Friday, November 9, 2012

In Our Children's Brains

            So a couple of weeks ago I wrote that having a Black President matters, in part, because of what it does to our children's brains.  Our children who have only ever known a President with brown skin.  "Imagine what their brains have the capacity to know, that mine cannot," I said. But when I wrote that I must have forgotten about a little internal mind-trip I had a couple years ago, a few weeks after we moved to Columbus.
          I was walking down to Franklin Park that day, Ankle Biter was on my back and Hot Shot on her scooter at my side.  We had read there was going to be some kind of health fair that afternoon and we were, at that point, game for any kind of public activity anywhere, since we didn't know anyone in our new town.
          As we headed across the park toward the amphitheater where the fair was going on, I could hear a man's voice coming over a loud speaker, talking about eating fruits and vegetables or some other sort of left-wing rhetoric.  And I thought to myself, that sounds like the President.  Of course I knew it was not the President.  The President would not visit Columbus for a humble little Health Fair.  But the closer we got, the more convinced I was that this voice was indeed President Obama's voice.  So when we crested the hill at the top of the amphitheater and looked down at the stage for the first time, I expected to see a screen projecting a video... of the President.
          But there was no screen.  There were just bunches of Black people giving out beach balls and jump ropes to bunches of Black kids.  And there was a man on the stage.  A man who was the head of some local health related organization.  Speaking into a microphone about the importance of fruits and vegetables.  And he was Black.
           Yes.  This is what I'm admitting to you.  I heard the voice of a Black man giving a speech and couldn't imagine it was anyone but the President.  Which is to say that the folder of speech-worthy Black men in my brain at that moment held only one resume on file.  Have I mentioned that my kids are Black?  My kids are Black!  I am the parent of Black children and that afternoon I heard a Black man singing the praises of fruits and vegetables and I assumed it had to be none other than President Barack Obama.  Who else could it possibly be?
          I thought about it for days.  Hung my head in my own private shame.  Took my only consolation in the fact that we had just moved to the East Side of Columbus for exactly this reason: our family needed to live among Black folks.  And it wasn't only our Black children who needed to live among Black people, we, their White moms, we needed to adjust our color lens too.  It was just further proof of what I already knew.
           But then, after about a week of brooding, I did find a glimmer of hope in my embarrassing mistake.  Because, yes, I did hear a Black man giving a speech and assume it must be President Obama.  But listen to what that means.  I heard the voice of a Black man and thought, "President."  I'd say, on the list of stereotypes conjured by the sound of a Black man's voice, "President," has got to be preferred.  I mean, hooray to my brain for intertwining these two concepts.  Black man.  President.  Black man. President.  Black man.  President!  So I guess it's not just our children who are learning a new way of seeing the world, there's still time for my neuron passages to fire some new connections as well. 
          But then guess what happened this week.  Oh right, I mean in addition to President Obama winning all the swing states and garnering a whopping 332 electors, and the number of women in the Senate rising to an all-time high of 20 including the first Asian American woman and the first out lesbian to enter that great chamber, and three states voting for marriage equality and one state saying "no" to those wishing to discriminate against gays, and another four years of not having to worry  if one of those old Supreme Court Justices keels we'll lose every freedom women have gained in the last 50 years.  In addition to all that, our son Moon Boy's preschool class held an election on Tuesday.  There were two contested races.  One for the presidency.  And one for the following day's snack.  President Obama and blueberry pancakes were the overwhelming victors and Moon Boy came home with a stack of exciting election day accomplishments.  Voter registration materials.  A chart he made on his own which seemed to indicate that President Obama really likes pancakes. And a coloring sheet showing Former Governor Romney and President Obama.  And here's the big guess what: Moon Boy colored them both brown.
          Let me say that again.  When my son was given the chance to color in pictures of the two people trying to be president for the next four years, he assumed that they were both Black.  Now, to anyone who lives here in the swingingest swing state of all, I'm sure you're asking, how can it be that my son has not been barraged with pictures of the very White Mitt Romney?  But we don't watch television.  And we read our news online after the kids are in bed.  So though Moon Boy has been talking about Mitt Romney for weeks, he may never have knowingly seen a picture of Mitt Romney.   And, apparently, all this time he's been picturing Mitt as a Black man!
          And even with everything else that's gone right this week, the coloring page victory may just be my favorite.  Because look what it says about the moment we are in right now and the moment that lies just twenty years down the road.  We won this week because the plurality is bigger than the homogeneity.   The sum of the Black folks, and Latinos, and Asians, and Native Americans, and White Women, and the gays, and the young people is greater than the sum of the White folks who are very rich, or very opposed to abortion rights, or really don't want my marriage to be legal.  We who believe in social justice are now a fantastically varied and rowdy majority.  Even when jobs and resources are scarce and we might be inclined to turn on each other, to blame one another.  Even then, we can come together from our widely disparate lives and agree on an agenda that will move us all forward together.
          And when we, the convergent majority, watch as President Obama's family gathers on a stage, with Michelle, and his sister, and her brother, and all of their children, and the grandmother, and then when the Bidens join them, we can't help but think: there we all are.  And when we look around at the crowds of people gathered there cheering them on: there we all are again.  And when we look at the crowd gathered to honor Former Governor Romney, there is just no mistaking: there we all are not.
          This is significant.  This is extraordinary.  And it begs the question: if you look around at the people on your side, and they all look like you, do you wonder if there's something you missed?  Does it occur to you that just maybe some people live a different life experience than you and just maybe they know something you don't?  With any luck, these are the questions that Republicans will ask themselves in the coming months and years.  Because this is the direction we are moving whether they like it or not.  We are increasingly more different than we are the same.  And if we can all acknowledge that reality, then maybe we can start solving some problems together.
          Because just look at what's coming 20 years from now.  In 20 years when Moon Boy is 25, we will have a generation of children who won't just think its possible for a Black man to be President once every couple centuries they will think it's possible--within the realm of normal even--to have two Black people running against each other for President.  Two Black candidates who have risen to the top of their parties because they have the most compelling and contrasting ideas about how to lead our country.  Our children will believe in and expect our plurality to spread broadly across the political spectrum and dig deep into solutions for the grave issues that threaten our planet and those who dwell here.  There will be no room for those who cannot play with others.  Those who cannot engage in constructive discourse.  Those who cannot understand that their way is not the only way, their experience not the only experience, their view not the only view.  This is the possibility that lies within the minds of our children.  That's where we are headed.  Because these last four years really have changed our brains.  And in the next twenty, our brains may just change the world.


  1. I love this! My own two children are 6 and 9 and I *love* the fact that the only president they will remember for most of their young childhoods is Obama. I love that they will grow up with a foundational assumption that presidents are brown, and that even if we go on to have another string of white presidents after Obama, they will regard them as exceptions instead of the rule!

  2. I really enjoyed reading all of your posts leading up to the election and I LOVE this one. May I share it? I have been really careful not to share post-election "we won" type of rhetoric, but this. This is why its so important. This is why it matters. Thanks for expressing it so beautifully.

    1. Thanks, dcorey. I'm glad it strikes a chord with you. You are always welcome to repost. Cheers!

  3. Congratulations to us all!

  4. thanks liz! this is a great "we won" conclusion. i'd love to see another brown face in the white house in my lifetime, perhaps even a woman be she black, brown, white, yellow, purple, gray, red, gay or straight, christian, islam, jewish, or not. think of the possibilities!

  5. This is really great! Thanks for the commentary, it made my morning. Also, welcome to Columbus! It's a really great place and I hope you find welcome here.