This is going to be a confession of sorts—or an admission, at the least. First, though, a disclaimer. This blog is not about politics even if it is about Barack Obama. I don’t know about you, but I am sick of politics, politicians and Talking Heads—especially the Talking Heads. This blog is about me—about who I was in 1967 and who I am now.
When I began teaching in Seattle’s inner city, I’d just turned 21 three days before. I admit I was a wide-eyed optimist who believed I could help change the world. No, at 21 I was sure I could. I wasn’t alone in my mission to right the wrongs of America. The Late Sixties was the beginning of a cultural revolution that would shake up our society. My way was not to protest in the streets. I chose to work within the system. I believed education was the key to getting people out of the Ghetto.
Teaching at Meany Junior High during this time was an education for me, as well as for the students. When I walked in the doors as a teacher, only six years had passed since I’d left for high school. Many of the same teachers and administrators remained there. The intimidating Miss MacPherson was the librarian, and I was still afraid of her. The curriculum, too, was the same—but as Bob Dylan pointed out, “it was the times they are a changing”. And changing at warp speed. Within two years, most of the former teachers were gone, and the old texts were replaced with books that attempted to be more relevant. Rather than teaching Shakespeare, I’d be happy if I could get some students to write their name on a piece of paper.
My personal goal was to be the best teacher I could be. I wanted to reach each student—to teach them the fundamentals of English and also the love of learning. I had another agenda, as well. I wanted every student in my classes to know that he or she could succeed. That the chains of poverty and racial prejudice could be broken—yes, that even an African American could be President of the United States. (The idea that it could be a woman probably didn’t even occur to me.)
Fast forward thirty-eight years. Barack Obama is running for President. Our country was at war. There was in a financial melt-down. And the Republicans couldn’t stop the bleeding. I voted for Obama because I thought we needed change, and I didn’t think McCain could do the job. I was elated when Obama won. I didn’t expect him to create prosperity out of chaos, but I knew he’d do a good job. But also, on a personal level, I was thrilled. Even though those years were hard, I thought, we did accomplish something during the Civil Rights struggle. Our work was validated, and I felt pride that Americans had moved beyond past prejudice and stereotypes. Again I was naïve.
Four years later, I’ve seen the proof of the hatred and disdain many whites still have for people of color. At first I’d attributed the antipathy to Obama as a desire to get even by the Republicans who had been humiliated by McCain’s drubbing. But then I began receiving emails that hinted at something more. It started with assertions that Obama, the socialist slime, wasn’t really an American. Then the racial overtones became more overt. My idealistic notions took a dive. Last week, John Sununu’s remarks actually made me cry. He felt he could disparage Colin Powell on national television and get away with it—that Americans would be willing participants in racial profiling of this man who has served his country in war and in peace. I felt so disheartened.
But I am in my sixties—I can’t be the girl of the Sixties. I took my dog for a walk and calmed down. I reminded myself that our society has moved forward in many ways, that pettiness is part of human nature as is Xenophobia. We aren’t perfect and never will be. But I felt I couldn’t be silent—that I had to share my real feelings.
Again, I reiterate that I am sick of politics. I felt sad today that it was news when Bill Clinton said that President Obama “has been a good commander-in-chief without regard to race.” Or maybe I should feel good that he just put it out in the open. I don’t know. My HOPE this year is the politicians will get over themselves and start working for the welfare of our nation instead of their party. Bi-partisanship. Now that’s a word I’d like to hear more often. (Okay, so I’m still an idealist. What can I do?)