Thursday, August 28, 2008

T-minus 3 hours 33 minutes to the big speech

I've already posted a few thoughts on this when I talked about Dr. King's speech, but I cannot reinforce often enough just how monumental tonight's event will be. This country has had 43 Presidents. 43 white men have held the chief executive office of the United States, some good, some bad, but all white and all men.

For a nearly a hundred years after this country was founded, all those of African descent were slaves. Property. Not human beings, but property. They were not allowed to learn to read, they were beaten, kept down, and as a white person I have to admit that I do not fully understand the ethnic memory of this slavery and I know I never will, but damnit do I sympathize. For a hundred years after Black Americans became people rather than property, they still didn't have much of the same rights as their white counterparts. Voting was impossible for too many of them, they couldn't go to the same schools as their white neighbors and get the same caliber of education. And while not still legally property, they were treated as objects, as the "Other", and still not as human beings. In 1964 we passed Civil Rights legislation and began trying to stamp out this institutionalized racism, but it wasn't easy and hasn't been since. A lot of racism still exists.

Dr. King had a dream that one day his children would be judge not on the color of their skin, but on the content of their character. Dr. King had a dream that we could all face each other as human beings, not stand with our group and stare across the street at the Other. Dr. King's dream was not just about justice for those who had the same skin color as him; not just about justice for those who went to his church; his dream was about freeing everyone, regardless of their skin color, regardless of whether people talk about their plight or ignore it or pretend it's not there (Native Americans and Roma, for instance). Dr. King was not about Black people. His message began and took shape in the Black community because he was Black himself, and he used the power of the faith that had been handed down to him for generations, a faith and a tradition within Christianity that began when African slaves could do nothing but work and sing; but Dr. King was not about black people. Dr. King was about all people.

And I know there's a strong tendency to want to anoint Barack Obama as the next Dr. King, the next Moses, the next Messiah. I know a lot of people want to scoff at this and tell us that we're all getting our hopes up, that we should be wary of the promises of false hope. But, to quote Barack, in the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope.

I come from a background full of people who couldn't let go of their privilege. Not just let go of it, but acknowledge it. I have a sadness in my heart that remembers various people in my family and background who talk about other Americans as the Other. I have heard people in my family and background use the word "nigger", and it makes me very sad that there are people in my own family who don't understand just how much more alike we are with Barack Obama, despite his skin color. They don't understand it, they won't accept it, and they don't comprehend just how huge a victory for the American people last night's nomination and tonight's speech will be. I hope that some day they do understand it and will let go of this idea of the Other long enough to take a look at Dr. King's speech, and the state of this country, then and now and smile at how much justice has been done.

But the dream is not fulfilled. Justice has not been done fully, and the check has not yet been fully reimbursed by the Bank of Justice. Yet tonight, a large chunk of that check will be returned to the American people. We will have our first non-white nominee for President of the United States. Black people will have someone who looks like them (in skin color, at least) to vote for this November (whether they do or not is up to individuals and I don't want to accuse Black people of group think) and my generation who has been taught for the last 20 years that we need to accept people for who they are not what they look like will be taking over government and society.

Barack Obama must be our next president. It's time. This is our time. This is no longer the time of privilege. Joe Biden said it nicely last night, no one is better than you, everyone is your equal. I believe that Joe Biden and Barack Obama believe these things. I know they do. They are the leaders of my party who believe these things.

Dr. King will be smiling down on us tonight as Barack accepts the nomination.

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