Sunday, November 9, 2008

Not in my lifetime?

It is a bit heart wrenching to hear all these people say that they did not think an election like this would happen in their lifetime, meaning: the election of a president of mixed race. It did not occur to me, probably because I was born in Europe.
This being said, I did not think that Barack Obama would win against the powerful Mrs Clinton. I did not expect either that both Senators Clinton and McCain would rely so much on their "experience"and allow Senator Obama to be the only candidate of "change". And I certainly underestimated the superb organization of Senator Obama, so I am not claiming good insights here, I am just saying that the race subject escaped me until the Bradley effect was brought up daily by the news.

Well, what happened in my lifetime?

My early life started with being saved by the American Army from the horrors of WWII, for which I have been grateful every minute of my life. I did not know the army was segregated because we lived close to an army hospital, and both white and black soldiers were welcome in our home. In the sixties, when Martin Luther King became known all over the world, I learned that the American democracy was not as perfect as I had imagined. A century after President Lincoln, the race problem was not solved? One needed soldiers to get to school with small black children? How rotten is that! Ah, but after President Johnson, the American society, surely would be perfect. I still remember President Johnson's words (1965) "Freedom is the right to share, share fully and equally, in American society--to vote, to hold a job, to enter a public place, to go to school. It is the right to be treated in every part of our national life as a person equal in dignity and promise to all others."

Two generations later, at some time before the new century, I found myself in Georgia, reunited with my American family. It took me about a week to learn that I was white, something I had superbly ignored for 60 years...
Not only every paper you sign asks you about your race (official papers, job papers "for statistics purpose only", poll papers, you name it) but people of both races talk to you differently because of the color of your skin. Nevertheless, most white people down here are not racists, some are just not very sensitive. But how many racist remarks does it take to impact a young black life? According to my observations and my conversations with kids around here, one nasty remark per month is all it takes to change their expectations. So, that does not take many racists. Those amongst you who suffered nasty remarks from family and friends (for whatever reason) when they were young understand what this means.
It is not much, and it is too much. Way too much, in my lifetime.

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