MY PATERNAL and maternal grandparents, along with my mother, all died before Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama got the nomination. The following is an open letter to them and their generation, but is especially directed toward my mother’s mother, Grandma DeVeaux:
I wish y’all had stuck around to see this little bit of history. Like man walking on the moon, none of us ever thought we’d see one of us get a major party nomination.
As you know, I’d hoped Colin Powell or Jesse Jackson had been the one to do it, but so long as someone finally did, I guess that’s what is important.
Grandma DeVeaux, we spent the whole of my life discussing politics, social issues and the evolving peril and promise of being black in America. You were a quiet, loving woman who embodied the Truman school of Democrats: plain talk and traditional values.
While you didn’t applaud when I stopped being an Independent to become a Republican during Bush Senior’s administration, you at least understood that our community can’t be one party only in a two-party political system.
You hung in there long enough to at least know who Barack Obama was and would tease me about who I would support. You knew I wasn’t a straight party line voter but always hinted that I’d vote for McCain.
As a retired public educator, I know you appreciated Obama’s law degree, his spouse and his promise of change. You always told me Democrats stood up for the little man — the working man whose work seems to earn him less and less in today’s economy.
Ain’t it funny how things work out. Who would have thought the first black presidential nominee would have a white mother, an African name and a rap like a latter-day Sidney Pointer?
As Georgians, we remember the historic gubernatorial run of civil rights/political veteran Andrew Young with one blunt televised anecdote provided by a rural white male voter who drawled, “He’s a good man, but I can’t vote for him.” We both concluded that from a diehard racist that’s probably as good as it gets.
Fast forward to a white male voter in his 20s who, during this year’s Democratic primary, flatly said on CNN, “ I know it’s not politically correct, but I can’t vote for a Negro.” You were pretty sick at the time, but I was sick enough for both us. His racism was a given, but the use of the really retro term “Negro” blew me away!
As a black Southerner of Jim Crow vintage, you downloaded a lifelong mine detector on matters of race into my head that is used to this day. You never preached hatred, but you did advise caution, which my activism often threw to the wind. I never forgot the hardwon lessons you shared, and now I suppose I’ll be the final representative from our small family to address this historic moment at our polling place.
You liked Obama, and there is alot there to like: Intellect, urbanity (unlike Dubya’s daily dicing of the English language), charisma, etc. I understood then and now why you immediately embraced him. (I promise not to tell anyone about your secret crush on General Colin Powell, whom you forgave for being a Republican, just like you did me.)
You always were a sweetheart.
You left me last summer while I was running for office, and as such put politics and life itself into yet another dimension. As you know, I ran on behalf our black inner city because it is always talked about, but never talked to.
Obama talks about forgotten Americans while my commentary was (and is) targeted to forgotten Savannahians who’ve been written off as statistics for incarceration, death, unemployment or underemployment.
Honestly, as you knew only too well from our discussions, I don’t feel the euphoria gripping so many around me. While walking downtown to write this article, an earnest white man approached wearing an Obama button and wielding a clipboard. Before he could ask he was informed that I’ve been registered since 17 1/2 and was aware of the early voting option.
Gotta give Obama’s campaign credit, I’ve seen his people everywhere — including on Bull Street one afternoon registering homeless black men.
Change is in the air, so they say, but my potential optimism is tempered by bitter experience. As black voters, Grandma, we’ve had sweet talkers come before our community promising a place at the table for the rest of us.
After they win, reservations become limited to a handful of connected middle class blacks (mostly Democrats) who care less about the inner city than their stereotyped white Republican counterparts.
I’m not accusing Obama of being other than what he says. I’m just saying after so many black politicians who have sold out, our candidates get the same objective view given to any contender. Life has taught me well that every “brother” isn’t a brother, and racial solidarity is used by opportunists all the time to get over on black voters.
One the upside, I remember how you’d pull yourself up on aching knees, hand over your heart when the national anthem would be played on TV or the radio.
I remember your recollections of attending South Carolina State University when Pearl Harbor was bombed, and of domestic warfare witnessed firsthand when the local school system integrated.
Despite how badly this state and nation treated you, you believed in both with a sincerity that was breathtaking. My skepticism made a good counterbalance for your unabashed patriotism.
You were a good Christian whose daily example of grace in action ironically led your grandson to strive to seek the same as a Muslim and student of world religions.
You were a yellow dog Democrat whose support of black people, education and the poor led me to fight for these same causes as a Republican-leaning Libertarian.
Grandma, I’ll make a deal with you. If I vote for Barack Obama, it’ll be for the same reason I voted the first time for Savannah’s second black mayor: To make you happy.Nadra Enzi is a writer and urban security consultant.