09 Oct

Congrats, Mr. Pres!

I’ll try to be as pc as possible and not make you uncomfortable. If I fail in that respect, do bear in mind that feelings of awkwardness and it’s cousin embarrassment are normal human emotions.

I first felt conscious of my skin colour as a business woman late in 2006. The store in a ritzy part of town served predominantly caucasian customers all of whom I got on with very well with no issues whatsoever. And then we had a black female customer who noticed that I and the only other sales assistant in the store happened to be black. She asked very loudly; “Is this business black owned?” To which I very gingerly replied; “yes it is”.  “Good, I’ll spread the word”, was her prompt response, again very loudly.

Another time a black guy came in and this time kindly waited till all the customers had left before offering his commiseration as I must be forced to hire only caucasian sales persons. This time the only other member of staff present was caucasian. He  asked what it was like being black in Buckhead. I replied that I had no complaints, I simply felt happy to be doing what I did. And on it went, lots of interviews about how affected I was by race relations in the metro area of Georgia, someone even went on to assure me that the only reason the store thrived was because of my English accent, which admittedly  gets noticeably heightened in a professional environment. Gradually my confidence began to wane. I started to consider the possibility that judgement on my ability to design beautiful rooms was made based on the color of my skin. Then I watched an Oprah Winfrey episode and carefully observed the way she was worshipped by her mostly caucasian audience. They laughed at her every joke, however silly. They were awash with a warm glow when she pointed at them to answer a question, after frantically waving their hands in eager anticipation that she  just might pick them. And when she made eye contact with them, the gesture was returned with adoring eyes and big smiles.

Then I saw Obama. He hadn’t formally announced his candidacy at the time but people were talking. The fact that there were people who even imagined this man running for presidency of the United States gave me a right to be myself, wherever I was. Obama was as cool as Denzel, very eloquent and I picked up this phrase from him- “they massaged the truth” said in reference to the information given out by the Bush administration concerning the Iraq war. If they could worship a black talk-show host and look at a black man as their potential president, then the sky was the limit for me.

I learned that it is far better not to have any prejudice in your heart, justified or not than to try to prove that your race suffers injustice. I heard a quote that says; ‘for every minute you’re angry you lose 60 seconds of happiness’. When President Obama ran his campaign, he chose to ignore all the bad press and lies that were being spun about him. Choosing instead to do as Dr Martin Luther King Jr said; ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can’.

Based on my observation of some Americans’ reaction to the US president and on the amount of racism that his presidency has exposed, I no longer discuss American politics. I refuse to agree or disagree that Obama is being treated unfairly. I once had an email from one of my suppliers in a southern state with a link to a video, where a Catholic priest pretty much called Obama the devil. She assumed that because she felt the way she did, all her customers felt that way too.

Today on my Facebook page I have a couple of wall-to-wall conversations angrily ranting about President Obama’s nobel prize win and saying that he didn’t deserve it. If you don’t support the man and we happen to be in each other’s company, I’ll be keeping my opinions to myself- just in case you wonder why I don’t answer your thinly veiled prejudiced questions. I’d rather use each of my 60 seconds wisely. However If you do support him, I will be happy to hear from you but please keep it short and simple. I have some life goals to reach. Obama is where he is because he worked hard. I need to be where I want to be too, so I have work to do. Thank you for reading.