an open letter to mr. obama

Dear Senator Obama,

There are so many things I would like to discuss with you, about your policies which I agree with 90% of the time, about your integrity as you manage your campaign and as you face down one of the nastiest and most mismanaged opposing campaigns ever witnessed in history, about your loving family which sets such an encouraging example for American people, about the inspiration you have been to me in a time when I struggle to be proud of my country…  But I want to tell you a story, my story of how this campaign has touched my life.

It starts with a seven year old white girl riding the bus to school and a fight over a seat by the window.  That seven year old girl was me and I was fighting with an African American child.  As we argued, the words ‘whitey’ and ‘blacky’ were exchanged.  Later that day, the principal of my school entered my second grade class, called me to the front of the room, and spanked my bottom for using a racial slur.

I remember curling up on my bed later that day and crying hot tears, my heart aching.  I had been humiliated.  The other girl had tattled on me, and failing to mention her own racial slur, had gone unpunished.  I had worn an old pair of training underpants that day, and as my dress had been lifted for the spanking, my whole class had seen them.  But even that was not the cause of my tears.  What ripped my seven year old heart out was my disappointment in myself for saying something I didn’t mean, for allowing others to think I cared about something as silly as skin color, for being accused of racial bigotry.  As long as I live I will never forget the depths of that little girl’s pain.

Now I live in Pennsylvania, a state that has been getting much attention for our supposed biases.  I live in a decidedly middleclass and racially mixed town three miles from an indigent, largely African American urban environment.  Driving the three miles from my house to those city streets takes you past many million dollar homes, almost all of which are owned by white people.  We are a diverse, multi-cultural, dynamic point on this nation’s map and I think we qualify by anybody’s standards as Real America.

Although I haven’t allowed myself to dwell on it much in the past and certainly I’ve never talked about it, I face every single day what you referred to in this speech as the racial divide.  I witness black anger and white resentment when I shop at my favorite vegetable market, when I buy gas, when I walk through the food court of our mall, if only in facial expressions and body language.  Even with my African American friends, there is always a reserve, a diffidence, a guarded tension.  I applaud your courage to say that “race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now.”  I too think it’s time we looked it straight in its evil eye, and your campaign as well as your speech has allowed me to do just that. What I’ve been privileged to see fills me with hope.

For the last five weeks I’ve been volunteering at my local Obama campaign office.  I have canvassed the very streets I mention, and I have served as team leader for a phone bank two nights a week.  While volunteering I have worked side by side with white men and white women, black men and black women, poor people, rich people, Jewish people, Christian people, and even Republicans, and never once have I felt the bitter airs of racial divide stirring in our midst.

Last week I went to a GOTV meeting in a town hall that was packed so full people were standing shoulder to shoulder.  Every racial, religious, and socio-economic group in America was represented in that room.  The mood was joyful.  We shared a common goal and in it we were able to give each other the benefit of the doubt.  Throughout the speeches given by politicians and community organizers there was not one negative reference to the other side, and nothing but howls of excitement and hope and pride emanated from this crowd.

Every day I walk the streets of my town wearing an Obama button on my chest and every day people, many who look decidedly different from me, offer me smiles and high-fives and fist bumps, and it feels wonderful.  I know you have said in your speech that you don’t believe one campaign, one candidate, one election cycle can heal all racial wounds. I’m sure you’re right, but in my world it has been a much needed salve, a giant first step toward racial wellbeing.  You have given us a common cause to fight for, and simply by giving each other the benefit of the doubt – an incredibly empowering thing – we are fighting together as one, in peace. 

Imagine this country if we could find the right slogan, design the right button to pin on every American chest that would kindle in all of us a desire to stand shoulder to shoulder with the strength of our nation, with the future of our children – every one of them with no exception – as our common goal.  Imagine if we all found it in our hearts to give each other the benefit of the doubt.  Imagine if we all made the choice not just to move beyond this racial stalemate but to put down our weapons and walk off the battlefield together. 

In that image I can see perfection, Senator Obama, and I thank you for the glimpse.



add to kirtsy

25 Comments so far

  1. nora October 27th, 2008 12:56 pm

    wow meg thank you. Nora

  2. hanlie October 27th, 2008 1:41 pm

    Very touching post, Meg. The divisive nature of the McCain campaign is of deep concern to me, but I believe with you that the majority of Americans hope for a better, more unified future for all. Forget the “real” America, let’s concentrate on the “United States” of America!

  3. Clayjack October 27th, 2008 1:47 pm

    Sure it’s cheesy, but Sammy Hagar’s “Give to Live” has been rattling through my head the last few months. The Red Rocker has it figured out:

  4. Nutmeg October 27th, 2008 2:08 pm

    Love that song Clay. Just for the record: I want to make sure we make no assumptions about the Red Rocker.

  5. Kristin October 27th, 2008 2:22 pm

    This is really good.

    My comment is really not good.

    I seem to be struggling with words today.

    I think I’m gonna stick with “really good.”

    Wait. I’m going to upgrade.

    This is really great.

    See what happens when I read “really great” writing? I become an imbecile.


    Really great.

  6. nathan October 27th, 2008 3:29 pm

    you can’t really say such emotional idyllic laden things without being cheesy a little bit because we doubt it as we say/hear it, but when we really mean it, really mean it, it’s never cheesy.
    it’s the only thing that saved john lennon’s version. inside, in the middle, between the lines, he really meant it. even more than he said it.
    can we too?
    i want to design that button.
    or at least wear it.

  7. mad October 27th, 2008 3:53 pm

    Meg, Meg, Meg. If only the rest of the country was as thoughtful and enlightened and big hearted and committed and literate as you. Well, at least 51% of it. I hope we win.

  8. Aimee Greeblemonkey October 27th, 2008 4:27 pm

    Will you marry me?

  9. Nutmeg October 27th, 2008 4:52 pm

    No, Aimee because I need to marry Mad.

  10. anna see October 27th, 2008 9:48 pm

    This is beautiful. Wow.

  11. Natalie October 28th, 2008 12:44 am

    *contented sigh*

    That is all.

  12. Lisa Talerico October 28th, 2008 8:50 am

    I know I am not one of those smart, sharp blogger types who always seem to have the perfect, cheesy response to your writings. I am just a regular fan who is in tears at my desk and I’m not premenstrual, very post menstrual actually and am not having a mood swing, simply and deeply touched is what I am.

  13. The Domestic Goddess October 28th, 2008 12:11 pm

    That’s an awfully nice post you got there, pardner.

  14. audrey October 28th, 2008 5:08 pm

    That was an amazing post. I hope you don’t mind but I shared it with someone that is organizing Obama’s campaign here in SF. Maybe it will find it’s way to him. :)

  15. nathan October 28th, 2008 6:27 pm

    married alREADy.

  16. Dee October 28th, 2008 7:02 pm

    Meg. I never grew up a society where the colour of my skin – I am black – was a major issue and I am always spellbound by stories of persons who went through that from whatever perspective. Where I come from we have been ruled by black and white men and we had a woman Prime Minister too. It boggles the mind that the country which is regarded as the leader of the free world still has these issues. Change is coming though and a welcome one at that.

  17. Aimee Greeblemonkey October 28th, 2008 10:40 pm

    OK, Nathan, we can all marry each other. FINE.

  18. Erika October 29th, 2008 8:01 am

    Chills…CHILLS! Long live the fist bump.

  19. Aubrey October 29th, 2008 4:43 pm

    What a great letter. Well said.

  20. Dave October 31st, 2008 10:57 am

    I call bullshit: “for allowing others to think I cared about something as silly as skin color.” No seven year old thinks that way. At that age you are unable to see the larger world and worry about racism. This “bullshit” renders the rest of the post moot. Sorry, but you fail at authenticity.

    I am an Obama supporter and a great hater of the Republican Party.

  21. somebody who knows her October 31st, 2008 12:07 pm

    Dear Dave,

    I have to say two things – quotes from better people than you or me:

    “I pray that I may not judge a man, until I have walked a mile in his moccasins.” (Cherokee saying)

    “If you’ve got nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” (Thumper, your mother, and mine)

    - A friend

  22. Nutmeg November 1st, 2008 8:20 am

    Dave -

    I call bullshit: “No seven year old thinks that way.”

    You may be right about seven year olds who have not just had their backsides paddled in front of their whole class for making a racial comment. It gets you thinking. This bullshit renders your comment moot. Sorry, you fail at intelligence. And sensitivity. And manners. Thanks, Somebody.

  23. karey m. November 2nd, 2008 2:42 am

    i’ve made two girlies who were pretty spectacular at seven.

    so, dave? if you have a seven year old? raise your expectations. they get it.

    as for you, nutmeg? well done. i’m kirtsy-ing you. now.

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  25. Natalie November 3rd, 2008 7:54 pm

    Uh yeah, I was pretty aware of that sort of thing at seven as well. Kids are smarter than you give them credit for, Dave.