Finding New Pride In America

Michael Gabby - San Diego, California
As heard on NPR’s Tell Me More, December 4, 2008
Michael Gabby

Living in an interracial marriage, San Diego teacher Michael Gabby has had to explain discrimination to his three young children. But the election of Barack Obama as president has given Gabby a new sense of hope for America and pride in its people.

Age Group: 30 - 50
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I believe in the American people.

I’m writing this on November 5, 2008. Yesterday I wouldn’t have made this statement.

As the election cycle progressed this year, I supported Barack Obama. I put up my yard signs and I made my small, on-line contributions to the campaign, but in my heart I couldn’t bring myself to truly believe “yes we can!”

As a 38-year old, I missed the overt and institutional racism which would have outlawed my interracial marriage. And while we have come a long way, I’d never have dared to dream I would live to see a black man elected president. I could be part of a changing tide, but I was resigned to the reality that changes like this take a long time. As Martin Luther King said, “I might not get there with you.”

I have been guilty of perpetuating the American myth that children can be anything they want if they just try hard enough, but the presidential pictures in social studies books clearly show the reality.

My brown skinned children surely don’t match the presidential pictures. And names like Maya, Malik and Marcus don’t sound presidential. In family discussions of black history, my children discovered that being any shade of brown in America has always meant being excluded from things as profound as freedom or as simple as drinking water from a public fountain. When reading picture books about the civil rights movement my children have asked, “Even me, daddy?”

“Even you, baby.”

And then it happened: Barack Hussein Obama was elected as President of the United States. My wife and I wept. The first lady will look like my wife. Brown children like mine will play on the White House lawn. We woke up our sleeping children to share the moment and to toast to a new day. I was able to say to them, confidently now, that this is America where they can be anything that they put their minds to. It’s not just rhetoric any more; the proof was on the TV screen right in front of them.

Michelle Obama was heavily criticized for her comments about being really proud to be an American for the first time. Perhaps these words from a person in her position weren’t prudent. But I understand where she’s coming from. A day after the election, I am more proud to be an American than at any other point in my life.

I believe in my fellow Americans who went into confidential voter booths and made the decision to vote on the content of a man’s character over the color of his skin.

I underestimated the American people.

I was wrong.

Michael Gabby lives with his family in San Diego, Calif. He teaches in elementary school, is active in the state teachers’ association and serves as a union official for his school district. Gabby is involved in social justice issues and woodworking.

Independently produced for NPR by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman with John Gregory and Viki Merrick.