Tuesday, January 20, 2009
We have heard so much over the past few months about the first African American President and the hope and inspiration that many people associate with him. As a white middle-class protestant who grew up with two parents, I cannot be presumptuous enough to understand what seeing President Obama sworn in meant for many people who grew up disenfranchised and in the shadow of power.
But, I did go to law school in ultra-white Iowa with only a handful of African American students and that gives me a story to tell
On the first day of our first year, I noticed that the few African American students all sat together through classes in Torts and Property Law and that they rarely engaged in discussion. As a quiet person myself it did not strike me as strange--I was not anxious to jump into discussions with a lot of argumentative law students either. I did not associate their silence to the color of their skin--I just thought maybe I would start sitting with them in the quiet corner.
The second day of our first year, we had Contracts class and our professor was an African American. Suddenly, it was as if this brilliant man had lit a flame under the African American students. They participated, they contributed, they were engaged in discussion and the whole class was richer for it--I even jumped in and started letting my mind expand with the discussion.
I thought about it a lot. Our teachers that first day had been brilliant, too.
While I appreciate the importance of the President's race to many people, to me the hope centers not on the color of his skin but on the breadth of his intellect and I wish him and all of us well.