Thursday, August 28, 2008

My Upstairs Neighbor Left for a Visit Home

...the other day, home to South Africa where she was born. She is not Afrikaner, but she is "white", the daughter of a White South African mother and an English father.

Growing up, her family had "black" servants (and her flat accent makes the word sound so very strange) but according to her view they were considered part of the family. She knew about apartheid, but was pretty much sheltered from the horrors of it by virtue of her birth and the chance of her skin color. Her father--an alcoholic and probably manic-depressive--was abusive, but only to her mother and brother. Her mother finally left him, and a few years later her father killed himself. Not too much long after that, UN met the love of her life, Mr. Kip, and came to America. Much much later, UN's mother came over here as well; South Africa's health care system was failing her.

When I first moved in to this apartment, I didn't have much to do with UN, Mr. Kip, or UN's mom. They mostly kept to themselves and anyhow SD decided he didn't like them and so for a long time I made no effort to befriend them.

Then one night, somewhere during the beginning of the 6-year war with SD, my three-year old Sun had a coughing fit. Nothing I tried would make him stop... not water, not juice, not cough syrup. I finally realized that he was stressed (something had happened that day but I can't remember what it was), and seeing my poor little one hacking away, stress oozing from every pore of his body, sent my own blood pressure sky-high. My hands were shaking. Out of desperation, I knocked on UN's door and asked her if she would please, put me and the Sun in her car and just drive. Anywhere. We needed to get out of the house. It was about 8PM, and I knew she worked, but I was desperate. I don't remember why it was I didn't call Shoefly, but I also knew the Professor was too far away and I needed to get out of the house RIGHT THEN. She looked at me, and my distress must have been evident cuz she went and got her keys.

She drove us around for probably two hours, just talking gently; me sitting in the back seat holding my baby until his coughs came further and further apart and then finally fell asleep. She drove us home. And we have been friends ever since.

Mr. Kip was always ready with a story and a laugh, and UN was always ready to help, but UN's mom never said much of anything though she was very cordial. But when she discovered her son--UN's brother who still lived home in South Africa, was now dating a "Black" woman, we all realized with some surprise that she didn't at all approve. And she was none too happy when Brother and his girlfriend, who he subsequently married, came to visit.

I fell in love with Primrose. She was a child during apartheid, her father jailed for most of her life for working with Mandela. When she was a young teen, apartheid was dismantled. And she described how everyone took advantage of the dismantling and formed the new government... people went to college, got jobs, changed their country. She herself became a police officer. When asked why, after witnessing police brutality in her own home as the South African police beat and dragged her father out of the home, she answered "I hated apartheid, not the law".

South Africa is not without its problems... as a female officer (now a captain) she described horrifying rapes--especially of children--in staggering numbers. Murders and suicides. But overall... hope. A determination by everyone in her country to overcome the legacy of the past and move forward together. In 1994, four years after the end of apartheid, Nelson Mandela became that country's first Black President.

143 years ago, my great-great grandmother Josephine, the bi-racial daughter of the Confederate colonel Francis Bartow and his 14 year old slave girl Ouidette Badu described hearing the clattering of bayonet spikes against the white picket fences of Perry Street where she lived in Savannah. The soldiers dragging them informed them she was no longer a slave. She was 16. She relayed her memory to her daughter, my father's grandmother, who relayed it to my father, who relayed it to me.

Almost 100 years from that date Martin Luther King stood up and made his now famous "I Have a Dream" speech, as he and thousands marched on Washington to protest the treatment of African Americans in this country.

And today, 45 years later to the date from Dr. King's speech and 143 years after my great-great-grandmother's "emancipation", a man of African descent accepts the nomination for President of the United States.

No doubt... it's amazing. I never dreamed I 'd see it in my lifetime. I never thought he'd make it this far. I'm impressed that he figured out how to win the numbers game... the "Electoral College" game and snatched the prize out underneath the Clinton machine.

And I'm proud as hell. I'm proud my kid and my nieces get to see this. In fact, we're all watching C-Span even as I write this. It's history in the making. But I'm saddened by those stalwarts who refuse to see how wonderful this is, how long overdue this is. Because we still haven't actually had a "hued" man--or woman--become leader of this country.

They don't like Obama's polices, they say. They don't trust him, they say. He's too young. He's a secret Muslim. He's unpatriotic, they say. And none of this has anything to do with his race. (Well.. for some. Some openly refuse to vote for a "Black" man.)

Bullshit. It has everything to do with his race. If you didn't like his polices and he were white, or Christian, his skin color or his religion wouldn't be mentioned. And John F. Kennedy was younger. And how can he be a secret Muslim yet be a militant black Christian? And simply because he won't cover his heart during the National Anthem or wear a flag on his lapel he's unpatriotic? Yet he has chosen to endure the intense scrutiny running for President entails, jeopardizing his life and the lives of those he loves because he doesn't believe in this country? What would be his motive then?

As for his policies... I can't say I understand it all. I'm not political. I still say policies aren't really made by the President and are dictated by rich oil and insurance companies. But suppose the President really does make policies... can they be any worse than what we've got now? If they suck, how much worse can it possibly get in four years than it is now? Will we go to war? Oh, wait... we're already at war. Will people lose their homes and jobs? Oh, wait... people have already lost jobs and homes in record numbers. Will people become hopeless and disillusioned? Aren't we already called the Prozac nation?

I hope the last holdouts heed Hillary's words the other night, and question why they supported her in the first place. Was it her? Or was it because they wanted to change the country? And if you answer the former are you really doing her justice?

I hope Obama wins the election because I believe we need something new in this country. We need to have the audacity to hope, to believe in change, to believe in America as it should be. The way it was intended... even though those original words weren't meant for me or my brown and red ancestors when they were originally written. We've adopted them as our own, because America is our country; we were born here, we lived and worked here, fought in her wars, built her cities and farmed her fields. We died and are buried here. And it's time for those words to apply to us. For us to own them. After this... whatever happens it's all good. But we need this change. We need a new Hope.

2 comments:

Carrie said...

I have a huge reply that ties in what you're saying (sorta) to the experience I'm having in dd's school right now (you can't say your culture is American, or Californian for that matter, you must be German or something...), but I don't have time.

Instead, have you seen this: http://www.salon.com/comics/tomo/2008/08/19/tomo/

Fat Lady said...

Speak it, my friend. Eloquently said.