Monday, January 19, 2009

From Slave House to White House

Today the White House, built by slaves, will be inhabited by a man of African descent and his wife, descendant of slaves: leaders of the free world. That journey, that struggle has spanned more than three centuries. It's included the deaths and back-breaking heartache and oppression of hundreds of thousands of people. The cycle of abuse (physical, verbal, emotional, economic, sexual) was played out in our country with institutional justification and legal support!

To achieve that oppression, the slaves had to give up their language, their diet, their very names. Remember "Roots" when Kunta Kinte is beaten until he yields to his master's name for him, replacing his African heritage? Slaves were systematically stripped of the cultural touchstones and personal identities that had they been retained, would have made it nearly impossible to keep that population enslaved for so long. Once Lincoln's Union won the Civil War (a war that shredded the relational fibers of the nation), the former slaves became the second-class citizens, attempting to map out a new existence, finding new names, all within the confines of institutional and relational racism that would go on in Jim Crow, in segregation, in second-class status.

To overcome that tragic history, someone had to say: enough! And that someone had to grab the hand of another fellow-sufferer and say, "Follow me to freedom" or "Come with me to a march" or "Don't sit at the back of the bus" or "Yes I can get an education and I'm supposed to be in this classroom." The risks and costs were deemed worth it because the struggle to be free, to be autonomous, to know that you could choose for yourself how your life would be, became the heart cry of every oppressed person, eventually.

How that word reverberated at the Democratic National Convention this summer: Enough! A rallying cry we won't forget.

The whole world admires the results/fruit of that struggle for equality and freedom. We've immortalized the fallen heroes. We are the generation that gets to see King's dream fulfilled. What a privilege. Our part so small - electing a man to office, voting, making a few phone calls, overcoming our own prejudices to do it.

But here we are.

And as my pastor shared in November, is it is a part of the divine comedy that 390 years later (since that first slave ship crossed the Atlantic), 40 years after MLK's "I Have a Dream" speech, that the first African-American president is NOT a descendant of slaves, but is a natural born African and American who has his own African name!

Barack Hussein Obama... Full circle. For African Americans, he symbolizes a reclaiming of much more than dignity in America. Obama also brings that African connection into an international focus and restores that identity to all who have lost theirs.

It's a moment and yes, it's historic. We don't get to live in those very often. Clearly, we're lucky. And blessed. Have a glorious day.


NoVA Dad said...

You and I posted on our blogs at nearly the same time; what a wonderful post. You and I didn't agree before the election, but I think you know (and will see in what I've posted as well) that the election is over and it's now time to focus on the nation. Enjoy the day!

Colleen said...

Thanks for sharing these sentiments, Julie. Great post.

Mike said...

The election of Barack Obama encouraged us as a family to read "Uncle Tom's Cabin" by Harriet Beecher Stowe...what a tremendous book and one that I think needs to be re-read for just a time as this.