Back in February I went downstairs in my apartment building to wash clothes. Often it’s pretty crowded when I decide to wash (when all of the working crowd is home) but on that day it was one of those fortunate situations where I had my choice of machines.
As I waited for my last cycle of clothes to finish, I noticed an older gentleman of color seated in the bench closest to the door. He looked to be closing in on 75 or so and upon first glance struck me as if he might be somewhat friendly. And he was.
”Hello, young man.”
”It’s pretty empty down here today,” he remarked.
“Yeah, I’m trying to get my clothes done so that I can go upstairs to see the rest of the returns.”
“Yeah – from the primaries. This is Hillary’s home state, but they say there’s a lot of support of Senator Obama.”
“Oh-bam-uh? Is that that Black guy?”
“Yes, Senator Obama is the junior Senator from Illinois.”
“I don’t know why people think that guy can ever win,” he declared.
“Well, Senator Obama won the caucuses in Iowa. He’s got a solid backing from many key Democrats and more support rumored to be on the way.”
“Young fella – I know what you are saying. But trust me – these eyes have seen things and there ain’t no way that he’s gonna ever get to be no president.”
“I don’t know. I have a feeling that his campaign comes at a time when the country is looking for a fresh new direction. Senator Obama is getting a huge amount of support, not only from his constituency here in the States, but abroad as well. People aren’t too keen on Americans these days and it might help that his backgrou…”
“Listen, I hear all-a what you saying. But this country is not gonna let that happen. It just ain’t. I’ve heard him speak on the TV and Bar.. O-bah…what’s his name?”
“Obama. Barack Obama.”
“Yeah, Obama. Well, he speaks like he has sense and he sounds good and all, but it’s gonna take more than that to get even close to the White House.”
“Well, I understand how you feel given the climate in the country – particularly in some areas where people who look like you and I don’t live. People just get an image projected on television and draw this conclusion. But I work around a lot of people of many different races. Particularly in New York and New Jersey, it just isn’t quite the way you might think anymore. The generations have grown up around people of color now. I think most people realize that there are good and bad people in every nationality.”
“Yes, but what does that have to do with him being elected to the White House?”
“Well it means that attitudes are changing – people are a bit more open to good leadership regardless of race or gender.”
“Listen – back when I was still working… we used to go to a bar after work. It was me and this guy from my job – White fella. While we were in this bar, I went to sit down and this other white guy there said the seat was taken. So we went to sit somewhere else. And when they brought us the drinks, they didn’t look right. So I saw the guy at the bar watching us – waiting for us to take a drink. So we exchanged some words and when I went to complain to the guy who ran the bar, he told me, ‘If you don’t like it, you can get out’. And I told him you don’t have to worry about me coming back here again.”
“Wow. That’s unfortunate. I got stopped one time when I was driving to Jersey City through Bayonne. This officer pulled me over and asked me where I was going and why I was in that neighborhood and who I was there to see. It was upsetting. But don’t you think we can’t let things like that stop us from believing police officers or white bar owners aren’t all racist anymore than you and I aren’t like the guys on Cops who run around with no shirt on, hiding under kiddie pools running from the police?”
“Yeah, but it’s gonna be a long long time before anything that big happens. You talking about President of the U-nited States. I’ve been around here awhile. I know we ain’t gonna see that.”
“Well, I definitely respect your struggle and what you’ve been through. Lord knows you’ve probably seen more than me. But I believe in hope and in the fact that way things were isn’t how they will always be.”
“I hear you, young fella, but I still don’t b’lieve he gonna win.”
“Well, I guess it won’t be too long until November. We’ll find out.”
…and nine months later, if I could see you today, fine sir… I hope you would feel as elated as I do that your doubt wasn’t shared by many.
As I sit with eyes that are way too fatigued from unexpected tears, today all things truly are possible.