I was reading a story by my favorite short story author, Alice Munro, today, called “Pride.” There was a line in the story that made me stop what I was doing to write this piece. It reads, “Good use can be made of everything, if you are willing.”
The reason it stopped me in my tracks, so, was because it made me think of Barack Obama. It brought to mind all that he’s faced in the seven years he’s been president. I admire this man, for a lot of reasons, but if I’m honest? It’s his blackness that I admire the most. That sounds silly, I know, so let me explain:
It’s not that I admire President Obama for the color of his skin. Rather, I admire what he’s done with it. He’s allowed himself to be a flash point for racism. He became the President of the United States of America because he dared to be.
President Obama doesn’t make the color of his skin an issue. He doesn’t pander to anyone by using his blackness as a weapon, or a calling card, or as a social divider. No. He asks us to look beyond his appearance and see that he is an intelligent man who considers an issue fully, and thoughtfully, and then takes a stand. He demands that we remember the substance of a man is in his heart, not in his DNA.
But dared? Yes, I used that word, purposely. It’s an interesting word to use, right? Here’s why: There are millions of Americans who use it in the context of how dare he? As though some little colored kid should never dare to dream so high. He dared like, he thinks he’s so high and mighty. He dared to think he’s better than me? Not around these parts. Not in this house. Not on my watch. Did that make you cringe? I’m not sorry. It was intentional. Those ideas (and worse) are voiced in America — land of the free, home of the brave — all day every day.
Yes, he did dare. He dared to willingly make himself a target. He dared to run for the presidency of the United States in spite of our latent but rampant racism. I don’t know, maybe part of why he dared was because of it. Not out of spite, but because somebody had to shine a light on it some day, why not him?
And my, oh my, it sure is shining big and bright now, isn’t it? But how does this tie back to that quote from Alice Munro? “Good use can be made of everything…”
I believe that President Obama has made good use of the way racism silently infiltrated America. I believe that his brown face and kinky hair alone allowed all the closet racists to crawl out and let their racist flags fly. I believe, ultimately, that that’s a good thing.
I am sick of hearing the phrase “I’m not a racist, some of my best friends…” Because we all know how that story ends. We know it’s just a bunch of words people use to excuse their deeper beliefs and behaviors, and to dodge the more serious conversations. Our president made good use of America’s racism because, and I’m being my typical hopeful self here, what I hope is that we will begin again to have honest conversations about race and poverty and all the inequalities in our country. It’s the only way to finally move, as a nation, away from those things, and toward what is greater. Because, let’s be honest, we are not a great country, unless we all have a fair shot at greatness ourselves.
But we must be willing…