The biggest fight I ever had with my dad was over whether or not America could elect a black president. It was in the mid-2000s and I was about 17, serving out my last few years at a nearly all-white high school in the stifling suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. I spent a lot of my time there dealing with way too many ignorant kids who either wholeheartedly embraced bigotry or spouted it off unknowingly. In spite of all of that, I still managed to build some valuable relationships that left me with an optimistic perspective when it came to race relations: It certainly wasn't all good, but maybe one day it might be.
My dad, on the other hand, was understandably jaded. How can you blame a guy who can remember exactly where he was when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated if he doesn't think America will ever properly deal with its race-based problems? Living only two generations from bondage and being born in the midst of Jim Crow would make anyone cynical about the prospects of this country electing a black man to its highest office.
Our argument, which was a long time coming, had its genesis in Barack Obama's 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention (and a 2pac song). With that speech, Barack burst onto the political scene looking fresher than a motherfucker, and he spoke with elegance and force that still makes my dick hard with black power. The sentiment of his first speech on the national stage, coupled with my own ambitions and desires, left me feeling like we/I/him could do anything—especially be president. That is, until my dad ripped my head off.
We had been having bouts over this issue for months, but it culminated in an all-out screaming match during the early part of George W. Bush's second term. His re-election signified the country's choice to continue the not so black-friendly policies of the Republicans. This was also around the time that we were being bombarded with images of suffering black (and poor white) faces in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Things seemed especially grim in those days, like no matter how far it seemed we had come as people, we were still second-class citizens.
So when I brought up my usual bright-eyed bit about how one day all of that shit would change with a black president, my dad stood up in the middle of the kitchen, in his boxers with a plastic bag over his jerry curl, and howled at me at the top of his lungs that a black president could never exist in this country. He told me, “We'd have to burn this whole fucking thing down and start over from scratch for a brother to ever sleep in the White House.” As he said that, my heart welled up with hate for all of his history that was holding me and my generation back. I broke into tears over my disappointment with the world at large, still refusing to accept that I couldn't foster a better world than what he had known.
After ruminating on the second inauguration address of America's first black president and all that comes with another four years of Obama, I've come to the conclusion that my father and I were both wrong back in the day. I overestimated the kind of sweeping change that could be ushered in by anyone who had to crawl his way to power through our soul-crushing and corrupt political system. I was also naive to think that an election of a black president would signify the end of my fellow countrymen's preoccupation with using race as a tool of oppression and divisiveness.
My father, on the other hand, underestimated my generation and just how far we had progressed. There were new possibilities and doors that are open to myself and my brothers and sisters all across this country that had previously been closed. Even if it took some pretty severe shit (a terrible economy, two wars overseas, a broken government) for Americans to bring a black man on—we still did it. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream is still yet to be realized, but we’re certainly a few steps closer than before.
Ironically, my father and I now stand on opposite sides of the table. I am the reluctant Obama supporter—disillusioned by the drone attacks, the murders of American citizens overseas, the unwillingness to stand up to Israel, the blatant neglect of poor blacks and the prison industrial complex, and a myriad of other troubling issues. While my father is an ardent supporter who campaigned relentlessly for him in this last election and now gets into screaming matches with me when I mention Obama's shortcomings.
I love my dad and now that I'm a little older I see it is by design that we don't see eye-to-eye on most things. It's thanks to our arguments that I'll never be able to forget the horrors suffered by my people in the past and in this present day, even when I'm living an upwardly-mobile life filled with professional success and “cool white people” friends. It's also thanks to my dad that I can't totally write off how important it is to have a black president, even if Obama doesn't live up to all of my expectations, because I remember how outlandish it sounded to my dad just a few years ago and how desperately I longed for it to come true.
When I think about the son I will have one day, I feel at ease knowing that the burden of broken dreams and hate that weighed down on my dad will not be passed down to him. However, I know it’s my responsibility to make sure my boy never forgets where he comes from and his generation must continue to push to end this racism bullshit.
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