Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Speak Your Piece: Take That, Mrs. T.

01/20/2009

obama celebration in LA Ed Fuentes Obama's supporters in Los Angeles, January 20, 2009

Like many people of color in this country, I share an ugly experience, the horrible “ah ha” moment when racism shows itself up close and personal.

My moment happened one lovely summer day in the small Wisconsin town of my youth. Just as I was preparing to join a yard full of neighborhood kids, Mary T. stepped firmly in front of me, barring the way.

“My mom says you can’t come into our yard because your mom is a nigger,” she stated officiously.

I stopped, completely flummoxed. I’d never heard this word before and for the life of me I couldn’t fathom its meaning. My five-year-old mind did, however, grasp the intent of this word. It meant my family and I didn’t belong. There was something wrong with us and we didn’t belong.

“Oh, okay, “ I muttered as I turned away. Although I was fairly certain there was nothing wrong with my family, I felt embarrassed and strangely guilty. That scornful seed got planted early and it got planted deep. As an adult I know intellectually that Mrs. T was simply an ignorant small-minded woman whose opinion can easily be disregarded. I’ve moved on. I tell myself that I am inured to the Mrs. T.s of this world, refusing to give their meanness any sort of refuge in my heart or mind.

Inexplicably, however, immune to all my education and accomplishments, the deep roots of that ugly little seed can make me hurt just a little bit. I resent it. I live with it but I resent the energy it saps from my soul.

Sometimes we don’t realize how much something has hurt until the pain begins to leave us. Today a chunk of that pain planted by mean old Mrs. T. was lifted from me. It was lifted away as I witnessed Barack Obama, a man of color take the oath of office of the president of the United States of America. Tears streamed down my face as I watched the ceremony on television. They streamed from a heart wound I thought was long buried; I am now grateful it has begun to heal.

I was especially pleased that President Obama stumbled a bit over the words as he took the oath of office. It underscored his humanity and the fact that people of color have finally come to a place where we can be as full of human frailties as the next politician. Like all presidents he will make mistakes, he will disappoint; he will be supremely human.

On this day, however, he has affirmed for me and so many others, that yes, we do belong in America. Will I hold his feet to the fire in this blog regarding the promises he’s made to American Indian people? You better believe it.

But today, as an Ojibwe woman living in the United States of America, I just gotta say to the Mrs. T.s of the world and everyone else, “I feel good, I feel alright.”

In fact, I feel so by-God alright, I’m fit to bust.