PART 1 and PART 2
The 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gave Black men the vote in 1870. In January 2017, the second term of the first African-American President will come to an end. President Obama has been successful. The U.S. economy has rebounded after the Bush years.
American tradition asserts that competition brings out the best in people. We say the field of competition should be open to all, pushing us to greatness. We do not exclude anyone. That is what we say. And that competition has given us a President who is a model of high ethics and action, ability and perseverance.
Obama is an American individual. He is smart, charming, funny, dignified, athletic, and handsome. On top of all this, Obama is educated, he thinks before he speaks, he listens, and he cries. He has an educated and eloquent working wife who could easily be commander in chief of a great nation, and he has two lively, well-brought-up, intelligent daughters.
Obama has the respect and admiration of most people, because he illustrates the American Dream. But he also attracts jealousy, which can turn to anger, which can ignite deadly rage. Obama’s success has coincided with a rebirth of radical racism. “Why can’t I be great like that?” the cashier at the grocery store asks. “I am white and male and Christian and I should be getting the good stuff, not him.” “Not him” is born from the marriage of fear and jealousy. Such jealousy creates an illusion in some white people that “better” times existed in the past, times when the field of competition excluded anyone without white skin.
Racism comes from thinking we are different, when in truth, the most profound ideal of the USA is that we are the same, all of us, no matter our religion, our skin color, our gender, our age, or our origin high or low. America promises opportunity, and then achievement is up to the individual.
I went to a museum exhibition in Paris called the Color Line, with acres of rooms filled with art and history by Black Americans since the Civil War until the present. The rest of the world is well-aware of America’s racism. To see Valerie Browne paintings and Newsweek covers of Angela Davis, to be faced with photos of lynchings from the 1800’s repeated in the 21st century, to relive Rosa Parks’ courage and Langston Hugh’s magic words—these things made me profoundly sad.
The dark history of racism in the U.S. keeps us on our knees. It tarnishes our culture, even with new laws and enlightenment, even with education and change. Its residue resides in our neighborhoods and schools and in the shadows of our minds, sometimes flaring out publicly through the actions and words of stupid politicians, small-minded radicals, and self-righteous everyday members of our society. The self-righteous never see themselves as such, only seeing themselves as right; hence the name.
Evangelical zealots want to exclude all refugees, Muslims, Mexicans, Jews, African-Americans, and Asians from the American field. Their frightening fervor includes intimidation, the call to arms, walls, expulsion, murder, and lynchings. Where is the idea of love thy neighbor? Where is the philosophy of turn the other cheek? Where are patience, tolerance, respect, kindness, and neighborliness in the midst of this kind of rage? Maybe the rage grows out of ignorance, or mental illness, or poverty, or fear. Whatever the source of the rage, religion does no good if its basic tenets are ignored in order to fuel hatred, undermining our American foundation.
Black women could not vote until August 21, 1920, the same date that the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gave white women the right to vote. Now, within 48 hours, a woman may be elected as United States President. After an African-American President, a female President is appropriate in our American history of change and progress.
However, a woman as President offers more opportunity for backlash. The rights of women have increased along a twisting uphill path during the last 100 years. To have an educated and experienced woman as a candidate for President is shockingly wonderful in a country long devoted to subservient women, women who grew up pouring tea instead of reading international news, who were taught how to pluck eyebrows instead of how to demand equal pay.
It is no shock that some men do not like the idea of a woman as President, as again it expands the playing field, increasing competition which might make their way harder. The wonder is that so many men are proud to see egalitarian progress in the USA, without rancor or jealousy, without fear or sneers. They accept a woman qualified for the job.
Surprisingly, there are women who dislike the idea of having a female President. Or maybe it is not a surprise, because many woman hate women. I first noticed that I did not like women when I was in my 20’s, but the feeling began when I was a toddler and it was firmly in place by the time I entered kindergarten. I loved my mother, and my teachers were excellent; however, I did not respect them. My dad, on the other hand, he had the power, he made the money, he made the decisions. Though he rarely demanded it, everyone in and out of the family deferred to his desires.
It was a given in my childhood society: the man had value and the woman did not. If the woman got her way, it was through manipulative smiles and shouts. I did not have a high opinion of women, yet I was one of them. I solved that damaging paradox by being a part-time tomboy. I threw stones and climbed trees, and I also primped to attract the men I so badly wanted to be. I lived in a schizophrenic system where I hated the group I was a part of, a group I had no power to leave. The system invited degradation. It demanded a quasi-Stockholm syndrome where one agreed with and identified with abusers.
I sympathize with women who hate Hillary Clinton, because I must assume they hate themselves in the same subtle way I used to hate myself. When they watch a woman in a prominent powerful position, the consequences of their own self-loathing are illuminated, consequences over which they had no control. Their destinies were socially pre-ordained unless some lucky force of nature or mind or circumstance helped them.
My lucky moment came when I studied women in history, artists and politicians, female scientists and educators, chefs and engineers, and good mothers, struggling mothers, famous mothers, along with actresses and inventors, entrepreneurs and horse trainers, dress designers and florists, and on and on and on. I learned to admire these women, and then I learned my own value. Stumbling and stunted, I began to follow my own opportunities and my own precious life.
Many people have lucky epiphanies. I applaud each of us for breaking though our jealousy and fear, our limits and tight little boxes of hatred. We the citizens of the United States of America, amid backlash and un-pronounceable historical albatrosses of racism and sexism, we elected the first Black President soon to followed by the first Woman President. We are still breaking frontiers, and I am proud.