Monday, May 21, 2012

Profile in courage

A couple of weeks ago, the President of the United States, leader of the free world, MY PRESIDENT, Barack Obama, came out in favor of same-sex marriage.

It was unprecedented, unequivocal, possibly political suicide and a real profile in courage. I couldn't be more proud. I'm glad this is coming in my daughter's time.

No matter what happens the first Tuesday in November this year, I am pleased and proud that the man I will vote for again stood up for all citizens despite the controversy.

When I say I grew up in the Civil Rights Era, I mean to say I grew up knowing there were differences. And we were acutely aware of the differences, even though I grew up in a mostly black (there was a smattering of interracial families) neighborhood on the south side of Chicago. My neighborhood was made up of middle-class working, almost all two-parent families. We walked to our neighborhood school with other children whose parents were police officers, fire fighters, postal workers, bank workers, transit workers, teachers, all solid professions.

And yet, we knew we were the other.

My father used to revert to a southern "yes sir, thank you sir" persona when he encountered a white person in authority. He and my mother had both grown up in the south and it used to baffle my sisters and me why this strong, accomplished black man (he was a supervisor in the main branch at the Chicago Post Office) would suddenly become, like my sister said once, "super nice to white people." It wasn't until many years later that I realized that the behavior that used to make my sisters and me cringe with embarrassment, probably kept him alive when he was younger.

Recently when my husband, Earbaby and I came back from vacation, we found ourselves stuck in Tampa's airport, the victims of a weather-delayed flight that guaranteed we would miss our connector back home to Boston. As we weighed our options (there were few, we could stay overnight in Baltimore and try to get on a full flight flying standby the next day), we decided to rent a car in Baltimore and drive nine hours home.

During this time I told my daughter a story of when my sisters and I were children, when we drove south, to West Virginia and then to Alabama to visit grandparents on both sides of the family. There was a lot of driving back then, people didn't fly, it was too expensive. But the worst part was when our parents, who took turns driving, decided to stop for the night, they couldn't find a motel that would rent to "colored people." This wasn't just the deep south, this was in the Midwest.

I remember us driving all night, my parents taking turns, one of us sitting in the middle seat up front, one sister sleeping on the floor in the back (remember that awful hump in the middle of the floor?) and the last sister stretched out on the seat. My older sister was maybe 10, I was about 6, which made my younger sister only a toddler. We were little kids, younger than Earbaby is now. And we couldn't get a motel room.

Thankfully, that is not my daughter's world. Even though she is biracial and well aware of prejudice and bigotry, her friends come in all shades and ethnicities. It wouldn't occur to her that her family wouldn't be allowed somewhere because of her skin color. It shouldn't.

A few years ago EB had a boy in her dance class. It was a surprise, but he danced with them for several years. Now in her hip-hop classes, there have been plenty of boys, but her friend back then was taking tap, jazz and ballet. He wanted to. He was a really good dancer, and I hope he's still dancing somewhere. And best of all, no one blinked at the fact that he and his brother had two dads. EB never questioned it and I never heard anyone say anything about it.

And that's the way it should be. Those "religious" conservatives who use the Bible to beat people over the head with who is wrong and right in who they love, well, I read the Bible too. And I'm raising my daughter to be accepting (tolerance doesn't go far enough) of all people and their families. And I'm proud that the President of the United States expressed his brave, well-spoken opinion, even though it's not popular with many, even in the black community.

I don't want EB's history to be that of having to drive all night because no one would rent us a room. I don't want that for any families, no matter the color, religion, or orientation of the parents.

Taking a stand for what's right instead of what's politically expedient takes real courage. Standing up for everyone, all citizens, instead of pandering to whatever will get you elected shows integrity and strength of character.

Thank you, Mr. President for being that character.

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