There’s this thing when the President speaks. I imagine it’s what captive audiences of incredible orators everywhere have experienced, and it is both unique to the experience’s environment and as old as time. He’s not just charismatic–though charisma itself is quite a heady influencer–and he’s more than a talented speaker who has mastered the art of the pause and the dance of vocal inflections and the grace of gestures. I’ve heard it spoken of as “presence” but I feel such a term inadequately describes the way that the energy of the room, the crowd and him are both heightened and channeled directly into his message. Everyone around me was glued to his word by sure will, and I found myself internalizing his words with little to no reproach or analysis; in all but one instance, I didn’t think about the validity of his statements, I just knew them to be true.
President Barack Obama came to Omaha today, for the first time since his first presidential election campaign. I remember the last time I stood in the crowd and was taken into the spell of his magnetism. His legacy from that moment on became a reminder of this intoxicatingly impactful and addictive theme of three of the most dangerous ideological concepts a little Black girl can internalize: hope, change and empowerment.
The President’s message today was similar to that of his State of the Union speech last night; merely expanding a few of those themes. His four questions for America, I think, are ones we have asked, continue to ask, and probably will forever ask of ourselves and other Americans. But there was a specific section of the speech that resonated with me as a person–when he brought up “political correctness.”
po·lit·i·cal cor·rect·ness [noun] the avoidance, often considered as taken to extremes, of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against.
He mentioned it in his SOTU speech last night as well, but he really expanded into it today. Using an illustration of those who disagree on affirmative action, the President made the assertion that a difference of political ideologies does not mean racism. While this is true, he forgot to point out the reason for these programs being in place in the first place (though I can give you one guess; it’s an r-word). He did however reconcile the statement but addressing the existence of prejudice. And, as he did last night, he affirmed his belief that our nation is strongest when we work together as one.
There’s so much that needs to be said and done to improve the lives of social others, though, that I feel we cannot skip the step of addressing those voices first. In a society where, as a Black woman, I mention “race” or “Black lives”, or in anyway imply that my experiences have been different due to the color of my skin people flinch or try to silence me, we need to hear marginalized voices so often that those who once felt uncomfortable have become acculturated to discussions of othered identities. We need to acknowledge the existence of intricate social oppression structures in our communities, and we need to figure out how to change them. I should not have overheard a highly prejudiced comment about a group of Black people trying to get the elevator to help their friends in wheelchairs. I should not have seen people sneering and making fun of a group of beautiful dark-skinned Black girls waiting patiently for the speech, the picture of Black femme joy. I should not have seen a Black pastor lead his group skip over a hundred of people in line and then boast about it. We have so much wrong to address and correct in our cultures, in our communities, in ourselves, before we can even begin to truly see ourselves as one. And while President Obama’s message filled me with passionate hope and a dream of change, it also left me with a clear idea of what’s left to do. So the answer to whether or not the 4 hour and 24 minute standing only wait was worth it? The answer would be indisputably. More than anything else, this speech left me with a passionate drive and ambition to change the world.
Once the swelling in my feet goes down, of course.