It was the night of the 2008 Iowa caucuses when many African Americans in this country woke up to the fact that this skinny guy from Illinois with the funny name just might have a shot at winning the Democratic nomination for president. I remember because I was hanging out on several blogs written by African Americans at the time. There was a moment of awareness - and then the reaction that showed me once again that there is a rift between black and white consciousness in this country. Because what came immediately and profoundly after that for them was fear.
As an outsider watching it happen, it seemed to resemble the kind of PTSD soldiers experience after being in combat. The emotional script that came to the surface at that moment was the fact that when a black man enters white political consciousness, an assassin's bullet is not far behind. Think Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Fred Hampton and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Update: From the comments, nellcote posted the article I read that night that blew me away. Its by Lower Manhattanite at Group News Blog. Here's just a taste - but please go read the whole thing!
We have developed an unfortunate Pavlovian response to the repeated sight of our best and brightest being blown away like so many dandelion bits in the wind.
We have our moments of pride, and then...then, those uncontrollable palpitations. Worrying about when the ax will fall. Or the grenade. Or the bullet's sharp crack, the diving security and guests, and the inevitable cut to a shocked newsroom.
Dave Chappelle used to have segment on his show featuring Paul Mooney called “Ask a Black Dude”. Well, I won't wait for you to ask, I'm just telling you what goes on. What went on...in my house, and I would assume hundreds of thousands of households like mine, where recent history's bloody spectre hovers in a tattered 60's sack-cut suit and skinny tie. He hovers and points at today's goings on.
“There”, he moans. “There,” as his dusty hand notes the television and all the happiness on the screen. He doesn't smile. he doesn't blink. He just says “There,” as he crooks a bony finger. And up Black America's collective spine, goes his chill.
He was there in Iowa too. I know Barack and Michelle saw him. But maybe the kids didn't. And I'm guessing that Barack and Michelle fought like hell to push him out of sight eventually.
Dropped balloons and confetti on him. Drowned his “There.” out with McFadden and Whitehead, or Curtis' “Move On Up” or some such blaring counter to that hollow moan.
I hope to God they did. 'Cause that'll make them the lucky ones. Unlike the rest of us.
I have no doubt that this same emotional script occurred to someone like Michelle - as well as to friends and family of then Senator Obama - when he made the decision to get into the race in the first place. I envision reams of information being shared with them about the protective powers of the secret service. As we now know - those fears were starred down and a decision was made to go for it. Fear would not be a barrier.
Four years later (we should all knock on wood) those men and women who take on the task of protecting our president have performed their job not only successfully, but in a way that keeps those fears quieted and mostly at bay.
I thought of all this while perusing another wonderful diary by Chipsticks of photos of President Obama in Wisconsin today. There's one face that has been present in so many that its become familiar to me. Whenever I see him I think of all of the others we don't see and am reminded to be grateful for what they do every day.