Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Why I am REALLY proud of Michelle Obama and my country

I am sick and tired of all the remarks recently about Michelle Obama and her statement about being "really" proud of America.

I'm 60 years old, and "black". I was born in the North, in the Brooklyn Jewish Hospital, and lived in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood. My grandmother, (Dad's mom) who helped raise me, was a "white" woman from Kansas.

My Dad was a Tuskegee Airman in WWII - and was beaten to a pulp by racists when he got off a bus to go to the training field with an army buddy who "looked black" (my dad was fair with blue eyes).

By the time I was 5 we moved south - where my dad was teaching at a "black" university in a racially segregated town, where I couldn't enter a store to buy an ice cream cone. At age 6 we moved to the campus of a "white" school in PA - where I was asked in all seriousness if my best friend (the only Jewish girl in town) had horns and a tail. By the time I was 9 and back in the south, I watched my dad and some other young professor’s hold off cross-burning KKK'ers with shotguns.

By age 11 I was bussed to a school which had race riots because kids who looked like me were going to the school for the first time. This was in Queens, in NY.

By age 13 I was informed by my school guidance counselor that if I tried to apply for a special High School in NYC (taking off a day for auditions) I would get detention and a blue referral card. "White" kids were allowed the day off. I applied anyway - and was accepted to the High School of Music and Arts.

By age 16 I was engaged in the civil rights movement and in later years lost close friends, and two partners, who died because someone didn't like their skin color, sexual orientation politics, or religion.

I am now 60. And for the first time in my life I am REALLY proud of my country. I wish my grandmother was alive to see this. She had to flee Kansas to marry my grandfather in 1915 because "inter-racial" marriage was illegal. I wish my dad and mom were alive to see this. They had hopes that Colin Powell would/could have run for President - but his wife, wisely held him back. It was not the right time.

Most of my ancestors have been in this country since the 1600's. I am descended from Revolutionary War heroes, Civil War Heroes, and people who were enslaved.

I am an American. I defy anyone to question my "patriotism". On the backs of my ancestors - black, white and indigenous, this country was built.

I see my students at the University excited to be engaged in the political process for the first time. They make me proud. 95% support Obama, and I teach at a predominantly "white" school. I see a coalition broader than the one I was a part of in the sixties forming before my eyes. That makes me proud.

I see Michelle Obama and his sister Maya Soetoro-Ng, and they make me proud.

As an anthropologist, I realize that "race" is a social construct, but if you think racism isn't alive and well you are living in a bubble.

If you think that Barak Obama hasn't felt racisms sting because of his upbringing, which is a position I've heard some people take, you are naive.

But - he's not demoralized nor has he internalized crippling self-hate. He has hope and a vision, and is being supported by a broad base of people that I thought I'd never live to see come together, here in MY country. That's good enough for me.

And to honor his wife Michelle, in response to some of the positions expressed on the web (thankfully the minority ones) I will now send another donation to help Barak Obama's campaign.

And be REALLY proud to see Michelle as First Lady.


Douglas Watts said...


Thank you for letting me republish your essay on my blog. I cannot express to you how moved I was by reading it.

When I was about 10 years old, my father, Allan, sat myself and my brother down and told us that a black family, the Nichols, had just moved into town, Easton, Massachusetts. At this time (1973), Easton was a very small town (6,000 people) that had almost no black people living in it. My father told us what we would probably hear in school and in town about the Nichols family moving in.

He bluntly and plainly explained to us what prejudice and racism is and that for some strange reason, some white people don't like black people. He inoculated us against all the racism by telling us about it beforehand and telling us that it was all false.

And when we did hear the racism in town about the Nichols family (which we did endlessly), my brother and I had the strength to say, "My father said what you are saying is wrong and Mr. and Mrs. Nichols and Mark and Ray Nichols are just the same as everyone else who lives in Easton."

And we learned that saying that shut people up.

I don't know where my father got what he gave to us, but he must have got it from somewhere because he was adamant about giving it to us.

I think he got a lot of this from Dick Gregory, who he really liked. But I don't know.

This is all to say that your essay brought up a flood of memories about everything that my father told Timmy and I to believe in and why. My dad died in 1996.


Douglas Watts

twoberry said...

Hi, I tried to leave a comment earlier, but apparently I had to open an account.

You're awesome, and I'll be back to tell you more. Need to get to work.

Fellow supporter of Barack and Michelle. My blogs are at xanga.com/twoberry

Denise Oliver-Velez said...

Thank you for sharing with me, and any reader who might come through here (I'm still getting used to this blog business) your story of how what your dad taught you not only shaped the way you view the world, but also assisted the Nicols family.

I am sorry he has passed, but his legacy lives on in you.

Blessings to you and your family.


Denise Oliver-Velez said...

Hi twoberry,

Thank you, and I'm headed over to your blog to pay you a visit as well.


Charles Turner said...

Hey Denise!

I don't know if you remember me from the WNYC-TV days? I was listening to Baraka's "Our Nation is like Ourselves," and found your name listed in the Wikipedia. It didn't take much more effort to get here.

Yes, one of the best things about this election has been getting to see Michelle Obama's speeches on CSPAN.

Hope all is well with you.

Charles (Tad) Turner