Dear Readers: Blogspot was not up and running last week so we had to wait until this Friday to post this latest Blog post.
SMilnor: I think our country has had a big wake-up call with the election of Barack Obama to the presidency. Now, I know that doesn’t sound like something you would expect me to say, but hear me out.
SMinasian: I’ll hear you out, but let me just say I am with you. I can’t believe we are still talking about this given he has been in office for over two years. You would think we would be over it by now. But go ahead. What’s up?
SMilnor: As someone who grew up in the South during the Civil Rights Movement and was emotionally and to a certain extent more actively involved in it, I believed we had fought our worst demons around race in this country. Don’t get me wrong: I knew there was plenty of discrimination and prejudice left. Some of the reactions to President Obama, though, have caused me to face that we have not come as far as I hoped, any of us. It’s been a painful realization for me.
SMinasian: It’s almost as though it was yesterday when the whole world was crying and celebrating this moment in history. He was not just the first African American president; he was also a qualified person for the job. Be that as it may, our demons have come out of the closet. I think we get in that space where we actually see things happen in our adulthood we never though possible in our youth. BUT reality bites, and we see once again that we have a long way to go.
SMilnor: When that celebration happened in Grant Park on election night, I didn’t expect everyone to be glad a Democratic president had been chosen. I didn’t expect everyone to be glad to have his priorities and policies. But I honestly thought most Americans might feel pride that we had come this far as a nation. I don’t believe that now. I think everything that night symbolized was deeply disturbing and unacceptable to a segment of the American public, and I believe what we have witnessed since then has been a huge backlash that was waiting to happen.
SMinasian: Without a doubt this is true. I know people were hostile and angry about George W. Bush, but I have never seen such hostility and hateful behavior from the people the president is trying to work with. I expect that from people who I would consider uneducated and not willing to change. Growing up in the South I wonder if our racism has always been out there for everybody to see. Now the people who have been hiding it behind the closet North of the Mason Dixon are OUT! Oh my, I sound like I am fighting the War of Northern Aggression all over again.
SMilnor: Uh, Susan, in East Tennessee we learned about the Civil War. . . In any case, the whole “birther” issue has obviously been a major manifestation of what we are talking about, as have the photos which feature the President or First Lady as pimps, whores, apes – I have trouble believing this even as I write it --- but the one that really brought me to tears and hurt deep was Trump’s accusation that Barack Obama didn’t deserve to admission to the schools he attended, wasn’t a good student, benefited where he shouldn’t have. People can roll their eyes and say, “Oh, that’s just The Donald,” but you know, Trump has been treated as a possible candidate for the presidency, and the media have followed every bit of this rhetoric in excruciating detail. Let’s not forget that Trump soared in the polls, at least for a while. Don’t tell me I don’t have to take what that means seriously.
SMinasian: And so Trump the Grump has never, and I do mean never, had to do what President Obama has had to do through his life. I just cannot stand it. The “average Joe” might support Trump, and yet they don’t get how it’s people like him who get all the breaks while the “average Joe” pays for it. AND the other thing that is so disturbing to me in all of this is how the President is in such danger. There is no other president who has gotten the number of death threats as Obama has gotten. Language is powerful. The language of disagreement on policies because of the values one might hold is one thing. To exploit the race of a person for one’s own gain is another. This “gain” is going to unravel whatever we have experienced as progress, and this time nobody is going to be safe.
SMilnor: I worried a lot about President Obama’s safety at first, but I got distracted from that by worrying about his spirit and his family’s. Seriously, Susan, to do everything right in your life: to emerge from a life of few material resources, learn to cope with racism here and abroad and still be a positive person, go off and get quality educations – he was editor of Harvard Law Review, for God’s sake – be elected to the state senate and U.S. Senate, and the Presidency, and THEN have people say you aren’t smart, you aren’t a real American, you didn’t deserve it, on and on, all because they don’t like your color. Tell me what that does to someone’s spirit.
SMinasian: That’s a good question. What does it do to one’s spirit? I think this is where his personality comes in handy. He has always been calm. He has always been thoughtful. While I don’t agree with him on everything…I did work for his candidacy, and I voted for him. I find him to be a refreshing, intelligent and solid human being. I think his spirit probably goes through some gymnastics. Then, he probably tucks in his daughters at night, thinks about his mom sometimes, and then looks at Michelle, and together they say…this is what it means to make history. Making history the way he is making history is tough. I think he knew what he was getting in to. I just think he might be a little surprised at how ignorant government leaders are. But that seems to be the main criteria these days. I just keep praying for him and his family. Every time I get a CNN emergency alert on my BlackBerry I pray that nothing has happened to him. Hate is a scary thing.
SMilnor: Well, I think you are right about making history and how tough it is. And I should know that after the 50’s and 60’s in the South. My agonizing about this comes in part out of my own surprise and the hurt my spirit has felt. I suspect the extremity of the disrespect with which he is treated – in media interviews, for instance – may have caught even Barack Obama by surprise, but he is probably much more profoundly equipped than little ole’ lily white I am just to keep fighting the good fight.
SMinasian: I don’t think it is just an intellectual thing for either one of us. I don’t think it is just an emotional one either. We both come from people who have experienced hate. You have Native American ancestors, and I have Armenian ancestors. They both know all too well how hate leads to violence. It’s not just about hurt feelings. I also think that our experiences growing up in the South make us even more attuned to what we are seeing and hearing. It is familiar. It is dangerous. So we must keep the good fight going. It is just that. And we will.