Tuesday, January 20, 2009

the times they are a-changin'


What a day it's been! So many things to be said about the day of Obama's inauguration...but with so many people saying all of those things already, I thought I would offer a relevant but off-the-beaten path story from my mom for your consideration. She told me this story back in November on the evening of Obama's election, and I asked her to write it down for me that week. I've been saving it ever since, waiting for today to post it.

I can’t remember the details of this little anecdote, but the impact has stayed with me all of my life. Manners were elemental to my upbringing in the Deep South of the 1950s, and one of the most heavily emphasized was respect for our elders. I naively took that to mean ALL elders.

One day when I was about 6 or 7, I was at a friend’s house. Her black maid said something to me to which I replied, “Yes, Ma’am”. Well, that’s how you addressed grown-ups, right? Evidently not. I was quickly told by my friend (or maybe her mother, I can’t recall) that “you don’t say Ma’am and Sir to ‘Negras’.” I felt embarrassed and stupid as though I had made some unforgivable social gaff. But I still didn’t understand “why”. That was just the first of many cultural double standards that would not make sense to me. It was the beginning of several years of childhood ambivalence between what society told me was appropriate and what my heart told me was right.

Tuesday morning, as I listened to the TV pundits discuss the likelihood of Barack Obama becoming our next President, it suddenly occurred to me that I had finally been vindicated. I remembered that little moment 50 years ago and knew that I had been right - right to show respect to someone who was different from me, and right to question why someone would have the audacity to tell me I shouldn’t.

1 comment:

RFE said...

I feel like I have reached "Blog-Stardom"! And, yes, Tuesday was a splendid day- a turning of the generational page as well as a racial one. I dare to be hopeful!!!