Breathing After Victory

The joke’s on me.  I told a few people that if the GOP won, I’d spend the next few days mourning in my house, unable to get out of my pajamas.  Well, the fat lady sang loudly and long last night, and Barack Obama is our next President, and I’m still sitting in my house, wearing my pajamas. 


It doesn’t have anything to do with lupus.  I didn’t suddenly break out in a worsened flare because of emotional stress.  Just for the record, I don’t think I’ve ever seen my own flares precipitated in that particular manner.  After all, a year after I was diagnosed my marriage fell apart, and that didn’t kill me. 


I feel a peculiar mental and emotional fatigue.  I was overjoyed when Obama’s victory was announced last night, and I listened to his speech with a huge grin on my face.  I didn’t cry, however, or jump up and down, or scream with elation.  It just wasn’t there.  I think part of it was the strain of containing my skepticism and paranoia for long enough to allow hope and other positive emotions to function.  I am a naturally positive, optimistic person, but constant beating back will suppress even the most nurturing emotions. 


I think the remainder of the fatigue was from trying to be “good”.  There were some funny moments at knitting group last week when I announced to everyone that I was having a hard time being “good”, that my goodness had just run out and I was trying to stay out of trouble until the election.  I think most African Americans in the U.S. have felt the burden of trying to portray the kind of image that we individually thought would help get Obama elected.  I think all of us stood a little taller, refrained from slapping someone who needed it, cussed a little less, and in general tried to be better citizens.  None of us wanted to be the one that convinced  two or 25 million white people to change their votes to the whiter, more familiar-looking candidate. 


In the process of being “good”, I bit my tongue about Reverend Wright.  Yes, I understood quite well what he was saying, even in his most reviled clips.  It was familiar, and I had seen it before in church, and I doubt any black person in this country had much objection to it.  You see, when your people are here because they were dragged to this country in chains, in unbelievably inhuman conditions, to be slaves…when your people were released from slavery after a bloody war that they fought in themselves, and experienced a taste of more equal treatment and filled the state and federal governing bodies with willing, intelligent public servants…when your people were thrust back into legal slavery by Jim Crow laws that restricted their rights at every turn…when your people were subjected to lynching and slaughter in large numbers while law enforcement and legislative governments looked away or sometimees participated…when your people struggled through the 20th century, fighting for their rights at every turn, seeing their most revered, inspirational, peaceful leaders cut down in the midst of their work…when your people have reached the 21st century only to see continued inequities in education, housing, salaries, and every measure of success…

…when THIS is your people’s history, there must be a place to cry out and protest and question, and that place for African Americans has been the church.  African American pastors deal weekly with the full spectrum of our social and emotional and physical woes, and they give voice to our weeping, express our distress and translate our wailing into beseeching to the Lord, asking for explanation, comfort, relief, a little breathing room in a hostile environment.  It isn’t subversive to state the truth.  America has always been about freedom of speech, and nowhere can you hear more truth about the real tragedies of peoples’ lives than in our churches.  The truth is that America has rarely treated us well.  Even now, unintentional though it may be, our government is a reflection of what the majority needs and wants and what the majority will allow us to have.  Drop a microphone into any African American church on the Sabbath, and you may hear things that make you uncomfortable. 


But you have to remember, the church is an outlet, a pressure valve.  It teaches, it relieves, it shapes us to go back into the world and perform as capable citizens.  It gives us the knowledge that we have been heard, that our complaints are legitimate and shared, and that we can survive whatever the week’s hardships have been.  It is not a site for planning retribution.  There are no automatic weapons in the basement.  And because it renews our hope, we can come out and stand with other Americans and recognize that there is good in unifying the country.  We can see that gradually the odds are changing and the wind is shifting, so that we have it better than our grandparents and our children will have it better than us.


I am taking deep breaths, blowing out the anxiety and cynicism that had me tied in knots before the election.  Yesterday morning a white friend sent me a text message saying she felt smug.  I said it was not time for smugness.  I saw in her early assumptions about victory ignorance of what it is like to be Black in America.  You live every day hoping for the best, but prepared to be smacked down at every turn.  You know that you may hear the derogatory remark, have the door closed in your face, have the rules change when it’s your turn, so you don’t anticipate winning until it’s written in stone.  Now, the day after, I am breathing.  Now, I believe it.  Now, I know we did it. 





4 Responses

  1. Hallelujah, indeed! You are one eloquent lady, dear Essie. I did weep on Election Eve. It’s good that you are finally able to to breathe and to rejoice!

  2. I heard a new expression today – the “Obama Generation” – makes a boomer baby jealous.

  3. Jimmygirl the Obama Generations sounds great, much better than our present names of Generations X and Y!

    Ms. Essie, thank you for writing this, I was that night and just sat there, but everyday since I have had so many emotions. Thank you for saying so . . . –N. Fury–

  4. You made some good points here. Part of the entire problem was people’s ignorance of what is typical in a black church. Or even church in general, because I’ve been in plenty of white churches that spoke of God judging America for perceived or real sins. In fact Christian bookstores across the country carry books that speak in those terms.

    But we live in a world where people are unfamiliar now with religious traditions, and certainly are clueless as to what goes on in a black church, or even, the breadth of services that such a church might perform (running a school, feeding poor, helping new moms, building low income housing, afterschool programs, clinics, loans and credit unions, etc).

    People like to latch onto things out of context and take a name or phrase, as though repetition is somehow revealing of truth. Anything to avoid thinking beyond the confines of their own fixed notions.

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