I grew up around Washington D.C. in the '70s and '80s, and race was always there. Most people were doing their best to "get over it," whatever that might mean for them personally, but more often than not it amounted to an elephant in the room that everybody was tip-toeing around. And while I occasionally stepped on an unseen racial landmine, it wasn't until I went to college in Richmond that I really saw racism (regardless of the source or target) out in the open, or even embraced without shame.
I eventually moved back to cosmopolitan, international D.C., where job-hunters, activists, and lobbyists from all over the country and immigrants from all over the world mix and mingle. It's a tough town for bigots — half your co-workers are from Asia, your boss is a white woman from Nevada with ... interesting ... ideas about the nature of God, the guy fixing your computer is black, and your dentist is a little German jew with a nigh-impenetrable accent. Not to say there aren't bigots here, they just learn early on to keep their big mouths shut.
Which, I suppose, is what's made the explosion of people all getting crazygonuts over the election so shocking to me. The hardcore right frothing about Obama because he's a democrat, I can understand. Personally, while not exactly a democrat myself, I think there are worse things in the world; but at least their view is a consistent one. But that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about people who were previously fairly mainstream or even lefties who changed their tune when Obama got the candidacy, a few of them going way off the deep end into "Obama's going to release a flesh-eating virus!" territory. Some of them are still ranting now, picking the most peculiar non-events and going "See? SEE???"
And of course, getting very frustrated when the answer is, "Uh, no dude, I don't see. Get a grip on yourself."
The most disappointing thing is when this behavior comes from someone who has previously been a champion of tolerance and good-will towards all. A curmudgeon spews irrational rants against Obama ... big deal, they're a curmudgeon, that's what they do. But when somebody who was until recently good-natured, friendly, and cheerful suddenly becomes a spewing ball of nonsensical hate ... it's disheartening.
So yeah, Obama's a democrat, a fairly typical one as far as I can make out, and at least one with respect for the office and understanding of the importance of his position. If the country can survive Bill "Whoops! Quick, let's bomb something!" Clinton, it can certainly survive Barack Obama. I'd rather have an individualist than a statist as President, but if we've gotta have a statist (which was inevitable given the economy and general anxious state of the country at election time), at least he's a thoughtful and deliberate one.
And there's a bigger issue here than political party, which is the "mental health" of the nation and our culture, for lack of a better term. On my flight to Further Confusion back in January, I'd say that 75% of the passengers were black or mixed, who were headed home from the inauguration. And for the first time I've ever experienced in my life, they were all at ease. I'm generalizing here, there are plenty of exceptions, but many of the black people I've met (and certainly the few crowds I've been in) had an uncomfortable stiffness. To be honest, before this mentioned flight to California, I wasn't consciously aware of it. It's not hostility as far as I can make out, it's just a polite distancing. "I'm part of my world, you're part of your world, and while the two might be intersecting at the moment, they are always separate."
This flight was different. We were all just people, the oft-cited ideal of a setting in which the color of your skin didn't make any more difference than the color of your eyes. The man I was sitting next to, a black man in his late forties or early fifties I would guess, randomly struck up a conversation with me about Washington, the cold weather at the inaugural, and the housing market. We commiserated about how the values of our houses had taken a nosedive, laughed a bit about how we both hated yardwork, and compared notes on living in D.C. versus living in California. Just a couple of guys on a plane. It was completely normal, and completely amazing.
I finally got what Richard Pryor meant when he said, "There are no niggers in Africa." I understood it on an intellectual level before, but actually seeing it was a very different thing. On a very basic level, possibly for the first time, the people on this plane had a sense of belonging. "One of us is the President. We matter. We're somebody." I'd never really seen that before, and because it was new, I'd never really seen that I hadn't seen it, if that makes any sense.
Screw political parties. If a democrat in the White House is the price we have to pay for a change like that, I'll take half a dozen. :) A world where we're all somebody is a world I very much want to live in. :)
PS: From thrillingdays...
PPS: I've left comments enabled for the time being. Please don't make me regret it. ^.^'