I watched as much of the primary results as I could last night, in Georgia, visiting my brother, the one I always refer to in my writing as “the cop” or “ex-cop,” because when I left home he was still on the force, the same one our Irish immigrant grandfather was the first cop hired for.
My brother retired from his post-cop jobs and moved South, when his kids moved there with their families because they no longer could afford our part of Jersey. The cops in the town where I grew up, and my brother worked, can’t live in town anymore, so have to move elsewhere, or more likely nowadays, come from elsewhere.
Watching the election results after a day of helping bring my brother home from a stay in a post-hospital place, knowing I had to get up to leave at six in the morning with my two grown kids who were on the trip with me—helping out as well as visiting their cousins—I couldn’t wait up for all the results, so had to catch up this morning.
But I was at my brother’s place when the first result came in, Georgia going for Obama big time, even a good percentage of “white males.” And I have to admit, it felt pretty damn cool to get that news in the heart of the South, where I had battled segregation when I was there in the service in 1962 and ’63, and had ever since felt uncomfortable with the outsized smiles and friendliness I’d seen the dark side of. Now to be there to watch as an “African-American” man won the Democratic primary there...
I thought of all the friends I knew from those days, many now gone, who truly suffered under segregation and discrimination and institutionalized racism, and then of newer friends who didn’t go through those times and those struggles who see racism in the slightest insensitivity or political incorrectness. It made me feel so grateful to Obama for at least attempting, in rhetoric and style if not always perfectly, to get beyond those horrible times and recognize that a lot of that kind of white against black racism and oppression is history, not to be forgotten or even forgiven, but to be honestly accepted as not dominant anymore.
Sure there’s hardcore racists still around, and racist attitudes still abound in some white circles or situations, but they can be found as well among black attitudes toward whites, or other ethnic groups or “minorities” against each other.
The kind of racism that existed when I was a boy, it’s just not there in the whites I see, even the right-wing Republicans I encountered down there, or am friends or relatives with there and elsewhere.
Yes, there’s still a stigma attached to lower-class “blacks” who act out in ways that intimidate, or manipulate “race” as a weapon of justification for behavior that is sometimes criminal and more often just grossly inconsiderate or self-absorbed.
As my old friends would say, more ignorance than intention.
But there’s an equal reaction from the same people to “trailer park” white behaviors and implications. The generating factor isn’t racism, if anything it’s class.
Obama introduces the possibility of transcending all that, as Kennedy did for Irish Catholics. Big families suddenly chic. Carousing and cockiness suddenly stylish. Something to connect us children of our particular immigrant culture to the swells, the haves, the better thans.
By now we’re almost back to jokes again, caricatures at times of what we once were. Ted Kennedy a punch-line on late night TV, despite his tireless work for the poor and under-represented, work he could have easily shirked a half century ago but still endures.
That’s the Kennedy connection to Obama for me, the hope of transcending excuses and justifications for giving up and pretending it’s a choice, for self-indulgence as revenge, for ignorance as tradition.
Let me make this clear. There are a lot of prejudices still out there, including racial ones. But from my historic perspective, personal and otherwise, that’s mostly all they are—“racial,” not “racist,” as are some “black” attitudes toward “whites" (as there are some forms of gender prejudice in some attitudes of some women toward men, as "sexism" dinishes as well).
Yes women still make less than men on average, and a way too disporportinate percentage of young black men are in prison, and “white men” still dominate many areas of power, certainly corporate and politically, but otherwise, and here and there, and now more than then, and when more than if, it’s definitely changing, and I’m happy to still be alive to see that begin, no matter who wins.