Today, America has sworn in a black president. Today I feel like real American.
Not an African American, black American, Asian American, Native American, or any other qualifiers that have been used to convey the message that people of color were just outside the box. Generally speaking, none of these qualifiers are used for whites. You seldom hear the terms ‘white American’ or ‘European American’ except when people are going out of their way to be politically correct. White people are considered to be Americans, pure and simple.
Throughout the entire day, it seemed that people were a little more patient, a little more generous, a little more courteous, a little more friendly and a lot more hopeful than I can ever recall. There was a wonderful spirit in the air. An almost audible sense of ‘this feels different’.
By the way, I’m not one of the folks that drank the kool-aid. Obama was not my first or even my second choice initially, but I do recognize the significance of the moment. I realize that not everyone voted for our new president, nor was everyone excited about the political reasons Obama won the election, but those who are paying attention can absolutely celebrate the deeper meaning of the event. I, for one, question the patriotism of anyone who does not. But yesterday as I stood in what has been dubbed the “sea of humanity”, it occurred to me that this is what the melting pot of this country is supposed to look like — a sea of people from different races and backgrounds and political persuasions; people who disagree without being disagreeable, and people who recognize their similarities without ignoring or devaluing their differences — and people who are socially and politically free.
In many respects, my experience as an American can be best likened to being in a relationship where you love someone who does not love you in return. You are attentive to them, you care for them, you become a student of them so you can learn how to best serve and show love to them. On the other hand, the other party may tolerate you, they may even say they love you from time to time, but your passion for them goes largely unreciprocated.
I absolutely love my country. I love it so much that I have invested (okay borrowed) tens of thousands of dollars to pursue studying it’s major figures, it policies, it’s triumphs and tragedies, it’s lowest behaviors and it’s highest ideals. I was always taught that you invest time and energy becoming a student the things and people you love.
As a child, I was allowed to be excused from class during the ‘morning hymns’ of The Pledge of Allegiance and America. . .My Country ‘Tis of Thee. For my parents, and by extension for me, these were mourninghymns not morning hymns, a slap in the face to anyone who was an American citizen but was being excluded from some of the fundamental rights and privileges of American life. These are a few of the seven stanzas of the song:
1) My country, ’tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing;
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the pilgrims’ pride,
From every mountainside
Let freedom ring!
2) My native country, thee,
Land of the noble free,
Thy name I love;
I love thy rocks and rills,
Thy woods and templed hills;
My heart with rapture thrills,
Like that above.
4) Our father’s God to Thee,
Author of liberty,
To Thee we sing.
Long may our land be bright,
With freedom’s holy light,
Protect us by Thy might,
Great God our King.
Theses words were first performed in 1831 at an Independence Day celebration (how ironic). They were published a year later; Over a generation before slavery was outlawed. They were clearly not thinking about me or my forefathers at the time.
My father’s logic was; Why would we sing of this liberty that we are not yet a part of? Why would we sing the glories of this schizophrenic country whose leaders have no inherent disposition of goodness toanyone who was not white? An arguable point to be sure, but when viewed in the context of this country’s policies toward Africans and their descendants, Latinos, Native Americans, and Asians, it is hardly an indefensible one.
As I stood among this sea of people listening to Aretha Franklin sing these stirring words with a simultaneously inexpressible sense of joy and sorrow, I was reminded of the little boy who stood outside the classroom–excluded from being fully American. I was reminded of Sojourner Truth, John Brown, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas, Emmit Till, Mose Wright, Rosa Parks, MLK, Malcolm X, the Little Rock 9, A Phillip Randolph, Medgar Evers, Andrew Goodman, James, Chaney and Michael Schwarner, and all the other countless, anonymous and unsung people who fought and died for the cause of freedom and equality for the American Negro. (Malcolm, Medgar, andMLK were martyred only a few years before I was born.) Not to mention all of the countless service and military personnel who have fought wars for this country. The pain of this experience is relatively fresh for me, as it is for many other African-American’s. I understood the joy in the moment of inaugurating the nation’s first black president. I also understood the pain that it took to get here. I must also confess to a certain amount of anger for full inclusion to take so long.
As Aretha sang and I stood there participating in history, my heart, and the hearts of Americans of all colors and backgrounds and races sang a verse that was later added to My Country ‘Tis of Thee at the Centennial of George Washington’s Inauguration:
Our joyful hearts today,
Their grateful tribute pay,
Happy and free,
After our toils and fears,
After our blood and tears,
Strong with our hundred years,
O God, to Thee.
As I reflect, I am aware that I have many Independence Day’s:
The day Christ was Crucified for my sin and the day that I accepted his gift.
July 1, 1776 – Because I love my country and will always celebrate with it.
January 1, 1863 – The date the Emancipation Proclamation took effect
June 19, 1865 – The day that all states (Texas was the last holdout) acknowledged the Emancipation Proclamation
May 17, 1954 – Brown V. Board of Education was handed down
July 2, 1964 – The Civil Rights Act signed into law
August 6, 1965 – The Voting Rights Act signed into law
January 20, 2009 – The Inauguration of President Barack Hussein Obama
My people should not have had to become equal in pieces. This is one of the great tragedies in the great American story. Fortunately for all of us, the story is only a few chapters in and I am very excited for the coming parts of the story. I am excited because for the first time my people are not the antagonist;
We are American’s.