Still Holding My Breath

I knew it was serious when I saw all the young men and women dressed as if they’d only just gotten out of bed and needed to run out for some milk for the baby or smokes to jump start their day. The hood rats were up and out, but not on the corner. Not on this day, election day. The young men who sometimes make me cringe when I look at them, or hear them curse for no reason were up early. Usually cursing is the norm. It’s just the way they talk to everyone. But not today. The way they choose to dress, allowing their jeans to dangle to their knees in order to show off their designer boxers, makes me uncomfortable.

Pricey baseball caps seated sideways on their heads covering their doo rag, which covers their hair. Walking billboards from head to toe screaming out their favored clothing line. The hood rats were not restless this day. This day they were in line ahead of me at the poll, waiting quietly, talking respectfully to their elders, patiently allowing themselves to be directed by the poll officials, because like everyone else they were there to cast a vote for Barack Obama. They got it. They are not lost souls. They understood the importance of what was happening. America was aligning itself with the universe. Karma at work.

As I looked around, Sly Stone was ringing in my ears...”it’s a family affair..” Mothers showed up with their grown kids. They young ones followed, playing musical chairs and chowing down on chocolate chip cookies while the old ones took care of business. The wait was roughly 40 minutes..no one complained or got ugly, or walked out.

I like election days at my polling place.. it’s the one day of the year that you spend a little time hanging out with your neighbors. The conversations were friendly, meandering, passing time until the voting booth became available.

My precinct is like a village, young and old participate and they bring their kids. The poll workers are the same folks. I know them on sight and they know me. Pleasantries fly up and down the table, catching up since the primaries, which was the last time I’d been there or seen them. I flash ID only because it’s the law, pick up my two page ballot and step into the booth.

Voting was easy. The wait until the polls closed was excruciating. Just couldn’t keep myself busy or my mind off the subject at hand. Barack Obama.

I’ve already written about what I was feeling after his victory was announced. I’ve spent the past couple of days crying, thinking and tearing up. It’s been a very long catharsis. One that I don’t think is over even now.

Too many times, we’ve been to the mountain top, or looked out over the river and not been allowed to cross over. I was too young to vote for Kennedy. I was only 13 when he was killed. I remember the assassination of Malcolm X and the killing of Martin Luther King as if it was yesterday. I remember going to bed thinking Bobby Kennedy had won the California primary and would soon be our president, only to wake up and learn that he, too had been killed. I recall the run of Congresswoman Shirley Chisolm. It made me proud, but no one, not even I, took her seriously. The runs of the Reverend Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton were little more than punch lines for late night TV.

Always, one step forward, two steps back. Never in my lifetime did I think a black man or woman could cross over the summit. Right up until the time the vote was called for him, I had trouble believing. Voter suppression, racism, ballot errors..something was going to screw it up.

And you know what.....I’m still holding my breath until January 20th, 2009. So many things can go wrong in the next 75 days.

But even at this point, I’m grateful....thank you white people for putting away fears of the boogie man. Thank you for turning out and finally, finally, allowing us to feel, for the first time, that we are simply Americans, real Americans.

It’s okay.....you don’t have to like us, but by voting for Barack you have finally conceded that all humanity does not necessarily look, act, or talk like you.
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