And Jesse Wept

I saw that incredible camera shot of Jesse Jackson crying when Obama was elected president. And it made me think.

When I was growing up in rural Pennsylvania, there were only a couple black families living in the area – Negro, they were called then. (The ‘n’ word was used frequently those days, though not in our house. So were derogatory terms for Polish people and Catholics.)

‘Negro’ was perfectly acceptable at that point in time. So was ‘colored’. The ‘n’ word was not. Still, there was little overt discrimination against those two local families, at least that I was aware of, other than a certain condescension because they were very poor.

I didn’t grasp the reality of racial discrimination until I took a bus ride south as a teenager and was introduced to the concept of segregated seating and waiting areas and restrooms. I remember being appalled.

Further enlightenment came with college and Dylan and Baez and the civil rights movement. ‘Negro’ was replaced by ‘black’. Black became beautiful. I’m not sure when this ‘African-American’ business began.

I remember Jesse Jackson from the sixties, as an activist. When he went into mainstream  politics I thought, at last a politician who’s sincere. I registered to vote when he ran for president but had grown so disillusioned by the time the election rolled around that I didn’t bother going to the polls. It seemed to me that Jesse had turned into one more self-promoter  looking for a podium and a photo op.

When Obama was elected, I was vaguely aware, on an intellectual level, that an African-American becoming President of the United States was a big deal. But I didn’t realize, emotionally, what a very big deal it was until I saw Jesse Jackson cry, and flashed back to those bad old days.  Rosa Parks being arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white person. Selma’s Bloody Sunday and the Little Rock Nine. Martin Luther King’s assassination. The Mississippi civil rights workers murders. Sit-ins and race riots. Black power and the KKK. All those unforgettable events that led to this particular moment in time.

The hell with ‘African-American.’ A black man had just been elected president of the United States. I got a little teary myself.

I wasn’t impressed with what I saw of Obama when the campaigning began. I don’t trust politicians in general, and don’t believe a word any of them say, so didn’t listen to any of the speeches along the way.

I did watch Obama’s acceptance speech.

I was impressed.

Wouldn’t it be nice if Barack Obama doesn’t turn out to be just another self-serving politician, in the end?

Published in: on November 11, 2008 at 12:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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