When I was 18 and in the Navy I sometimes spent 72 hour liberties at home in NJ. I traveled from Norfolk, VA, up and down the Delmarva Peninsula by means of my thumb. The trip involved a ferry ride across the mouth of Chesapeake Bay from Little Creek to Kiptopeke. This was before the building of the spectacular bridge-tunnel there.
Being a studied lover of ignorance (a real idiot) who managed to make it through high school without ever reading a book cover to cover, I had little sense of, or interest in, what went on in the world beyond my local sphere of ignorance. So, during my first Virginia ferry ride (at about the time Barack Obama was born), I noticed a water fountain marked “colored” and the thought crossed my mind, why would they have a fountain with colored water?
I remained stupid for at least the next few minutes until I had to use the john and noticed the bathrooms marked “colored” and “white”. Then, bubbling up through the sludge I’d been dumping in my brain came the malevolent belch of the concept “segregation”. It’s not that the idea had not managed to make it’s way in there, it’s just that I was too comfortable and disinterested to have really noticed.
To say, “At that instant, a light went off in my skull illuminating my pathetic dumbness as well as the stupidity of that peculiar idea,” would be an understatement that does not do justice to even the idea of light.
But I’ve changed, and so has the U.S.A. Forty-eight years after travelers criss-crossed Chesapeake Bay in segregated ferries, and I learned that stupidity is not an intelligent option, we have a “colored” president. To recognize the significance of this, all you have to do is murmur the words slavery, Jim Crow, or lynching – the last recorded one of the latter which occurred as late as 1968, seven years after Barack Obama’s birth.
But, despite the near miracle of November 2008, complacency, as well as stupidity, is not an option. Just because a majority of American voters have decided that “race” is just one more illusion used to maintain a certain monopoly of power, doesn’t mean that those who still cling to stupidity won’t continue to employ it. In the underbelly of nations whackos watch and wait. Beyond hope of progress we have to stay on our toes and instantly smack down every irrational bit of gutter politics that would undermine it. We have to challenge all off-the-wall smears of character and appeals to fear of otherness.
As right-wing radio hack Dr. Laura Ingram telegraphed at the time, “Obama did make history” and “It’s not the time to vilify him…” Implicit is the unspoken, “…but the time will come.”
Regardless of his talent and competency Obama will screw up (and has on Guantanamo, drones, and his continuance of some of George Bush’s most onerous policy overreaches. No president comes out of that job without a muddy suit.