My Father Pulled The Lever
My father pulled the lever in the election booth on Tuesday for a black man. This is an historic moment for me, just as Obama’s victory is an historic moment for America – -and the world.
I believe that human beings, even those we know best, are enigmatic, and unpredictable.
My father is 77 years old. He’s always played the Archie Bunker character. I have no idea why a boy raised partly in rural Connecticut but mostly in Brooklyn has had such deep-seeded prejudice over his long life. It wasn’t something he could readily articulate but it was always present. He would not go to see a Broadway show if the cast was black. He never used the “n” word but he used other labels to let his distaste or phobia or aversion be known.
It has been his experience, and mine, to live in a segregated world even if we think otherwise. Growing up in Canarsie emphasized divisions between race and class. Jews, Italians and Blacks were three distinct groups. Jews and Italians mixed. Blacks were a group unto themselves; the ones who populated the projects on the fringes of Canarsie; the ones who were pointed at when cars were stolen or houses were robbed. My mother didn’t let me ride the LL train to Manhattan because it was “black.”
Black became the color of fear. Black was the color of the less advantaged students my mother taught at the elementary school. Black was the color of the cleaning lady to whom we acted falsely deferential until we found out she was taking jewelry. Black was the color of many of the men who worked for my father. They were hungrier than we were; more likely to find themselves in trouble with the law. And here’s the odd thing: when they did, my father was the first man to step up and provide rescue. Why? Was he protecting his business interests? Or was there something deeper in this man that did not really hate at all? I just don’t know.
What I do know is that I was a bleeding heart liberal by the time I was 10. When Canarsie became the flashpoint for racial tension over busing children from poor neighborhoods to our schools, I defended this. I said over and over at our dinner table that it’s not fair to rail against a population that is always at a disadvantage. That viewpoint was not appreciated by my white, Jewish, upwardly mobile parents. I also had the comfort of holding these views while I lived in a safe cocoon.
In my own effort to give voice to man, I became a reporter, and sunk my teeth into any story that fought against oppression or disadvantage. At some point I realized I was fighting for myself.
I have never thought of Barack Obama as black; I fell in love with him at first sound-bite – and that’s because he spoke to me directly. In recent years, I have been burdened by a chronic feeling of sadness; a nagging sense of powerlessess. I feel venomous toward the unions who tie our hands and raise our taxes. I am angry at politicians who’ve stolen our freedoms and ransacked our belief that if you do the right thing, you get a fair shake. I am exhausted.
Today is a fresh day and I’m smiling because my father voted for Barack Obama.