Almost 24 hours ago Barack Hussein Obama was declared our new President. I wrote a brief paragraph last night. I had to say something then, but it wasn’t enough, and I knew that. I suppose that there are those who are unhappy about the country’s choice last night, but so many are thrilled and filled with hope for a better tomorrow. I want to share just one of the reasons why I think what we did is so very important; why all of us, regardless of who we voted for, made history last night.
I was born in Chicago. My grandparents lived then, and for all my childhood years, at 101st and South Wood, in south side Chicago. My grandfather, my Popper, had emigrated from Ireland as a young man, and had begun a career as a florist. The Depression put an end to his dream of his own business, and instead, he became a Chicago mounted policeman. He and my grandmother raised their six children in Beverly, and my mom was the only one who ever left the Chicago area. My father’s family was from Joliet, IL, and they also have largely remained in Joliet. He was the only one of his siblings to leave IL.
My parents moved with me to Golden, CO first, and we lived in Boulder through my grade school years. Boulder was far less PC then; CU was primarily known as a party school. There was not an extreme amount of racial diversity in town during my grade school years, it was primarily on the campus. Race was just not a subject that was ever given any emphasis. I don’t remember ever hearing a derogatory racial term used by any of my relatives or any of the other adults in my life.
When I was in fourth grade my parents decided I would be allowed to babysit within the immediate neighborhood. When a couple with a new baby moved in across the street, they asked if I could watch their baby occasionally, and my parents said yes. I do remember being fascinated by this couple, an African American, who was a new assistant professor at the University of Colorado, and his gorgeous blonde wife. What my parents considered most interesting about them was the fact that he was teaching at CU. If the biracial status of their marriage was an issue, I was never allowed to hear that; and I truly doubt it mattered that much to them.
I graduated from grade school in 1961, and because my grades were so good, my graduation present was a month in Chicago with my grandparents, my first trip away without my parents and five siblings. It was a very special time, marred by only one thing. My grandmother and I went back to Chicago on the Denver Zephyr. For those too young to remember, that was the train that always traveled between Denver and Chicago. I remember getting up to use the restroom a few hours into the journey, and my grandmother, who was one of the sweetest, kindest women I have ever known, stopped me. You see, there were some Arican American children traveling in the same car, and she told me that I couldn’t use the same restroom that they were using. I remember being confused and then angry, as that made absolutely no sense to me; and did eventually use that same restroom anyway. I don’t remember her saying anything else about the incident on the remainder of the trip, and I had the time of my life on that month long vacation. That incident was never mentioned in my presence again.
Many years later, when I was in my late twenties, I visited her. She had had a stroke in her mid sixties, and my grandfather had a heart attack and died shortly after her stroke, while he was caring for her. She had moved in with my aunt, who lives in a condo just off Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago. She had also lost most her vision in the years after her stoke, and required some daytime practical nursing assistance while my aunt was at work.
During that visit one of the first things she said “Ginger I want you to know that you were right, I was wrong, and I am sorry.” I didn’t have the foggiest idea what she meant. She went on to explain that she had never forgotten that little rebellion of mine on our journey together so many years earlier. One of the LPNs that had been hired to assist her was an African American, and they had become great friends over the months that she had helped her. She wanted me to know that the friendship had totally changed her outlook, and skin color no longer held any potentially negative connotation for her.
Students of history would have some thoughts about why there might have been and still is, fear and antipathy among some groups of people. We don’t yet live in a world with a level playing field, and it is not unusual for those being oppressed to want to do the same to another group they consider to have less status. Someday I hope that all of that will be an ancient chapter in the history of the human race. In the meantime, I was blown away, and humbled that at such an advanced age, my grandmother was able to change her mind about something that had been so significant for her at a younger age. She clearly had a flexible mind, an attribute that she passed on to her children and that my parents, especially my mother, passed on to me.
She is one of the first people I thought of when our new President was announced last evening. I also thought of, and silently thanked, my mother and father, who raised their children without introducing prejudice into our family. For me, last night meant that there can come a day when color of skin, religion, nationality may mean nothing more to any us, than the vibrance of diversity all that brings to our world. I only hope I live to see that day.