When Obama took the stage Tuesday night at midnight to give his acceptance speech, I was moved to tears. I was so pleased and so relieved. Not that I thought McCain was a bad person or anything, I just felt Obama would be that much better for the country. I believed, and continue to believe, in his intelligence, good judgment, and good intentions.
Teaching in a high school in the Bronx, I looked forward to sharing in what I expected to be a celebratory mood. It wasn't quite what I expected. Several of my students, who know me and have known me to be an avid Obama supporter all along (even when some of them prefered Hillary in the primary), "accused" me of being secretly for McCain. Now I can tell when they're kidding around; this was different. "You really wanted McCain, didn't you?" they'd ask, with suspicion in their voices.
Then, an African American girl and a Dominican boy got into a screaming match, complete with colorful epithets, about which was more important, the black vote or hispanic vote, in electing Obama. The young lady, who's generally very intelligent and poised, if tough to the core, insisted that 98% of the overall
vote was black and that's why Obama won. I tried to clarify her statistics (% of a particular group's vote versus % of the overall vote), but had to settle for having her step into the hall for a few minutes to regain her composure, under threat of getting a dean. It didn't help that I had to give a reading assessment test that day. I later mentioned the exchange to the history teacher and thought perhaps he could pick up the discussion at some point in his class.
I'm afraid it gets worse. As I'm walking through the cafeteria, a petite African American girl from another of the schools in the building sees me coming off the elevator and starts chanting at me in an aggressive, in-your-face tone, "O-ba-ma, O-ba-ma, O-ba-ma..." I was taken off guard, to say the least, and I didn't know her, so I just kept walking. After, when I was talking to a friend in the office about the incident, I said what I would like to have said at the time: He's my president, too.
I realize they're still just children, but it all certainly left me shaken. I felt excluded from the celebration. Jon said there was no such divide at his job, but I can't help wondering what people might be feeling under the surface. I don't like thinking that.
The sourness is already fading. Every time I hear Obama I'm as delighted as I ever was. I'm just going to shake these experiences off as residual bad feelings, leftover from literally centuries of racism against African Americans (mild responses, come to think of it, given our history). One of my seniors, when I was talking about it with my AP class, where we're reading Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man
(deliberately timed), said her brother was "getting it, too." Apparently, he was in Harlem and some people were taunting him and wearing t-shirts with the slogan: N--, this is the White
House, not the Black
House. (How anyone had the nerve to say or wear that in Harlem, of all places, I don't know. Not that it's okay anywhere.)
I guess we still have a ways to go in this country. In the end, however, it diminishes nothing. Whatever your political leanings, Tuesday was a historic day, and I, for one, am still cheering.