Humans acclimate quickly, come to take things for granted. And so it feels normal now. After slavery, after Jim Crow, after the lynchings and the beatings and the murders of innumerable black men by bad men and bad cops, we have for seven years had a black president. Do you remember when that seemed impossible?
This black president was given birth by a white mother and raised within a white family in a white culture. Strange how rarely we think of that, how we think of him only as our black president, how we still see things through old eyes. The one drop rule.
But that we’ve viewed this president as black has revealed an amazing thing about us. For even though we saw him as black — and only black, not white — we ignored all the negative connotations that we’ve been conditioned to believe about brown skin, and we voted for this man. Twice.
And he garnered our vote both times despite the wedges his opposition used to frame him as an other: Dismissed as an African not born here, accused of “palling around with terrorists,” denied of his Christian faith with innuendo that he was the same religion as the 9-11 attackers, accused of “hating white people,” charged with wanting to destroy America, damned as unpatriotic because he dared to tell us that we could do better.
Still we voted him in.
But among Republicans, his elections have never been finalized. He has never been their president. It’s as if they believe his election was a lie, a dream of the far left that the GOP is waiting for us to wake from. In their delusion they have denied him victories and even respect. They have treated him, as they used to say of men subjugated to white will, “like their nigger.”
And that behavior by a recalcitrant Republican congress wasn’t a knee-jerk reaction to his election nor in principled opposition to his policies. It was a methodical plan laid out by the Republican leadership on the day Barack Obama was sworn-in, and its set goal was to block every piece of legislation the president proposed, to obstruct him at every turn. It was an action that was nothing short of treason if treason is setting aside one’s sworn service to the American people in exchange for personal ambition.
It’s now been seven years since the Republicans set their plan into motion, and their agenda has remained the same, as witnessed after the death of Antonin Scalia, when the Senate leader stated that no Supreme Court appointment would be permitted until the American people were given a chance to speak in the 2016 election. In other words, the people’s voice in 2012 was an inaccurate measure of the public will. And it must have been. As for the second time they elected a black man to the White House, and surely that kind of irony was a mistake.
Ironic, too, has been the hard-to-comprehend reality that the same people who voted for our first black president voted for this congress. And while we may never know why they split their vote, their will can be seen through the fog of their contradiction: The president’s personal and job approval numbers are through the roof while those of Congress have plummeted to the floor. The people are stating their will, if to an obstinate legislature.
Yet stomp their feet all they might, this GOP will soon have no choice but to listen, as they are a diminishing minority — their numbers shrinking for a reason: Their beliefs are rooted in old fears, old science, old beliefs, old everything. And the old withers away.
Then comes the new.
Barack Hussein Obama is a stark reminder that the homogeneous white nation that was once an island of prosperity in a much smaller world is no more. It has died — has been dying for decades. And it won’t come back, no matter how tightly Republicans hold onto their guns or narrow-minded religions. That old America has breathed its last and the new has been born, sealed with the election of our first black president.
It was a violent birth.
The past eight years have opened up scars long thought closed as the president’s skin — not his policies, demeanor, actions — blinded a majority of far right voters to the absurdity of what they were being told. It was painful to watch up close: Old friends, good friends, fine people behaving like those respectable white men and well-groomed white women on the newsreels from Selma. These good people who work hard and love their families and their country have believed the most despicable lies of their day. And their gullibility is easy to judge, to mock, to look down upon, until you realize we are no different: Black and white, liberal and conservative, young and old, residents of Little Rock and citizens of Berlin. The sin of my friends reveals all our sin. That poison courses through all of us, we are all filled with hate. Those of us not acting out are merely waiting for the messenger.
And this president could have acted in kind. He could have called out our generation’s racism. He had that right, he was its target. But he didn’t. He instead took it like a man and taught us by his good grace and example how we overcome our sin. And because of his dignity, the president’s tormentors grew small while he grew large, and he will only grow larger as history judges him as the steady captain who singlehandedly guided our ship out of the Great Recession while the unruly crew was mutinous.
Be proud, America. We elected this man — the right man — into the White House, and we did that twice. So even if we make the same mistakes in the future that we have in the past, Obama is our proof that we are maturing, that we’re slowly getting it right.