Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Yellow dogs and black men.

The thought struck me on the way home from work yesterday: Would my grandmother, who proudly called herself a "yellow dog Democrat," have voted for Barack Obama?

My grandmother grew up in a segregated world, and saw the Civil Rights movement change all that she had known as a child. Her mother, my great-grandmother, had a mammy, a fact that was dicussed every time we happened to catch Gone With The Wind on television. When my older cousin started dating, my grandmother would sometimes say that she hoped Brandy didn't bring a black guy home one day, that she didn't think that would be right. So it was understood that, for whatever reason, it wasn't okay to date black people. Even as a child, I questioned that belief, albiet from a place of naivete - if people loved each other, what matters the color of thier skin?

Given that, I still would never really have classified my grandmother as a racist. She lived in a predominantly black neighborhood in Kansas City, Kansas, and was, as I recall, friendly with her neighbors. She volunteered a good deal of her time when she was older at a day care in the neighborhood, where almost all the children were black, and would tell us about the amusing, creative, imaginative things the children would do on any given day. But I have only fuzzy memories of her time in the old neighborhood, and as I reflect, I don't really know how long she worked in the day care.

The fact of the matter is, we never discussed race relations, other than the occasional quick word or two whenever Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton was on television and my grandmother would remark, "I like him," with no further comment for the former, or give a sort of scowl at the latter. There wasn't really a reason to confront the topic head-on, because our societies were relatively isolated, and the possibility of a black presidential nominee for a major political party was not even a consideration. Completely incomprehensible, actually.

While I may question my grandmother's racial tendencies, I would never question her political leanings... or so I thought. Even a yellow dog isn't a black man. Would my grandmother have been as impressed and inspired with Barack Obama as she was with Kennedy? With Clinton? Or would she see only a black man that shouldn't be brought home? I remember her affinity for John McCain in the early 1990's, when he was actually the maverick he claims now to be, when he defied his own party and might have even jumped ship for the kinder, gentler waters of the Democratic party. I wonder if my grandmother would justify a vote against Obama with recollections of the old McCain - justify racism with nostalgia?

Would my grandmother vote for Barack Obama? I honestly don't know. I wish she were still alive so we could talk about it. Writing about it now, I think she would struggle with the decision, but would ultimately vote for Obama. I also think that vote would have been transformational for her, as I hope it will be for those like her who will vote on November 4th. It would represent a vote for positive change, a hopeful future, a belief in a country in which all things are possible if we treat each other with respect and kindness, and an opportunity for new beginnings of all sorts, no matter what your age or background or income.

Seven more days. Seven days until I find out if I'm getting a Barbie Dream House or a gift-wrapped rock for Christmas. That's how it feels, anyway.

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