Last summer, I sent this text to a friend…
I’m [halfway] into the Becoming Netflix documentary and am blown away and humbled by Michelle Obama… I regret not learning more about the Obama’s when they were in the White House. I let my perspective of his policies cloud my judgment of his family and am glad I’m now getting the perspective on the personal side of things!! What they lived through as the first Black President and First Lady was/is insanely brave and I’m proud they are a part of our country’s history!!
In 2008, when Barrack Obama was elected President of the United States. I cried. Not tears of joy over the fact our country was able to accomplish something of that magnitude, voting a Black man into the White House, I cried because I was scared. I believed, in the deepest part of my heart, that our country was doomed, a sinking ship on its way to a damned socialist society captained by Obama himself and co-captained by his “angry” wife.
Eleven years ago, after staying up to watch the voting results come in, I walked to the back porch of my college apartment, lit up a cigarette and cried my eyes out. That night, after drying my tears, I walked back into the house and did what any good millennial does… took to Facebook to express my feelings. I wrote the following as a note on Facebook. November 4th, 2008:
A day that will indeed go down in the history books.
A day that I thought would never happen.
A day that had an outcome that made me cry.
A day that made me trust my beliefs even more.
A day that I feel I didn’t prepare myself for.
A day that shows who people really are.
A day that lit a fire under me to get even more involved.
A day that scared me.
A day that drew me closer to Jesus.
A day that forced me to trust a power higher than man.
A day that is focused on hatred.
A day that has brought out the devil in people.
A day that will never be forgotten.
A day that we all waited for.
A day that tugged at my heart strings.
A day that brought me closer to my mom.
A day that has had my heart in knots.
A day that makes me worry about the future.
A day that has tested my faith.
A day that has tested my strength.
A day that has tested my integrity.
A day that is finally over.
“People grow through experience if they meet life honestly and courageously. This is how character is built.” -Eleanor Roosevelt
There is no undercurrent of hatred in that poem, at least not out right, and yet I have to admit, during the 2008 election season, I felt extremely negative feelings that bordered on hate towards “the left”, and was convinced we were all doomed with one of “them” in office. Yet, as I ruminate on that season of life and hold it up to this past 2020 election season, the similarities are astounding. The rhetoric sounded the same. And yet, this time, I found myself on “the other side”.
For pretty much the full eight years of Obama’s presidency, I wasn’t a fan. Mocking Obamacare (and then finding myself so grateful it existed when we needed it the first year of our marriage), rolling my eyes when he’d get on stage at any point because my mind was made up — I’d criminalized him and made no effort or took no interest in humanizing him.
The first comment following my poem on Facebook was from a woman I, at the time would have considered “on the opposite side” from my view points. She writes “Even if you disagree with every one of his policies, watching an African-American man and his family become the next First Family is truly a moment of great hope and inspiration for this country and this world. We have come so far. Yes, we still have a long ways to go, but we must rejoice at such a moment!”
Today, in 2021, I couldn’t agree more. Only a HUGE celebration would be worthy of the US voting into the highest seat of leadership a man who’s skin color had never graced the residency of the White House, a man who’s family, two hundred years before would have been in shackles building the house instead of running it, was voted PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. Yes, that was a HUGE moment for our country, and a moment I wasn’t able to join in celebration with the nation.
As I wrestled with my own vote in 2020, this was very top of mind. “Which side of history do I want to be on?”, I asked myself, and the answer was a big part of who received my bubble next to their name on my absentee ballot. Bubbles for ALL offices, from the presidency down to the smallest seat in my local government.
When we heard the announcement Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the white house, we threw Tabby in the car and headed downtown. We just wanted to be around people, around our city, around fellow citizens, who had made this monumental moment happen. The first WOMAN and woman of color, for that matter, was Vice President of the United States. SUCH A BIG DEAL. We drove through the city honking our horn right along with everyone else. Traffic was horrendous but we all didn’t care, we were celebrating together!!
When Lukas and I stayed up (cause y’all know we are EARLY to bed folks) to watch Kamala Harris’ victory speech after winning the election, I cried, this time tears of joy. And it hit me…
I WAS A PART OF THAT.
The moment wasn’t about policy or even her political views (none of that stuff will ever be perfect, with either party!, for me), it was about the person. A person who I admired, and was damn proud to have put my name behind. When Tabby is old enough and asks me if I voted for Harris in the monumental 2020 election I can say YES, my beautiful daughter. She smashed glass ceilings for her race and ethnicities and for her gender. She stood on that stage and declared to all that looked like her that this country is changing, it’s opening up to people it was once closed off to, and big, beautiful things are happening as a result. And yes, Tabby, your mama was a part of that.
Another similar moment happened at the end of April. Lukas, Tabby and I were on the way home from picking up dinner when we heard the Derek Chauvin guilty verdict and the media coverage that followed, on the radio. Words from Al Sharpton, brought tears to my eyes for the same reason I shed them during Harris’ victory speech.
“But we celebrate…because young people, white and Black, some castigated, many that are here tonight, marched, and kept marching, and kept going, many of them looked down on, but they kept marching, and wouldn’t let this die. And this is an assurance to them that if we don’t give up that we can win some rounds. But the war and the fight is not over.” – Rev. Al Sharpton
I WAS A PART OF THAT.
A tiny, microscopic, barely noticeable blip in the crowd part, but I was a part. My family was a part. We faced conflict with those we love on topics of racial justice, Tabby and I marched, Lukas marched, we got out and we made our voice heard that what happened, what continues to happen, is not okay. And it humbled me to my core.
I watched the full video of George Floyd’s death, I entered into that pain, if only for a few moments, and have fought really hard “not to forget“. I confessed to a group of Black sisters a few months back, that it’s been a struggle lately to not forget, the holidays got in my way and my daily rhythm of study and reflection on racial justice had lost some of its initial momentum. My privilege as a white woman to not live in the daily challenges of being a marginalized people group in America allows me to slip into other daily life stuff, and I started to forget. There were weeks, long gaps in my study and awareness of racial issues and the story I am writing for my writing group has pulled me back into my awareness as I continue to fight to “not forget” what Black people have and continue to experience in our country.
It’s impossible to judge history while it’s unfolding. Lukas loves to read biographies about our past president’s and I love to hear him tell me about the emotions of what was going on during massive current events such as the dropping of the nuclear bombs. I’ve personally read historical nonfiction with firsthand accounts of what it was like to sit in the seats of those making decisions during 9-11. In my opinion, these are powerful testimonies of imperfect people doing the very best they can in insane situations.
And even in the future, is it possible to judge the past, judge those that sat in the big time seats and made the big time decisions. Or what about myself? I recently stumbled onto a passage of scripture that brought such freedom to my heart. 1 Corinthians 4 calls me to not even judge myself, how can I? For God, alone, is the judge.
“Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart...” 1 Corinthians 4:5
I don’t judge myself for the decisions I made back in 2008. I don’t judge those who made different decisions than I did in the recent election. I can’t judge because that’s not my role, not even to judge myself because I can’t say I know what’s going on in my heart clearly, just like I can’t see what’s going on in anyone else’s.
What I do know is that it’s been an honor to celebrate these two recent victories. There are SO MANY PEOPLE who’s backs were on which these victories came. Backs that are tired and worn down and scarred. Backs that are strong and able and powerful. I’m a newbie to this fight, a tiny little newborn baby compared to the generations and generations of men and women who have carried the torch of equality and equity in our nation.
A Black sister told me recently that true ally-ship is earned through the fellowship of suffering. There has been A LOT of suffering in our nation under the banner of racial injustice, a lot of suffering I have not shared in. I claim to be an advocate of the cause, but ally-ship is not declared, it’s earned and I’m just in the very, very beginning stages of earning my stripes. I will keep fighting, keep learning, keep humbling myself enough to change as God sees fit to change me, and celebrate that, through my own suffering, I keep getting to be a part of that!