If You Still See Black and White, You Need a New Pair of Glasses!
I was standing around Peet's Coffee in Santa Monica the other day waiting for a friend. While I waited for my coffee to be made a black man, I later found out his name is Carl, turned to me and asked "Are you ready?" I immediately answered back "I'm ready!" He smiled and asked again "Are you ready?" With more enthusiasm I answered "I'm ready to do my part!" He smiled wide and said "That's what I'm talkin' about!" At this point we were connected. I knew exactly what he was talking about... am I ready for the change indicative of our newly elected president? We both had Obama on the brain!
Then it got really funny... I went in to shake his hand at the same time he gave my the high five hand, so I tried to switch really quickly but didn't make it so we ended up with one of those spastic looking high fives. I joked "I'm too white to do that right!" He let go a genuine laugh of delight and said "That's right! Now we can talk about what we've all been thinking. We don't have to be afraid of each other any more."
That day we were just two strangers connecting over a shared joy... a pride in us as a people for electing a black man for president. Now I could say, a man of color, or an African-American man, or a half-black, half-white man which is more accurate to describe Barack Obama, but that's the whole point of the story. I don't have to fear not being politically correct, because I no longer feel a division between us a nation as an untied people. The difference in the color of our skin no longer seems to matter. In fact, making us aware of our differences seems like just another way to keep us apart. In that one shining moment, all of that was thrown away and a real connection was felt, by Carl and by me, and by anyone lucky enough to witness my spasmodic display of hip hand gestures.
The very next day, my dear friend from Texas sent me this quote: "Of intense complexities, intense simplicities emerge"-- Winston Churchill. I had to think about it for a minute but that pretty much sums up race relations in this country. When we focus on our "outer selves": skin color, ethnic background, cultural and socio-economic differences, then sure, relationships with one another can appear intensely complex. But when we focus on connections, one human being to another, relationships are simpler. This applies to our relationships to other countries in the world, as well. Why is this?
It's because we all have the same needs. Let me reiterate this, we all have the same needs. Our first level of needs is basic: food, water, shelter, clothing, and protection from life-threatening illness. Once that is met, we have higher order needs, for example, emotional safety, connection, respect, truth, understanding, acknowledgment, and friendship to name just a few. The terrorists that attacked us on 9/11 were trying to meet their needs for recognition, respect, honor, freedom, truth, and justice. Similarly, when we capture and keep prisoners at Guantanamo Bay for years without "due process" we are trying to meet our needs for safety, truth, justice and freedom. In both cases, the terrorists and the US government were trying to meet similar needs but in a tragic way. To continue to see the world as 'us' and 'them' will keep us in the same mess as when we have applied the same 'us' and 'them' viewpoint to our own brother and sister citizens.
My needs for community, truth, consciousness, compassion and connection were all met on Election Day 2008. I have never been more proud to be an American Citizen than on that night and every day since. Bill Clinton once remarked "There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be fixed by what is right with America." Norman Lear described himself as a "Born Again American". I like that! I understand it. I've been yearning to feel a part of something great for a long, long time. I don't have unrealistic expectations for president-elect Obama. No one man or woman can be all things to all people, but I can tell you this: I am ready. I am ready to ask him "What can I do for my country?" I think that would make John F. Kennedy and Carl very proud!