A colleague came to me this morning: She told me that she still didn’t know who she was going to vote for, and wanted my thoughts. She’s a fellow Glastonbury resident, and the people she meets – say, at the gym – are your typical upper-income white skinned, white collar people that the town attracts. As we were talking about economics and such she related that some of her peers were looking down at her for leaning toward voting for President Obama. One of them even told her that she would not vote for Obama because it’s not right for a black man to be in the Whitehouse.
Sad to say, but I was not surprised. I know these people. The ninety pound soccer mom who four years ago drove a Ford Excursion with a McCain / Palin bumper sticker, and this year is driving a BMW crossover with a Romney / Ryan sticker on it. (They may be in the 99%, but they have more than the other 98% have.)
I was not surprised, but I was angered and disgusted. And it got me thinking about why I vote the way I do (today, straight across Democratic) and what I believe in.
I believe in equality before the law. I believe that the same rules should apply to everyone. I’m not sure where I stand on affirmative action, but I know that the deck – in a court, at a job interview – shouldn’t be stacked against someone because they’re black, or brown, or poor, or female. The Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. said that “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” I believe in this. I try to live this way. I try to deal with people this way.
I am not perfect. When I’m walking down the street in Hartford and I see a couple dark-skinned young men walking my way in their hoodies with the hoods up, damn right I feel a prickle of fear. Having an ideal doesn’t mean ignoring reality (it is a fact that those young men are more likely to be muggers than the white guy in a business suit I just passed going the other way). And being imperfect doesn’t mean your dream is not worthy.
Later in the morning I was at city hall for a meeting. Coming and going I passed through the city hall atrium. Both times there was a line three abreast and out the door of people – Hartford people – queuing up to cast a Presidential Ballot. I was humbled and delighted. Who knows: voting can be habit forming. Maybe after two turns of voting for a fellow person of color, some fraction of them might decide to keep going to vote – even if there isn’t someone on the ticket who looks like them. I thought, who knows, in another few years we might have a President Jimenez, or at least a candidate named Sanchez. Even if only a few of those folks become regular voters, that’s progress.
This evening sitting at home with Sunil and Naveen cruising YouTube for train videos, I spotted a new video by “MonsterRailroad”. I love what he does with detailing model trains. MonsterRailroad a) lives here in Connecticut, and b) is black. “B” exploded one of my own racial preconceptions about model railroading being a ‘white guy’ hobby – see “I am not perfect” above. His name is Albert Mayo Jr.
Albert Mayo lives in New London. He has had a lifelong dream of becoming a fireman. This year he got his chance when New London accepted his application for their newest class of recruits. New London, like most towns in the state, sends all of their fire trainees to the State Fire Academy. There Al Mayo racked up excellent grades, and excellent reviews. Except for one. One instructor was a racist. This one instructor trashed him on his final review, and New London – which had not hired a black firefighter since 1978 – fired Al Mayo they day before he was to graduate.
“Big Al Mayo” didn’t take it lying down. He talked to the press, he talked to the state NAACP. People listened and there was an investigation by the state which substantiated his claim of racial discrimination, and uncovered more complaints by other black firefighter cadets.
After the case got blown wide open, New London’s Mayor reinstated Al Mayo. One of the videos that I saw on his YouTube channel this evening is a short clip of the Mayor personally administering the oath of office and swearing in Al Mayo. I give the mayor – who I thought was at least a bonehead and possibly a racist – a lot of credit for starting out the ceremony saying “I apologize.”
So, there I was making dinner for the boys and trying to explain racism to Sunil. I think I got it right in terms of talking at his level and giving plenty of context. Part of that context included telling him how parents want so much to protect their children, and sometimes that means from seeing or knowing certain things when they are still young. But, it was important to me that he understood why I was so moved by that ceremony.
I did not tell Sunil that there are some people in our nation who would hate our entire family because I am “white” and Asha is “Asian Indian” and we dared to get married and make babies. You can see another part of “Having an ideal doesn’t mean ignoring reality” in action if you look at our boys’ middle names. Western, English, white Christian names in case the far right evangelical neo-fascists do manage to thwart our nation’s progress toward pluralism and our boys need an escape route to keep their Indian heritage under cover.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I believe. I believe in fair play. I believe in calling out unfairness and inequity. And I hope.
And that is why when I exercised my sovereign franchise today, I voted for a black man from the party of Franklin Delano Roosevelt to be our President.