The Julia Moment – Obama’s Speech on Race
The easiest place to start is at the tears. And for me it was the mention of the white grandmother “who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world.”
I remember first really connecting to my black American self reading the Autobiography of Malcolm X while traveling in Europe. I was in from the beginning, along with the rage, understanding Brother Malcolm’s hatred of the “white rapist blood” within him even though the preponderance of “white” blood in me came from histories of love and directly from a courageous woman who moved across a continent and an ocean to marry a man who feared the social repercussions of his choice. And though Malcolm eventually re-evaluates his characterizations of the “blue-eyed devils,” embracing a multi-hued community of sincerity–a journey I joined in my reading–I was momentarily just as much with him when he proclaimed that the only thing he liked integrated was his coffee. I understood the history. Parts of my life connected viscerally to his narrative through my own experience and the stories both my father and mother told me. I was caught up in his intelligence and charisma. Ultimately I was inspired by his capacity for change and love.
My father’s generation have told me about the moment they saw Diahann Carroll on TV in her show Julia. She was simply a beautiful black woman, sans caricature, neither Madonna, nor whore. A woman.
When we talk of race in this country, particularly in this era, it is generally of tolerance, of how close we are or not to equality, of self-identity, or in platitudinous phrases and descriptions of colorblindness (“Love See No Color” [sic…and gag!]), of a post-racial society. We speak “people of color”–whose opposite, I guess, would be “people absent color(?).”
And I’ve heard all the justifications for black rage and white anger.
But in political dialogue I’ve never heard a self-identified black man, speak of the absolute love he receives from his white family, his complete connection to them, even as the nearly inevitable racial experiences create moments of tension within that primary relationship. This was my Julia Moment.
Most of my “friends of color” have had our moments when we said we’d never date a white person again. And I’ve been asked if that sentiment offends me, seeing that I must have some connection to my whiteness. How could a sentiment that I’ve adopted myself for a period “offend” me? During my time of self-segregation I discovered that cultural ideas were as jumbled and problematic in my limited community as they were in the larger community to which I belong by blood and experience.
That’s the complicated beauty of Obama’s speech from Tuesday morning. I cannot disown, we cannot disown the white, the black, the brown, the Asian, the native people of this land nor can we deny the legacies of what has happened in the past and what is happening now that creates division in our society. The “whole” experience, the identity beyond the hyphen that adds divisive distinction preceding the word American, is a world where we can hold the profound and profane in a single family.
I was my maternal grandmother’s first grandchild. She wasn’t happy with the idea that her daughter was marrying a black man. A year after they were, my grandmother and I started a love affair that would continue into my 30s. We’d hold hands at our favorite bench, looking out at the lighthouse, facing east towards old England, from where our ancestors came in the 17th Century. I usually sat to her left, so when I looked towards her, in the distance southeast was the land where some of my family was bought and brought to this country. Behind us was entire land that used to belong to a brown people and the coast where I was raised in the sunshine. Even further west is the island of Oahu where Barack Obama and I were born. And beyond that is the Philippines where my step mother was born and raised.
This isn’t a platitude or a list, this is our family. I don’t love everything that happens within it, we’re a complicated community, but the bond and the love is irrefutable.
(c) Jason Luckett, March 19, 2008