I cannot testify to what black Americans feel as our nation celebrates the inauguration of our first African-American president. But I can speak for myself, as a white American who grew up in the segregated nation’s capital of the 1960s. Barack Obama’s day is one that I never thought would come, and one that I still can’t quite believe is here.
[...] Though a few African-Americans and embassy Africans provided the window dressing of “integration,” my mostly white elementary, junior high and high schools had roughly the same diversity as, say, today’s G.O.P.
I wish I could say we were all outraged at this apartheid. But we were kids — privileged kids at that — and out of sight was out of mind. Except as household help, black Washington was generally as invisible to us as it was to the tourists who were rigidly segregated from the real Washington while visiting its many ivory marble shrines to democratic ideals.
But as an unintended consequence of Washington’s particular brand of Jim Crow, white public school students got a tiny taste of what racially mandated second-class citizenship could mean. In those days, the city didn’t even have the bastardized form of “self-government” it has now; it was run as a plantation by Congressional District panels led by racist white Southerners (then Democrats). These overseers didn’t want to lavish money on an overwhelmingly black school system, and they didn’t. By the early 1960s, per-student spending in Washington was less than that of any state, impoverished West Virginia and Mississippi included.
One would like to say in the aftermath of the 2008 election that everyone lived happily ever after. But the American drama, especially when it involves race, is always more complicated than that.
Washington is its own special American case, but only up to a point. For all our huge progress, we are not “post-racial,” whatever that means. The world doesn’t change in a day, and the racial frictions that emerged in both the Democratic primary campaign and the general election didn’t end on Nov. 4. As Obama himself said in his great speech on race, liberals couldn’t “purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap” simply by voting for him. And conservatives? The so-called party of Lincoln has spent much of the past month in spirited debate about whether a white candidate for the party’s chairmanship did the right thing by sending out a “humorous” recording of “Barack the Magic Negro” as a holiday gift.
Next to much of our history, this is small stuff. And yet: Of all the coverage of Obama’s victory, the most accurate take may still be the piquant morning-after summation of the satirical newspaper The Onion. Under the headline “Black Man Given Nation’s Worst Job,” it reported that our new president will have “to spend four to eight years cleaning up the messes other people left behind.”
After the messes left by those white bastards, who are most decidedly not a, er, credit to their race, I think Obama woulda been elected if he was a Martian.
Please read the rest.