My formative middle and junior high school years were woven together against the backdrop of several USAF communities in the United Kingdom. Quite simply, I loved it there. I missed it after we left, but it wasn't all moon pies and snickerdoodles.
Occasionally the British youth would pass the time by shouting insults out of cars as they passed. Or spray painting "YANKS GO HOME!" on the sides of our houses. Or throwing pebbles at our windows at night and then calling us wankers as they ran off into the dark. I remember loving it there, but it was not my home. It was impossible not to notice a cultural us-versus-them undercurrent. I was young, but I still remember missing my country, my America.
She and I were reunited again in 1990, at the start of my sophomore year of high school. My Dad received his relocations orders and our new home would be in South Georgia. I didn't realize it at the time but I was about to move from one foreign country to another. I had constructed an America in my mind that the real America had no inclination of honoring. This new America, this real America, was going to be unsophisticated, Christian, and racist.
My new town had two public schools. The inner city crowd went to one. The country folk went to the other. The school I attended was approximately 80% black. In this environment white kids did not verbally or physically assault black kids. It was the other way around. For the most part I stayed out of trouble, but it did give me a front row seat to some of America's more pronounced blemishes.
Our school had a giant white dome over the gymnasium which was prevalent regardless of where you stood outside. One morning, as I approached the school, I realized that someone had vandalized this dome the preceding night. Someone with very poor orthography and/or a severe falling out with Nigerians. In large black letters I read, "F*CK ALL NIGERS."
I remember stopping, staring, and then thinking, "This is not my America."
The real America, it would seem, had its own us-versus-them undercurrent. My wife, who went to the country school, has told me similar stories. She recalls one incident where a white girl was harassed in the hallway by a couple of black guys. The next day her father was arrested for patrolling the same halls, during the same time, with his shotgun. Spewing and shouting that he was going to "Kill him some niggers." She also recalls, as if perfectly scripted from a movie, a high school football game where a cross, which had been secretly positioned outside the stadium in a field past one of the goal posts, was set ablaze to the surprise of the students, faculty, and spectators.
I think most of us can agree that today's presidential inauguration shouldn't be a big deal. Our new president went to Columbia and Harvard. He was an attorney, a constitutional law professor and a U.S. senator. It shouldn't be a big deal that this man was elected president.
But it is.
It is because he is black. Because of the sorts of things I know to have happened in the early 1990s, when President-elect Obama was 29 years old and graduating from Harvard. It doesn't seem that far away to me, really. The teenagers who grew up with me in these environments are, naturally, my age, in their early thirties. These are voters. And maybe it is because of, or in spite of, these environments that today we swear in the first black president of our country.
I didn't vote for President-elect Obama and neither did I vote against him. I fully intend on holding him accountable for the content of his character over the color of his skin, like I have with President's past. But as I think back now on the day of the inauguration, I can not help but appreciate my lady, America, for the woman she is becoming right before my eyes.
UPDATE 2/1/2010: I chose to censor my own post and remove the expletives.