The election was not about race.
On November 5, 2008 – the day after the 56th presidential election in which Barack Hussein Obama was elected the first African American (or black or, for the nit-picky, biracial) Commander-In-Chief of the United States of America, I walked into my place of employment expecting the usual syrupy, “Good morning, darling,” from the nice grandmotherly receptionist. Instead, she barely looked up as I passed her desk. She did not speak to me. I shrugged it off, thinking she may be having a bad morning. Little did I know at the time that her “bad morning” would continue with me and select others for the remainder of the work week.
I walked to my desk expecting to be greeted with the usual office chatter, but there was none. Only the humming of office equipment and distant chimes of incoming calls could be heard. When I made it to my desk, I asked a co-worker what was wrong. He looked behind him at our other co-workers who pretended not to hear my question, their attentions firmly set upon their computer monitors. He then rolled his chair close to me and whispered so softly I could barely hear him, “What do you think?” It took a second for it to register. I then chuckled at his insinuation and shook my head no. He nodded yes and slowly rolled back to his cubicle. I turned around and began preparing for my day. He is being paranoid, I thought. The atmosphere in this place is reminiscent of a funeral. The heaviness in the air couldn’t only be the reaction to the election. Obama was President-elect; he hadn’t even taken the Oath of Office yet. Besides, the election was not about race. It was about being progressive, righting the wrongs of old policies and mindsets so America could regain and retain its position as the leader in an ever-changing world.
Later that morning, a female supervisor to whom I did not report asked me to join her in her office. Another lady from her team followed us. She made sure the office door was shut then offered us a seat. She looked at us, beaming.
“I am so happy about last night,” she said, finally. I noticed she, too, was whispering.
I returned her smile but said nothing. My co-worker, however, expressed similar sentiments.
“We can’t show it, though,” the supervisor continued, “because they are mad as hell. We have to stay neutral, OK?” “They” were the Caucasian majority in the office.
I remained silent. The co-worker next to me offered her opinion which matched the supervisor’s. We left her office a few minutes later, smiles erased, pretending we were discussing other matters.
I walked back to my desk, somewhat ashamed. That was the type of attitude the election was supposed to end, the old “Us” versus “Them”. How could she automatically assume another group was enraged over an election that was decided by the popular vote? An election by popular vote meant “they” had voted for Obama, too. The supervisor’s statements, to me, reeked of reverse racism. We needed to get beyond those attitudes.
The election was not about race.
I noticed I had voice mail when I returned to my desk. A client was having an on-going issue with receiving his daily reports. It was a programming issue that I, as level one support, could not resolve. I facilitated a conference call with the client and the level 2 support – the man who actually developed the program. Together we accessed the client’s computer via remote. The client and the level 2 associate had met and were on friendly terms. The client and I were also friendly but had never met. The conversation turned to the election.
“What do you think about last night?” the client asked Level 2.
It was apparent to me that Level 2 did not want to discuss the election given the time he took to craft his response. “I think the decision was made and we have to live with it,” he said.
The client’s level of perception, however, was limited because he continued. “I don’t have to live with anything. I did not and would not vote for him. I’m so pissed right now.”
Level 2 laughed nervously, “Well, now, I think we should give him a chance…”
“I’m not giving him anything,” the client interrupted then paused for a beat. “You know, they say his role model is Abraham Lincoln. What do Lincoln, Kennedy and Obama have in common?”
I am not at all embarrassed to say that Level 2, being an older gentleman (I know because we had met on several occasions), was way sharper than me. While I seriously pondered the question, he attempted to steer the conversation back to the programming issue the client was having.
The client was having none of it. “Come on, what do they have in common?”
Level 2 sighed. “I don’t know. What do they have in common?”
“Nothing… yet,” the client said and laughed as if it were the funniest thing he’d heard in a long, long time.
Level 2 chose not to respond. Instead of attempting, he forcefully steered the conversation back to the reporting issue. He told the client he would need to do some research and would call him with a resolution in a few minutes. The call ended. I hung up the phone, disappointed as my opinion of the client was lowered.
My desk phone rang about ten minutes later.
“Hey, we got off the phone before I could tell you how much I appreciate you getting the programmer involved in resolving this mess with the reports,” the client said.
“No problem, that’s my job. Hopefully, this time we’ll get it resolved instead of patched,” I replied, my tone dry on purpose hoping the call would end quickly.
“No, no. I really want you to know that I appreciate you and all that you do. You have been excellent and I truly enjoy working with you,” he said.
“Thank you. You’re too kind.”
“No, I’m not just being kind, I mean it. I like you and I like working with you.”
“Well, thank you again. I appreciate that.” I then asked, “Has the programmer contacted you yet?”
“Ah, um, yeah and everything is resolved now, don’t worry about that. I just wanted you know that I think you are an asset to your company and that I appreciate all that you do for me. I’ll let you get back to work. I’m sure you have other clients you need to check on. Talk to you later.”
That’s when I conceded the election was more about race that I wanted to admit. And that racism is so embedded in American society it will take a lot more than an election to erase it. To put it bluntly, it ain’t going away anytime soon.
Yes, there are white people who are mad as hell because a black family has occupied the White House for the past four years. Anybody would be better than Obama, they think, so they’re voting for Romney despite not having a clear understanding of how he will turn the economy around. As his running mate, Paul Ryan, stated, the math would take too long.
Yes, there are black people who don’t give a damn about the current administration. An inordinate number of black people are so used to hard times that the economy is not and probably will never be a major concern for them because they’ve never been a part of it. All they care about is the president is black and they’re voting for four more years. Of whatever. As long as the black man stays in office.
And, yes, there are people who are concerned about America – its present and its future – and, if they vote, will do so based upon that concern and not by a candidate’s posturing. They, unfortunately, are the minority.
I, too, am a minority, not because I am a black woman but because I reject the labels Democrat and Republican, conservative and liberal. I am tired of both parties automatically assuming they either do or don’t have my vote. I am tired of millionaire politicians souring our political process into sparring matches rather than honestly discussing plausible resolutions to our issues. I am tired of off-hand remarks garnering more attention than the topic being debated. I am tired of pundits rating the candidates’ debate performances rather than their platforms. I don’t think the outfits the candidates’ spouses wear deserve news coverage.
#Winning (at any and all costs) has become so valued in American society that we have come to expect and accept deception and lies as a normal part of the political process. No one wins when nearly half the population is struggling. No one wins when lines in food pantries are made up of people who work full time jobs but don’t make enough money to adequately feed their families. No one wins when companies lay off workers, cutting off paychecks and benefits to thousands, while executives still pocket hefty bonuses.
If you were unable or unwilling to take advantage of early voting, please vote this Tuesday, November 6. Don’t vote according to your emotions but according to your common sense. Don’t vote according to your political affiliation or race or sexual orientation, but according to the privilege of being an American citizen and wanting the best leadership for our country. Re-elect President Obama or show him the door. Whoever is elected won’t #win anything; but will inherit an awesome and tremendous responsibility and burden. The past twelve years have not been easy and the next four won’t be either. Don’t make it worse by being indifferent. This election really isn’t about race, although most have turned it into just that – a racial tug-of-war. This election, as all elections, is about America. Let’s stop being a house divided because a house divided cannot stand. If we continue this path of denial and apathy, outside forces will not bring down America. We will.