This is a strange title to discuss the tranformative power of yesterday’s events, but trust my train of thought. Alas, I missed the inauguration ceremony proper since I was at the Student Health Center for two hours. Sidebar: if you have a swollen knee, you need to have a $40 blood lab to rule out Lyme Disease. So the most I can comment on is seeing Aretha’s crazy bow headband, which still isn’t as tacky/cool as Whitney’s monstrosity from this week’s The City. I also was lucky enough to catch the crowd spontaneously burst into song upon 43’s departure from The District via helicopter: “Nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah nah, hey hey hey, good byyyyyye.” After that, though, I was overwhelmed with the inanity of the coverage, including how Rachel Maddow thought Senator Byrd’s hair looked awesome. This, naturally, followed Chris Matthews’ total failure to positively identify the elderly senator.
The hype was an attack on all fronts, though, and the fact of the matter is nothing could live up to that. Stop talking about how this is history in the making and let it be history in the making. When one is hyperaware in the meta-cognitive sphere of the function of historical events, it distracts from simply experiencing the event at the most basic level. Yesterday was a momentous episode in the history of America, and it led millions of people to tears, but constantly pointing this out cheapens the entire concept for everyone involved. When I was allowed to turn off the new coverage and just think about what an accomplishment it is to elect an African-American man, regardless of his mixed heritage, into the White House, it was very moving. I am human, however, and I must freely admit – I wish it was Hillary. I love Barack and am ecstatic to see him as our President. He has brought credibility, eloquence, and transformative powers to our country. Deep down, though, I would have loved to see Hillary’s hand on that bible.
Irregardless, that’s just the rules of feminism. To be sure, Barack is ushering in a new era in American relationships. The work we have ahead of us was all too apparent for me, though, when I attended my Tuesday night meetings with a student group on campus. You may request a slight back story, and I will tell you what I can. My school hosts a student-run event at the end of the semester to celebrate finishing another academic year, and musical artists and groups have been known to attend in the past. These students band together to plan and execute said event, and as a graduate student, I am assisting them this spring. Last night’s topic of discussion was bringing an urban act to campus. I want to preface what I am about to write with the fact that I love my students. I seriously enjoy the students here and think of many as little brothers and sisters. That said, there is a distinct and deeply entrenched problem here with articulation, tact, and, worst of all, upper middle class racism. In the tradition of my over-dramatizing the words of my opponents when retelling the story, out of my own laziness, lack of respect for their behavior, and mouth of a herpes-infested sailor, here is a summary of things I heard them say last night. Apply copious amounts of poetic license wherever needed.
“Why do we even need an urban act?”
“I will just say now, I thought we all agreed several times that there is no need for an urban headliner and we’re wasting our time here.”
“I don’t listen to hip hop and I have no idea if black students would come to that concert. I just don’t know black music that well.”
“If we booked that guy and this group, it would be around $80 grand on urban music. That’s such a waste, why can’t we just stick to one and move on?”
Read “urban” as privileged white person speak for “black/hip hop/soul/funk/R&B.” The way things are set up here, there is a concert around homecoming that has traditionally been a hip hop act or rapper in years of late, so there is frustration in bringing more urban acts to the spring event. I think it is prudent to keep in mind that the advisor of the group is an African-American staff member, and there is an African-American student on the board, as well. They were not only asked to defend any choice in this category, explaining any artist the group hadn’t heard of, but also shot down repeatedly when they did offer their opinion of various acts. I was blown away that a student group could begin a meeting gushing about every detail of Obama’s inauguration and quickly devolve into maligning several genres of music because they didn’t think the event needed representation in the area.
By all means, it should also be noted that several of the students weren’t the least bit racist or even slightly disrespectful to either African-American member or any of the music. Some thoroughly enjoy hip hop and led impassioned speeches defending several artists we fought over throughout the night. To me, though, the night was a sober reminder of how far we had to come.
I finally got back to my room around 8 or 8.30 last night, and one of my students had brought me a Baconator from Wendy’s, which made the bitter taste of disappointment wash down a little more easily. After wasting an hour or two doing nothing, I got into bed and signed onto Netflix to watch a movie before I fell asleep. I had been kicking around the idea of Mississippi Burning for a few weeks, especially after I read that Frances McDormand should have won the Oscar instead of Geena Davis way back in 1989…you know, the year before my residents were born. I loaded it up and started to watch. It was truly a phenomenal film, and possibly even more moving given the day I had just experienced. This movie, shot twenty years ago and taking place in a country of forty five years past, highlighted how we had been ripped apart by hate and fear. Yet, after all the monstrosity depicted in the film, the havoc wreaked upon the poor African-American men, women, and children of that small town in Mississippi, there was hope.
Just like today, there was hope that change would come about. That we would live in a world where the color of your skin didn’t matter. I like to think that today, we are one giant step closer to that goal. We just need to be realistic when we pat ourselves on the back for living in a post-racial America. So you can mock me for taking a line from a Goo Goo Dolls song to encapsulate what I’ve been feeling these past couple of days, but I find it strangely fitting. We have to be mindful of our past to truly change our future. We do not need to have slavery and racial apartheid endlessly hashed out on the national stage, but we, as a country, must be mindful of racism today. Electing Obama does not erase racism, but it certainly is a step in the right direction. Congratulations, America, you made a great choice.