Moving our conversations beyond the campaign backdrop

One of the things folks kept saying, in amazement, at the Obama rally I went to Saturday night was some version of, “Who else could bring this crowd together all in the same place at the same time?”  “This crowd,” of course, meant a whole lotta black folks and a whole lotta white folks, too.  The other differences (age, sex, socio-economics) were easy to understand.  But the black / white thing?  Well, damn. 

Am I excited that folks are using Obama as an excuse to bridge the gap?  Absolutely.  But I’m sad that we have to look for an excuse to bring our communities together.  One of the black women at the rally stood up and said that she had a mental problem and her mental problem was white people.  Slam.  I get it.  She’s in her 60’s.  She’s seen a lot of shit.  She and I promised to start a dialogue with each other because I don’t want to be her mental problem.  I could learn a heck of a lot from this woman and wouldn’t it be a crying shame if she couldn’t teach it to me because I’m a white girl?  Fortunately, our commitment to the Obama campaign gives us common ground on which to build our bridge.  But we have to find other ways, people, to make this happen.

I walked up to a small group of young black men in a bar recently and just asked them if they were registered to vote.  “Of course,” they answered.  “What, you didn’t think we looked like fellas who’d be registered? be voting?”  Truth is, I didn’t know, but I was glad to hear that they were not only registered and voting, but were engaged.  One was even wearing an Obama t-shirt.  And one, to my great surprise, was a McCain guy.  Having the Obama campaign as a backdrop allowed me to create the bridge that opened up some great conversation with these guys about politics, race, the economy, and more.  Would there have been another way for a little white girl to approach a group of 5 or 6 black guys before Obama came along and been taken seriously?  Would it have been possible, before the Obama candidacy, for me to have found a way to open a dialogue with these guys on politics and race?  These are questions we need to ask and answer because this campaign will end, but the conversations need to continue.



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