Monday, February 25, 2008

Denise Oliver-Valez writes ...


Note: At Talking Points Memo, Denise Oliver-Valez wrote the following essay, which she has graciously given me permission to reprint here:

I'm 60 years old, and "black". I was born in the north, in the Brooklyn Jewish Hospital, and lived in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood. My grandmother, (Dad's mom) who helped raise me, was a "white" woman from Kansas.

My Dad was a Tuskegee Airman in WWII - and was beaten to a pulp by racists when he got off a bus to go to the training field with an army buddy who "looked black" (my dad was fair with blue eyes).

By the time I was 5 we moved south - where my dad was teaching at a "black" university in a racially segregated town, where I couldn't enter a store to buy an ice cream cone. At age 6 we moved to the campus of a "white" school in PA - where I was asked in all seriousness if my best friend (the only Jewish girl in town) had horns and a tail. By the time I was 9 and back in the south, I watched my dad and some other young professor’s hold off cross-burning KKK'ers with shotguns.

By age 11 I was bussed to a school which had race riots because kids who looked like me were going to the school for the first time. This was in Queens, in NY.

By age 13 I was informed by my school guidance counselor that if I tried to apply for a special High School in NYC (taking off a day for auditions) I would get detention and a blue referral card. "White" kids were allowed the day off. I applied anyway - and was accepted to the High School of Music and Arts.

By age 16 I was engaged in the civil rights movement and in later years lost close friends, and two partners, who died because someone didn't like their skin color, sexual orientation, politics, or religion.

I am now 60. And for the first time in my life I am REALLY proud of my country. I wish my grandmother was alive to see this. She had to flee Kansas to marry my grandfather in 1915 because "inter-racial" marriage was illegal. I wish my dad and mom were alive to see this. They had hopes that Colin Powell would/could have run for President - but his wife, wisely held him back. It was not the right time.

Most of my ancestors have been in this country since the 1600's. I am descended from Revolutionary War heroes, Civil War Heroes, and people who were enslaved.

I am an American. I defy anyone to question my "patriotism". On the backs of my ancestors - black, white and indigenous, this country was built.

I see my students at the University excited to be engaged in the political process for the first time. They make me proud. 95% support Obama, and I teach at a predominantly "white" school. I see a coalition broader than the one I was a part of in the sixties forming before my eyes. That makes me proud.

I see Michelle Obama and his sister Maya Soetoro-Ng, and they make me proud.

As an anthropologist, I realize that "race" is a social construct, but if you think racism isn't alive and well you are living in a bubble.

If you think that Barak Obama hasn't felt racisms sting because of his upbringing, you are naive.

But - he's not demoralized nor has he internalized crippling self-hate. He has hope and a vision, and is being supported by a broad base of people that I thought I'd never live to see come together, here in MY country. That's good enough for me.

And to honor his wife Michelle, in response to some of the positions expressed here (thankfully the minority ones) I will now send another donation to help Barak Obama's campaign.

And be REALLY proud to see her as First Lady.

3 comments:

Develez said...

Thank you Douglas for printing my thoughts. I am enjoying browsing here and reading yours.

Maybe one day I will figure all of this out and have a blog too. Till then I'm enjoying learning how to speak out on the web.

Denise Oliver-Velez

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