat White Americans have as a birthright.
Regardless of the deals/concessions he's made to achieve his dream of being President, I think he's an extraordinary man.
Out of all the choices they approved, Obama was the best. I think he has the most heart of them all.
Yes, it is a great moment in history.
We are just going to have to keep the pressure up on our newly elected officials to secure universal healthcare, peace, and a decent job and education for all.
The Chosen One
As someone who's not voting for Obama, and who has not been inspired by Obama, I'd have to say his race is not a big issue for me. My whole life a good portion of my favorite athletes and entertainers have been African-American, there's no reason African-Americans cannot succeed in other areas (I think there's a racist belief that these are the only areas African-Americans can do well in, which I've never believed in). I look at it the same way as a woman who might get through the corporate culture and become a CEO. Chances are she's not going to be much different than say, the crooks who ran Enron. As I said to Virgil before, I think Carter and Bill Clinton were monsters, I do not expect Barack Obama to be a man of peace. Morality, ethics, and right and wrong do not see race.
p.s. I think Barack not supporting reparations might have a lot to do with him coming from a family that has no American slavery in its history (only the ownership of slaves, not being subjected to slavery). As a non-African American I don't really feel it's my place to speak out on this, but I would assume a lot of African Americans don't like this position of Obama's.
Also I personally support reparations because I think there's a consensus that Native American and African Americans are the two groups that have been treated the worst in U.S. history (well perhaps women too, but I'm not sure how you'd go about giving women reparations). Some Native Americans I believe have received money for broken treaties/poor treatment, etc., why should black Americans whose ancestors were enslaved not receive the same?
p.p.s. I was just reading an article in a South African paper about how popular Obama is in Africa. I was wondering what is Barack Obama going to do differently in Africa that previous American presidents have not done? The answer, sadly, is probably little or nothing. All the hype, is just that hype, actions are more important than the liberal image of Barack Obama that is out there (that is not based in fact IMO).
His race itself...
His race itself isn't the issue. Being multiracial, I'm pretty color blind but the effects of his race (as President of the US) on race relations is a very important issue.
This country can't possibly move forward until it becomes less color blind. This pin was openly sold at the Texas Republican convention
This t-shirt was a huge hit in Marietta, GA
[div class=excerpt style=background:#FEFEFF]Marietta bar owner Mike Norman says the T-shirts he’s peddling, featuring a look-a-like of cartoon chimp Curious George peeling a banana, with “Obama in ‘08″ underneath, are not meant to offend.
Norman acknowledged the imagery’s Jim Crow roots but said he sees nothing wrong with depicting a prominent African-American as a monkey,
“We’re not living in the (19)40’s,” he said. “Look at him . . . the hairline, the ears — he looks just like Curious George.” [/quote]
And then we had this lovely little monkey
In 2008? It's totally unacceptable.
While I overlook his race, I can't misappreciate its impact on ameliorating the sorry state of racism in this country. Nor can I misappreciate the satisfaction it will give African Americans that finally, at last they have a seat at the table.
In my heritage, we had many Black leaders and after overthrowing the slavery, we chased the slaveowners out and were able to accomplish things without their interference for a while. This isn't something any of my American AA friends have had. They went from slavery, to Jim Crow, to today's institutional racism where traces of Jim Crowism still remain (Jena, the dragging death of James Byrd Jr in Jasper, Texas, Louima...)
So while I agree the race itself isn't an issue (or a criteria), the psychological impact it will have on millions of people can't be understimated. There are still too many ignorant people out there. One recently told me that Black people can't study foreign languages. OMG did he pick the wrong person to say that too. I've dealt with too many to not look forward to this.
Obama will loot Africa with great imperial skill but that's down the road. Nobody's looking at that now and it's not even a real consideration because the US system can't survive without looting. It's not something Obama or any one politician could change even if they wanted to.
White people have beaten Blacks down for so long that I understand the jubilation. It's a victory, not of principles but of proof that the playing field isn't divided by race anymore.
Just another crack in the stone wall...
Some Will Definitely Be Very Happy
I must say I hadn't considered the psychological impact it would have on African-Americans. There will probably be a good deal of that, I would think, I heard DL Hughley the other night on a talk show saying he's never had the opportunity to vote for a black candidate EVER, I believe he's from Compton so I have a hard time believing whoever the Congressperson from that area is not African-American (but one never knows how these districts are gerrymandered), I don't know if he was just making a joke, but I'll take him at his word. Obama winning may be a Pyrrhic victory for African-Americans, but I'm not sure it is for progressives (of course I think African-Americans are one of the most Democratic groups in the country, which I'm not sure is the same thing as being one of the most liberal/progressive groups in the country, but I hope my point makes some sense).
There's also the impact on Muslims
Yeah, yadada I know Obama isn't religiously affiliated with Islam Muslim but it was used to smear him. The viciousness of the smears shocked and pained many Muslim Americans.
The fact that enough Americans refused to fall for it is reassuring to people who suffered from it.
I've been keeping a careful eye on racism during these elections and was surprised by how far so many people dare go.
Have you seen this garbage? If Obama wins, it's not a victory for progressives (and btw, I agree with you about the AA community) but it's a victory over the kind of people who spread this kind of hate:
There's no doubt, this is a special occasion
The rest of the world will definitely see he US as evolving because of the selection of a non-White as the leader and statesman.
But this election is not as momentous a change in race-relations in our own country as some might think. Barack Obama is a half-African American / half-white who doesn't talk or act like most African Americans. He was raised white by a white mother and her parents.
Like Ralph Nader said (and my father, who voted for George W. twice and is now going to vote for Obama) Obama doesn't act black. If he did, old Grandpa McCain would have won his thing going away.
Just because Obama wins this time, and lets say he wins another one in 2012, doesn't mean that Jesse Jackson Jr., or Alcee Hastings, or Donna Edwards, or Carol Mosely Braun have a chance of becoming Presient in 2016. I think those possibilities are well down the road.
The devout racists, as Tinoire's above post demonstrates, are here and they're entrenched. But, truly, and I hate to say this, there are a lot more like them who are not as vocal and don't wear their racism on their sleeve. They're the people keeping this race close enough to steal. They're the ones that might actually tip the scale to old Krusty McClown. They're like a cancer, silent but deadly, stronger than you know.
Obama's ascension is a significant step in the right direction. It is a measure of real progress. But it isn't some transformational event. It was only 30 years ago (that we know of) that the last African American was lynched. The kind of hatred that produces that sort of sick and twisted lack of respect for life does not just go away because people ignore it. There's plenty of real, hard, 100% racism all over this country and in many parts of the world. Don' think that everything is hunky-dory just because Barack Obama becomes president.
It's amazing how the right uses things for their own purposes, I thought one of the reasons communism was so evil is because it is godless? They try to link this El Mansour guy not only to the Black Panthers, but to a Saudi Arabian who wants to islamify the country? This is really out there stuff. I like how they try to say Ayers and El Mansour are still somehow pulling Obama's strings. I doubt Obama even returns their phone calls! Ha, ha... If they are even calling him at all (which they probably aren't).
I'm not too concerned about what the right thinks, the are not rational or clear thinking. They are going to hate any Democratic president anyway, Bill Clinton was probably the most non-liberal Democrat of the 20th Century, and they reacted to him as if he were Eugene Debs. So this kind of thing, is sad (that anyone would devote there time to making such a video), but that's mainly what I think of it.
I thought the racism would be far worse than it's been. I thought McCain would be more open about it too. I'm not sure if that's progress or what, I assumed McCain would be running clearly racist ads (which I haven't seen, maybe I've missed something), like the ad that was run against Harold Ford Jr. when he ran for the Senate (hopefully you know the ad I'm talking about).