Friday, January 9, 2009

Idris Goodwin talks...

So I guess we gotta talk about Obama…..again.

I’m not saying I wasn’t as excited as you. I’m not saying it’s not historic. I’m just saying I didn’t ask to get involved.

From the moment Obama accepted his nomination the strangest thing happened. Middle-aged white people began stopping me at random in the street, at the grocery store, while hiking, to engage in racial dialogue.

I should be excited by this - when I was coming up the only people interested in public conversations about race were those who had been victims of racism. By that I mean, up until Obama ran, white people tended to shy away from talking with me about race in a non-p.c., I-don’t-see-color kind of way (except of course for that whole OJ thing).

So it was jarring when grown, respectable, upstanding baby boomers began giving me goofy eyes, knowing nods, awkwardly shifting gears from “nice weather we’re’ having” to trips down memory lane: the 60’s when hands interlocked and Motown bridged the gaps and on and on and on and on.

It got real deep when I worked this summer at an outdoor newsstand in downtown Santa Fe, NM, which is incidentally where east coast leftists escape for retirement and death. It’s the sort of place where every store, restaurant and street has a Spanish or Native American name, yet all the Spanish speaking and Native American people are nowhere in sight.

And it should come as no surprise that while Santa Fe has an abundance of sunlight and parking spots, it is desperately lacking in the 31-year-old black guy department.
You get what I’m saying.

So there I was, sitting on a busy Santa Fe street in front of rows and rows of magazines featuring everyone’s favorite brown boy on the cover. I was an easy target.

The day after Obama won the primary someone yelled from across the street -- maybe 20 feet away -- “I bet you’re happy!”

Considering their logic they should have been happy when McCain won his respective primary. After all he is old, white and rich. Of course I never said that. I am no agitator.

I didn’t even respond to the woman who shook her head conspiratorially, “Can you believe he picked Biden? Always gotta shoulder up with the white man, right?”

It was getting out of control.

I couldn’t wait for the whole thing to hurry up and just get decided already. Then the tokenism would stop and things could back to the way they were. You know, when we would tip toe gingerly around the old race maypole, talk color with our skin-folk. It was hard enough for me to deal with my own day-to-day trials without having to participate – without having to be the sounding board for the wish fulfillment and redemption of the older generation.

I was sure that when it was over the dust would settle. But then he won. And it dawned on me, I’ve got four more years of this. Maybe eight.

So the night of Nov.4th, after Obama’s acceptance speech, after the bells and whistles and good tidings of joy, I found myself conflicted, weighing the consequences. Reflecting on how now everyone will assume that racism and it’s legacy is a thing of the past.

Suddenly, inexplicably, my great great great grandfather appeared beside me on the couch. Obama’s speech still hanging in the air, the ghost of my grandfather to my right, and me in-between.

Of course I immediately apologized for not keeping in better touch with him. He told me to shove my apology, then proceeded to remind me that in his day it was not only Illegal for black people to vote but it was illegal for black people to be people. In his day the house slave was allotted maybe 15 minutes for dreaming, but his dreams were confined to that of better ways to serve his or her master.

He continued on and on and on like the ghosts of our great great great grandfather’s tend to do, reminding me of all the privileges I now enjoy and that the last thing I should be concerned about is white people wanting to talk to me in a positive way about a black man that they aren’t interested in lynching or betting on to win the superbowl.

And with that, he was gone. So were my petty annoyances. I now accept my role in Obama’s unofficial cabinet. In fact, I welcome all testimonials, opinions and cash donations. (The last thing I’d want to do is come off rude.)

So let’s talk about race, America.

Yes, this extraordinary biracial politician (that everyone calls black; see the one drop rule) defeated the candidate of the crippled Republican Party. Does this signal the dawn of a post racial America? For those who answered yes, you are a sad and hilarious example of irony, like low-fat junk food.

Racism is a disease. It’s the AIDS virus of the “isms.” It’s responsible for countless deaths, deferred dreams, horrific atrocities. I don’t know if any of you have read Frederick Douglas, but homeboy could’ve talked circles around Obama and led our country in his sleep, though I doubt he could have raised the necessary funds at the time. Why? Racism. It’s ingrained, woven tightly into the fabric of our country. It’s the reason I am an American citizen and have the last name Goodwin. It’s the reason why initially we didn’t think Obama had a Lobster’s chance in boiling water. It’s what prompted someone in Delaware to deface Obama-Biden campaign posters with KKK.

You could say racism is our national pastime.

You could say America is Dr. Frankenstein and racism is its monster – but we can’t scare it with fire-lit torches.

Do I think things are better? Of course. When my parents entered their teens, Jim Crow laws were still in effect. However, my black and brown cohorts continue to be profiled by state troopers and affluent liberals alike. This country is ripe with generations of brown-skinned people for whom racism has robbed of the ability to dream, to actualize, to even imagine being the president of the student council let alone the United States of America.

To suggest that racism is over because the browner guy won the game underestimates the weight and power of its legacy and insults its victims.

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