The Tale of Two Poti
2008: Hope and Change
“There’s no way he’s going to win,” my husband said as he exhaled smoke from his cigarette. I replied that he would. I just felt in my gut and this was before the end of the primary. My husband looked skeptical and I didn’t blame him. It was spring 2008 and neither one of use were particularly politically involved. I don’t think either one of us could name our congressman or senator at the time. But, like the nation, we watched a white woman and a Black man battle for the Democratic Party nominee for president.
I recall it being an unsure time. Our economy was in a free fall. My husband and I didn’t have much in the way of stocks so we didn’t have that panic that those with fat investments did, but it was scary to watch nonetheless. We had recently moved back to Orlando, after a stint in Pittsburgh and the financial landscape was changing. Restaurants along the main strip of Colonial were closing and the mall in the area was becoming a ghost town. In the suburbs communities were being dotted with abandoned homes, as people walked away from interest rates they couldn’t afford. Cats and dogs roamed the street as their humans moved on. It seemed like the shit had really hit the fan and to top it all off, there was a presidential election looming ahead.
I started to pay more attention to politics during this time. Part of it was the the historical backdrop of this particular election but it was also because as my daughter entered adolescence I had more free time to pay attention to things that interested me and this election was one of them. I remember not knowing who I was going to vote for. I didn’t really care for Hillary that much and honestly, I don’t know why. I wasn’t sure who this Obama person was. In my political ignorance of the previous decade I missed Democratic Conventions. I had lived in Arizona for 12 years so McCain was my first obvious choice. I’ve met him a few times here and there and liked him. He seemed genuine and had, in the past, stood up to his party. As the primaries winded down and the two nominees had been chosen, I became one of this “independent voters” that was unsure how I was going to vote. Until there was Palin.
As I look back, I can’t believe I was even considering McCain, but forgive me, it was 2008 and it seems like world away. I didn’t even have a Facebook at the time, for fuck’s sake. I was driving back from Deltona, after picking up my daughter’s friends for a sleepover, when it was announced he had chosen a woman for veep. Holy shit! He’s hoping to get those despondent women voters that would have broke for Hills. Well-played, McCain, well fucking played. But then she opened her mouth and at the time and it’s almost laughable now, she seemed like the biggest dolt that have ever been thrust into the political public eye. That sealed my deal. I was voting for Obama, the guy I’d never heard of, and it wasn’t without uneasiness.
It honestly didn’t take me long to become an Obama stan. Maybe it was his beautiful family and his oldest daughter that reminded me so much of my own beautiful baby. Maybe it was the energy that him and his wife had. Maybe it was the way he could deliver a speech, his cadence, his thoughtful pause, or the way he’d toss out a well-timed joke. Maybe it was the way he could counter during the debates. His confidence. His smile. His intelligence. Which was a breath of fresh air after W. Maybe it was being caught up in the hope of change. My daughter and I attended a campaign rally in Orlando in 2008 and the crowd was amazing. So much laughter, so much love and afterwards we went to eat with some fellow rally-goers and we all gushed over Obama and I’m going to be honest, over the fact that there was a real chance America might see its first Black president.
On election night my husband and I embraced as we cried. Our daughter looked impressed, not understanding the weight of this election. For a few days after the election it just seemed different outside. God, how utterly white of me. Looking back I can see how my lack of racial perspective would make the next 8 years a time spent shaking my head over and over in disbelief over just how fucking fragile, petty, and ridiculous white people could be.
He’s Half White
This would be used, ad nauseam, to counter act any claims of racism that would be justifiably used when someone was, well, displaying racism. Online spaces became cesspools of conspiracy regarding where Barack Obama was born, whom his Mother slept with, whether his Grandparents were communists trying to over throw the United States. Claims that Michelle was really a man, and their children were actually not his. That he was Muslim, hell, some people suggested he was really Osama bin Laden. His school record was questioned. They didn’t believe he attended Harvard. They would try to discredit his credibility as a Constitutional lawyer. They would claim he started his campaign in the living room of a domestic terrorist. They said he and Michelle hated white people. They said he wasn’t even American but really born in Kenya.
But surely, surely, these are just the ramblings of a fringe base of people, right? Rampant racism is gone and white supremacy is just something abstract that happened in the 60’s, but now, well, now it’s just different. Right?
While my inner-circle didn’t really hold any of the types that held some real far out there racist attitudes, there was plenty of racism available for consumption. But more than anything, I started to sense a discomfort in my white peers. And in my whiteness I couldn’t really put a finger on it.
The More Things Change
In college I had a philosophy professor named Dr. Meihls. He was a strange old man that sang Jimmy Durante during lecture and wore funny shirts. But he made some really good points and one of those being that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Of course, it seemed ridiculous at the time, entering the computer age, that things weren’t all that different than they were 100 hundred years ago, but the fact is, they are. They still are.
I’m a history buff, but I enjoyed clothing and architecture, I didn’t really pay attention political winds or how certain events caused certain reactionary events. Take for instance the KKK and reconstruction. I learned about the KKK in high school. I learned they were horrible people and they were racist. What I did was fill in that they simply hated Black people for being Black. What I didn’t comprehend is that they were created in reaction to the outcome of the civil war and enslaved Black people gaining some sense of autonomy here. They were formed to uphold a power structure that is often referred to as white supremacy, although a misnomer, because white people aren’t supreme. However, we do hold the political and social power and it isn’t by accident. It’s an orchestrated effort that takes willing/unwillingly and knowingly/unknowingly effort on white people to keep it sustained.
To me, white supremacy is a living evolving thing. Because things change, and society ebbs and flows, like a tide on the beach, white supremacy must also change to keep it sustained. However, looking into previous historical events also shows us that it also stays the same. It uses and reuses the same tools, over and over again, to uphold itself. The media and it’s control over many sources (and not the mainstream media, lols, I’m talking about any media in general; televion, books, social media, the news, advertisements and so on. It adjusts to the times as they change and readjusts as they change back. It’s powerful and hard to kill, and much like the Hydra, when you chop off one of its heads, another one grows back.
In 2012 I campaigned for Obama and on election night I was as nervous as a mouse. I wasn’t sure if our first Black president would be re-elected. It seemed such a feat that he got elected in the first place. I watched as he spoke his last campaign speech, tears rolling down his face, and I got very emotional. I wasn’t sure that America wa ready to do it again. I sat with my husband, as we smoked (we’ve since quit) and we were hopeful but not confidant. My husband and daughter had come to terms with saying goodbye to a First Family that resembled them. But then he won. He won a second term and it was incredible. I know that I celebrated more this election than in 2008 and his second term saw some incredible social change.
Same sex marriage became federally legal and Trans rights were being discussed in the nightly news. Black Lives Matter was formed to address the long and horrible practice of over-policing in Black communities and the nation watched as cities like Ferguson and Baltimore reminded us that while we had a Black president, we had so much more unpacking to do as a country. We had work to put in and that would require white people to come to terms with something that many of them didn’t even realize they had. Privilege.
And It’s Coming ‘Round Again
If I had paid attention to history, I mean, REALLY paid attention to history, I might have seen this coming. I know I didn’t pay attention to Black people (first rule for white people, pay attention to Black people) because they told me this was going to happen. They told me the reaction marginalized people gaining rights, and therefore gaining power, would result in white people losing their shit.
As the election was called early November 9th, I raged. I raged at the fact that this man was wholly unqualified to be POTUS. I raged at the fact that he used hate and division to rile up his clueless base that don’t realize that he really could give two shits about him. I raged that we hadn’t seen his tax returns. I raged and I raged and I stayed up a full 24 hours, angry and emotional. And scared. Scared for my daughter, my husband, her friends, my friends. For strangers I would never meet.
And now I watch as this POTUS commits unforgivable acts of treason against this country. A country I really do love, despite that it has a long way to go to live up to the promises it initially only made to white men that owned land. A country that I believe can be so much better because I see the people that live in it and I know kind of nation that they make this. A country that I watched President Obama carefully guide through some of the most difficult financial, social, and international waters that I had ever experienced in my 35 years on this planet. How he did it while being called out of his name. How he did it while having his intelligence questioned. How he did having his citizenship questioned. His family questioned. And when they were done questioning all that, they’d throw out that he was half-white, in order to detract for their racism and make it seem okay. Not realizing that they tell on themselves when they do. That they realize that racism really does exist and white supremacy is real all while they try to pretend it isn’t.
All while this current POTUS tries to make as much money off of this country at the cost of the people that live here. And the party that attacked President Obama for 8 years, doesn’t just stand idly by, but actively participates so that they can dismantle as much of the civil rights and social justice progress this country has made in the past 100 years before this inept buffoon is removed from office.
His marriage to three women, and his children that are sprinkled throughout, not used against him as people protest TO SAVE THEIR LIVES. Wild and made up stories about his family, aren’t part of the every day narrative. And yet, so many of the white people I speak to (and many are liberal/Democrats) really can’t come face to face with their own racism. Because white supremacy is powerful and it changes enough to adapt to its new environment but it stays the same in how it holds itself up.
I can promise you that I’m reading lots of Black post reconstruction authors, and Black post Civil Rights era authors, to find out what we do next and where we go from here. I know that despite it all, I do still hold on to that Hope and Change but I’m also know above dipping my arrow into the neck of the Hydra, and using it’s own blood-venom against it.