What We Know: We know of slavery. We know of the Civil War and the division of the country. We know of the Emancipation Proclamation, a ray of light, of hope for thousands of slaves, a tiny peek at what would lay ahead in the distant future. As Frederick Douglas said in 1866, “We shall, as the rightful victory over treason, have a solid of nation…based upon loyalty, liberty, and equality.” We know of the civil rights movement, of Martin, of Rosa, of men and women, black and white, old and young, of Malcolm and Marcus, of DuBois, of the NAACP, of the SCLC, of SNCC, CORE, of the alphabet. We know of the speeches, the oratory to uplift the un-lifted, to press forward the oppressed. “I have a dream.” We know of the struggles, the marches and movements, the sit-ins and the stand-ups. We know of the riots, dear Montgomery, poor Birmingham, burning Harlem. We know of the dates: 1963, ’64, ’68? We know.
What We Understand: Very Little. I am Black. I am White. I am both. I am neither. We understand little, so we ask: Am I black enough? Is he black enough? Are we black enough? Can a person be black enough? We understand the distinctions, yet ignore the similarities. We understand the words, their diction, their syntax, but ignore the emotion. We understand history, not his story. We think we understand.
What We Feel: We feel more than we know or understand. The fear of overt prejudice. The embarrassment of an overheard racist remark. The deeper shame when we fail to speak. The empathy for the civil rights movement, regardless of skin color or ethnicity, regardless of our past. We feel the fresh, pink scars of racism and oppression, still healing on our consciousness, imprinted by the shared memory of pain, humiliation, and guilt. We feel the goose bumps race up our skin when history unfolds itself right before our eyes. We feel more than we’d often like to.
What We Believe: We believe that today is special. Inherently, deep down those scars have faded a bit more, a shade lighter than yesterday. As we inaugurate our first Black American President, we reflect on each event, each contribution, each person that brought us to this historic point. And in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day of all days. We celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. with the very event for which he sacrificed his life. For every name recorded in the history books and every invisible man whose name lays between those lines. We believe today represents more, more than even history; that this inauguration lays outside of history, outside of recordable time and space because the proceeding history asks it to. So, we believe.
And that brings us to the question: Is this the revolutionary moment we perceive it to be? Is this truly the inauguration of the first Black President? Some say yes, and some say no. Regardless of what personal beliefs you may hold, Barack Obama represents in his body, in his genes, in his mind the very essence of the fundamental principles of the United States. He is of mixed race. I am of mixed race. We are of mixed race. Yes, he is not 100% black, nor is he 100% white. He is neither of these extremes, but neither are we. We are a country, a people of grays, of varying hues, to the darkest of dark to the palest of whites. And in Obama, the promise his election and inauguration holds for many of us represents the true America. In him lays the darkest days of slavery and oppression, as well as the brightest days of progress and innovation.
As Martin Luther King once said, “History has thrust upon our generation an indescribably important destiny-to complete a process of democratization which our nation has too long developed too slowly…How we deal with this crucial situation will determine our moral health as individuals, our cultural health as a region, our political health as a nation, and our prestige as a leader of the free world.”
So today we witness the inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama, our 44th President of the United States, a black man, a white man, and a man of every color in between. So we watch, we must watch. We watch to know. We watch to understand. We watch to feel. And we watch to believe. Thank you.