As I write this, we’re passing the 24 hour mark since
Barack Obama became the 44th President of the United
The sun came up today, at least here in northwest
Arkansas. In fact, at the moment, I’m gazing out the
window at a beautiful blue sky. A couple of finches are
playing on the huge holly bush outside my home office.
Quite to the surprise of many of my white brethren,
there was no knocking on the door (at least, not on mine)
early this morning by some new African-American Gestapo intending to shackle me and my wife and drag us off to work in some cotton field. I haven’t seen anything like that happening to anybody else on CNN, but, then again, that’s one of those liberal-biased networks that probably wouldn’t tell us about it until it was too late anyway. Due diligence would require me to check Fox News before writing this. Call me lazy.
It seems, at least here on this first day, that all is well with our first black president, and maybe we white folk won’t suffer the “payback” that has been talked about only in the presence of our own kind, probably ever since Lincoln emancipated the slaves. Oh, how many whites have dreaded the day that has passed without such incident!
Did we really think that day would never come? Through all the social evolution of America, and the rest of the world, did we honestly believe that only a white man could lead the land of the free and the home of the brave? Did any one of us, really, not want to live to see it happen?
Don’t answer that. I know there are still white people who will live out the rest of their lives looking back on January 20, 2009 with disgust and hate. People who really did believe that God gave America to the white man, and the white man should hang his head in shame for not being strong enough to keep it. I just, really, don’t want to know who those people are. If it helps, they can take solace in the fact that Obama is half white.
Try as I might, I am completely incapable of feeling the magnificence of the moment that had to be overwhelming to many older black Americans. I still feel pretty young, and I can clearly remember a time when black folk had to sit in the balcony at the movie theater because, apparently, they weren’t good enough to sit downstairs with us.
I remember the first black man I ever saw, in person. He was a policeman in Fort Smith, and I was a four or five year-old redneck in the making – a product of my neighborhood surroundings and of the times. I walked right up to him and, for whatever reason, just up and called him something I wasn’t supposed to call him. Embarrassed my mother half to death.
I remember the way I treated our black housekeeper in Little Rock in 1963, and how I continually ignored my mom telling me she was one of the sweetest people she had ever met. She never did anything to deserve the treatment she got from me. She didn’t have to. She was black, and I must have been better than her.
I remember my first and only black teacher, Mrs. Mathis, in the fourth or fifth grade at Fairview Elementary School in Blytheville. 1964-65. We kids didn’t know what to think at first, but she turned out to be pretty cool, and, surprisingly, she sure knew a lot about math.
I remember moving to Batesville in 1967, after the closing of Ethel O. Miller School, and sitting in class, for the first time, alongside black students. Their school was all but abandoned, and we used to take the bus over there to use the gym for off-season football practice in Jr. High.
I remember my first “black friend”, Beaver McCoy, who showed me it was OK to hang out and have fun with people that, only a few years before, I never even knew existed, except in stories told by the older kids on my block. Not good stories. Scary stories.
It’s 40 years later, and stories like that are still being told. They come as forwards to my e-mail account and sometimes as text messages to my phone. They warn the white man, me, of the perils that will befall our race now that we have given up the throne of power. And even as I read them, with a smirk on my face, I look up at the TV here in my office and see another old black man or woman, recalling the moment, with tears streaming down their face. And I try to imagine what it would be like to feel what they are feeling.
Of course, it is only day one. But I haven’t feared that knock on the door for many years.
© 2009, Rick Baber