Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Obama Hangover

So, now what?

At school today, the only thing students were talking about was this incredible man named Barack and how he is the president and how many states he won and how he was a Black man and how he was a BLACK man and how he was a BLACK MAN and how he was also a Brother. Any lesson plan that I had planned that didn't involve this incredible man was not getting learned on a day where students were engaged in a heated discussion about the final tallies of the electoral college. These children, who are often given so many reasons to not believe and to not hope, know that something special has happened and that it has the power to transform their lives. Today they didn't need me to educate them on the significance of current events. And I have to admit that it was an strange feeling.

It's kind of similar to the feeling I had standing in the basement of La Val's pizza in 1992, watching two kids play the newly-released Mortal Kombat. The game was the bloodiest anyone had ever seen and the graphics seemed light years ahead of the old standard, Street Fighter II. As one of the combatants reached into the chest of his opponent and pulled out his still-beating heart, I had an odd moment of melancholy.

I had spent many hours and dollars training on Street Fighter II. I knew how to use the characters (Blanka, the Brazillian man-dog was a favorite) and knew all the tricks and joystick moves it took to beat everyone but the most experienced players.

But standing there, surrounded by the smells of pepperoni pizza and powdered Parmesan cheese, I realized that it was all over. There was a new game, with all new rules, and a completely different paradigm. Everything I had known was moot.

Similarly, before this election I had a certain understanding about the way race and class and power worked in America. This understanding had been passed down from my parents, and their parents to them. "A Black man can't be elected president--especially not before a White woman," being one of the principle tenets.
This tenet had everything to do with the way I saw myself as a citizen of this country (if I even thought of myself as a citizen) and even though it was a sad, disheartening vision, it also gave me stability: in the equation of my life, I could always rely on race to be my constant. No matter where I went, or what I did, it would always be standing beside me. Something about that was comforting, even if it separated me from the equal sign.

It was beautiful seeing my students running the halls, laughing, smiling, singing Barack's name, but I also couldn't help fear what would come next. What happens when times get rough? What happens when the Palins and the Plumbers of the world start really acting up? What happens when people realize that racism isn't over? What happens if this new paradigm is just the same old paradigm, with a whole new way of ripping out your heart? What happens when he actually has to be "Presidential"? What happens when he (aghast!) disappoints us?

But today I also realized that those are questions for old folks to fret over. My students are now growing up and being shaped by a time when a Black man (with dignity and intelligence!) has a chance to represent the most powerful nation in the world. And even though I might not be as familiar with the moves of this new game, I'm willing to set aside my fears and let the young folks teach me how to play.

5 comments:

hannah faith said...

what happens when amazing writers blog? they do amazing writing!

you never cease to inspire. :-)

vanessa said...

The students at my school worked the polls yesterday, a 15-hour day for them, and were today energized and exhausted and energized by the extraordinary Obama victory. All attempts to discuss Beloved or Buchi Emecheta went out the door. Everything was Obama. Of course, my school is mostly filled with privileged white kids so they weren't talking so much about Barack being a Brother. But they were talking about hope and service and making things happen, and that's what matters for them.

Abdel Shakur said...

aThanks, Dude!

maynechik said...

I had no idea I could be moved by a Mortal Kombat metaphor...you cut right to the quick, Abdel.

Asha said...

This is beautiful and sensitive, Abdel. Thanks for sharing. You are an amazing writer.