In 1976 I was the brunette Jew in a sea of blondes and Manhattan Beach was the whitest place on earth. I told my parents I wanted to be President , “You can do anything you put your mind to.” My father said, although secretly we both knew it was a lie.
I knew I could own a business, I knew I could write a book, or be an attorney. I knew that I would go to college, and perhaps more school after that. I also knew, as did my father, that I’d never be president.
As of January 21, 2009 when a child, any child tells their parent that they want to be president, and the answer is, “You can do anything you put your mind to.” It won’t be a lie.
When the whispering began about Hilary running for President in 2008, I was vaguely uncomfortable with her voice. I’m not a throwback in every way, but when I hear a voice of authority in my head, it’s male. Almost equally startling was a black man running for our nations highest office.
As the year moved on, Hilary seemed less of a woman, and Obama’s blackness faded. She didn’t become more masculine and he didn’t become whiter, I just became less interested in the differences. I knew our next president could be a woman or a black man, now it was time to hear them out.
On Martin Luther King Jr. day I read about the end of acting white. I sat slackjawed at my computer, wondering how a man about my age could have such a struggle with the color of his skin. I know about the ghettos, my mother taught school in Watts for my entire childhood. She wept at our dinner table, telling us about children and their lives that bore no resemblance to my own. What I didn’t know about is that middle class kids struggled so much, not because I don’t care, but because it’s a tightly guarded secret.
As Barack Obama placed his hand on Abraham Lincoln’s bible I shuddered, but not for the reasons you might imagine. Barack Obama pledged his devotion to our country by placing his hand on a book that excludes my family. Barack Obama gave one of the nations most hateful and divisive preachers the largest pulpit a holy man could ever dream of. Barack Obama mentioned other religions, but our nation asked Jesus to bless him. Barack Obama spent the night praying with us all, and woke up and asked for more.
Frankly, I’d forgotten Obama’s blackness until I watched him get sworn into office. I remembered his blackness again when I watched Joe Biden attempt (and fail) humor while swearing in the senior white house staff. Obama looked black again only because he was surrounded by whiteness, by middle aged men with more paunch than hair. Men who wiped away tears perhaps because of the momentous nature of the day, and perhaps because the pay freezes that relegate them to relative poverty for the next few years.
What I never saw, what I never felt, was me. I’m okay with that, because I think that the person who will save us all is the next president who will take the oath of office and affirm on their honor to do good things in this lifetime, and ask poets and scientists to speak for them. Perhaps our next president will offer me some of the hope I’m looking for; the separation of church and state.