One Last Night

This is Mr. My President and Mrs. My First Lady’s last night in the White House. I’m sure they’re doing it up, dancing and laughing through every room, singing old songs and clinking glasses. I’m betting there’s even a little cuddling under that last piece of mistletoe they saved just for this night. I’m sure they’re looking forward to having the tiniest bit of their real lives back — they won’t get too much of a return to normalcy, but that smidgen will surely feel like heaven.

Just about every day since Mr. My President was elected, I have said a prayer for him. (Does this surprise you? You couldn’t be more surprised than I’ve been.) Every clear night, I’ve given up my wish on the first star for him. I’ve prayed and wished for his life, for his health and safety, for the health and safety of his family, for him to have the love and support of his rockstar lady-wife and his fabulous daughters, for him to find the way to be the president we voted for.

Eight years of wishes. Eight years of dreams. And now I have to learn to say goodbye.

It hasn’t been an eight-year love fest. There have been those times … those times when Mr. My President has annoyed me, angered me, disappointed me, driven me crazy. He has backed things I’ve wished he wouldn’t, and turned his back on things I know he should have picked up and carried. But he’s always been my president, and I have always loved him, will keep on loving him. I love his poise, his sense of humor, his intelligence, his graciousness, his calm, his speechifying, his love of children, his measured contemplation of issues, his friendship with Uncle Joe, his love for his family … and most especially, his love for Michelle. For eight years he has stood center stage showing us what Black love can look like, showing us strength and grace, swagger and humility. And now, in his last act of modeling classy behavior, he will hand over this country to a man he would surely rather read for filth. And he will do it with dignity. Of course.

Thanks, Obama.

(Surprise me tomorrow morning and change your mind about Leonard. It’s really the one thing I’ve most wanted you to do these last eight years. There’s still time.)

“Can you hear me now?”

Yeah, I think that might be what Mr. My President said to General McChrystal when he gave him the heave-ho.

I’m so over General McChrystal.  Maybe he’s a good commander in war-time.  But there are other good war-time commanders.  Like General Petraeus, for example.  Maybe McChrystal knows how to lead soldiers.  What he clearly doesn’t know is how to accept that, even if his Commander-in-Chief is someone he might not like having to take orders from, he still has to take orders from him and still has to treat him as his superior (aye, there’s the rub, eh Stanley?).  This nonsense with Rolling Stone isn’t McChrystal’s first exercise in “poor judgement” in terms of talking about the President.  He’s made a bit of a habit of criticizing Obama, and I’d been wondering what it would take to finally see the back of him.

Well, now I know.  I was afraid Obama would be conciliatory, would accept some lame mea culpa from McChrystal and move on.  I was pleased to come home from work tonight and see that things had gone the other way.  I guess even Mr. Calm-and-Collected has a tipping point.  Good.

And I like that Obama talked about McChrystal as if his career had just ended.  Who knows if that will be true, but I kind of dug it, like the President was rubbing McChrystal’s nose in it a little, like: “Hey, Stanley.  See me over here?  You may not like me or the way I do business, but I can fire your ass and make sure some important doors close in your face.  How d’you like them apples?”

Of course Mr. My President is much cooler, kinder and more tactful than I am, so I’m sure that wasn’t what he was doing at all.

I don’t know what any of this will mean in terms of the war in Afghanistan.  Foolishly, I had thought we’d already be seeing the end of our involvement there.  Clearly not.  I don’t know anything about waging a war, but General Petraeus does seem to know how to do his job and is liked and respected by all sorts of people who can’t agree on much of anything else, so that’s promising.  And maybe in the long run, we’ll all look back and wish McChrystal had been allowed to keep running the ship.

But not me.

He needed to go.  I am done trying to pretend to have patience with these people who think they don’t need to show any respect to Mr. My President.  You don’t like the man.  Get. over. it.  Get the fuck over it.  The man is the leader of our country and you need to give him the respect his office demands.  End of story.  You spent eight years genuflecting before a dangerous moron.  You can’t bite your tongue during an interview?  Get. over. it.

And Stanley?  Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

You can’t hear me …

… but right now I’m speaking with a Negro dialect.  Because I want to have one.

Right.  Just one of the many things that have served to piss me off in the last few weeks, just one of the things that have managed to silence me almost completely.  I still can’t write about some of those things, don’t know if I’ll ever figure out words for some of those things.  But I can definitely say a few things about Negro-ness.

Because it’s not just Harry Reid, you know.  The 2010 Census started this week, folks way up in Alaska somewhere got to see the new census form that has taken an interesting, troubling and misguided step into the past by returning “Negro” to the list of choices for “Race.”

The Census Bureau says that “Negro” was added back to the form as a ‘term of inclusion.’  “Many older African-Americans identified themselves that way, and many still do,” said Jack Martin, a spokesman for the Census Bureau.

Yeah.  My grandmother was about a hundred years old when she died in 2003.  And certainly there were times when I heard her use the word Negro … but not as a way to seriously, respectfully refer to herself or any other black person.   I’ve heard lots of people use the word.  As a mocking endearment, as a joke, as an indication that someone is way behind the times, as an insult.

But it’s clearly too much to expect the census folks to figure this one out.  Especially when we’ve got Harry Reid with his Negro-dialect-can-he-really-be-so-stupid-to-have-said-that bullshit.


For the last two weeks I’ve had to hear about what a failure Obama’s presidency has been. His whole presidency. Apparently.  At nine months, the news told me what his first year had been like. At a year, I’m being slapped in the face with the failure of an entire four-year term.

In the lead-up to the State of the Union address, the political analysts kept saying we’d need to hear a “conciliatory tone” from Obama, that he’d really need to extend an olive branch across the aisle.  I’m sorry, but what does he have to be conciliatory about?  Oh, right, Scott Brown got elected (don’t get me started) and that means the president’s been smacked down, shown the writing on the wall, brought low.

Because that’s what this is about, isn’t it?  Mr. My Uppity President has (finally!) been put in his place.

I haven’t done the research, so I’m open to having someone else point me to the source material that refutes what I’m about to say, but I don’t recall ever hearing this kind of scolding language used with presidents past.  Even when our last president was at his lowest, no one was telling him he’d gotten too big for his britches and would have to make nice with his betters.  No one talked about him with the kind of angry-parent-to-a-grown-acting-child voice I hear being used now.

I was happy not to hear the demanded “conciliatory tone” in Wednesday’s speech, was happy to hear a lot of what Mr. My President had to say, happy to see some members of the GOP act like grown folks and clap for things that maybe not every single one of their constituents would have wanted them to clap for.

And then there was Justice Alito’s frowning head-shake and his mouthed “Not true,” during the speech.

I don’t care whether or not Samuel Alito agrees with things the president says.  What I care very much about is his Joe Wilson impersonation, about the Joe Wilson Effect that seems to be blossoming all over the place.  The level of disrespect that is shown to this president stuns and saddens me … even as I know I am being naive to be stunned and saddened.  Harry Reid was right about Obama being a viable candidate because of his light skin and his speech, but no matter how light his skin, the President is still a black man.  No matter how non-Negro his “dialect,” he is still a black man.  And in this country that still means things it has meant for centuries.  And one of the ways that is playing out is in this unashamedly rude, disrespectful, condescending, insulting talk and behavior from all sides.

And one of the ways it plays out reminds me of growing up in that small town in northern New York, where my family and the other family were the only black families in town and everyone felt the need to tell me and tell me and tell me just how much they didn’t see me as a black person, how I was the same as a white person in their eyes.  Who were they trying to convince?  Surely not me.  Today, we keep hearing that our nation is suddenly, magically, “post racial.”  As if such a thing were even desireable, let alone possible.  Chris Matthews bumbled himself into a version of that right after the State of the Union by saying (and saying and saying) that he actually forgot the president was black.  Because, you see, the speech was so good it enabled Matthews to forget he was listening to a black man … because a black man shouldn’t be able to give a speech like that. 

Good thing Obama didn’t want to have his Negro dialect on display Wednesday.

What’d you get done in the last 14 1/3 weeks?

Author’s note: I’m cleaning house today and found this post lying around in my “Draft” folder.  It’s from April 30th, so it’s the 14 1/3 weeks before April 30th that this post refers to.  Not sure why I never hit “Publish” when this is pretty much whole and says what I wanted to say.  WordPress tells me it was last edited at 11:49pm, so did I fall asleep and just forget about it?  Weird.  In any case, step into my time machine and go back six months to see what I was thinking on a Thursday night in April …

My students and I talked about this last night, about how much we thought we could accomplish in a few months … about how much of that stuff would have real import, about how much might have a positive impact on anyone other than ourselves.  We had an interesting list as our brainstorming continued:

  • get a job
  • unpack in my new apartment
  • do community service
  • get together with other people to work on some big project
  • do a lot of reading
  • write a lot of essays
  • start to learn something new
  • maybe watch the news more
  • travel

We talked about it for a while.  Fourteen and a third weeks.  Fourteen and a third weeks.  They had some wacky, not-quite-reality-based ideas, too, but they kept cycling back around to getting stuff done in their houses or with their families and friends.

And then I asked: “About how many days is 14 1/3 weeks?”  (And, after the mad scramble to do some math …)

“It’s like 100 days.”

“A hundred days?  I heard something about that on TV.”

“Why, what’s 100 days?”

“Isn’t it something about the president?”

And there we were.  One hundred days.  About three and a half months.

I know the first 100 days is supposed to be a big deal, supposed to tell us what a new administration is going to be like, tell us whether we made the right or wrong choice at the polls months earlier … but can it ever actually to any of that?  It is, after all, only three and a half months.  What is the real point of putting this kind of pressure on our politicians?  Are we really so hungry for instant gratification that we can’t sit back and give our pols half a minute to get things moving?  At the same time, I understand wanting to see some movement in the first couple of months, but this still feels like an empty milestone.

So, what’d you get done in the last 14 and 1/3 weeks?

Remember that wishbone I was choking on?

I just can’t seem to get it out of my throat, you know?  After my angry rant about The New York Times’  shocking discovery of Michelle Obama’s white ancestry, I thought I’d be able to shut up a bit, at least for a few minutes.  As if.  I was over at Michelle Obama Watch and saw this little bit of sunshine.*

First, let me just say that Megan Smolenyak is riding this train as far as she can, isn’t she?  Who is it that can help her understand that what she’s done isn’t interesting or cool?  Who is it that can help her see that her drive to uncover this ‘useful history lesson’ shows her lack of understanding about or sensitivity toward black people in this country more than it tells us anything about MO?  Who is it that can make her sit down and keep her enthusiastic mouth shut?

And then there’s Debbie Shields.  I can’t fault her for having a little frisson of excitement to discover that she’s related to MO.  But I’d expect to see that excitement die down as the reality of how she’s related to Mrs. My First Lady sinks in.  I’d expect her to have half a brain and not say something as unbelievable as: “I think it’s great. I would like to sit down and talk with her and share memories,  share photographs, stories.”

Share memories?  Share stories?  What kinds of memories and stories might those be?  Maybe they could talk about rape, about exploitation and white privilege?  Oh, good times!  I sure hope MO invites her over for tea and cucumber sandwiches real soon.  Maybe Shields should take a tip from her 17-year-old son.  If you click over to the Inside Edition story, you get to see a photo of Debbie and Brandon.  The caption claims that both are excited about the discovery of this familial link with the First Family, but Brandon’s face tells a very different story.

Can we let this go already?

No.  Let’s not.  Better than letting it go, let’s take reparations to a whole different place.  Whenever I hear white people argue against reparations, they say things like, “I didn’t enslave anyone.  I’m not responsible for what happened all those years ago.”  They talk about how there’s no way to assign blame, to determine who’s responsible.  Now, nevermind that individual responsibility has never been the issue when we as a country have paid reparations in the past.  And nevermind the issue of benefitting from the fact of the slave trade, benefitting from a culture that gave privilege to one group and steadfastly withheld it from another.  Nevermind all that.

Inspired by Smolenyak and the reporters at the Times, I think African Americans all over the country should personalize their reparations quests.  Yes, we’ll have to do a lot of homework searching back through our family histories to find the rapists and slaveowners in our pasts, but once we do … Well, let’s go look them up — historical records in hand — and ask for a little payback.

I need to get to work, find the Welsh rapist bastard responsible for my father’s family having this last name, and put in for generations of back alimony and child support.  And then I can start on my mother’s side of the family …


* Sadly the video has disappeared.  Maybe Debbie Shields finally figured herself out and was embarrassed to have it up.  But there’s a description of the piece on HuffPo.