A few years ago I appeared on the Glenn Beck show and discussed my "briefcase" story about how my best Christmas present ever was destroyed at my junior high school in Harlem. Glenn asked if we could take a tour and so the next week we headed uptown for a special show. Toward the end Glenn asked who I voted for. I said Barack Obama and explained not for political reasons but to repay a debt and I mentioned Rosa Parks. A lot of people I've never met were seriously upset and disappointed.
If there was more time I would have explained my vote in greater detail not to appease anyone but to illuminate my thinking, my family's history and America’s history.
As a child I used to visit my grandparents a lot in the heart of Alabama. Back then those visits were grueling. Using the bathroom in an outhouse and washing by standing up in a metal tub because they had no indoor plumbing until the mid 1970s. Yet, even then I knew my grandparents were special people. In the heart of the south during turbulent and dangerous times for black people they carved out a big piece of land that had crops, cows, chickens, pigs and a couple of horses. (One summer my grandfather told me this brown and white cow was mine filling with pride and a sense of wealth I carried throughout my childhood.) In addition to their house there was another, cobbled together like an abstract painting, down yonder.
My grandfather used to wear shoes that were so turned up they almost pointed true north. He ate with his fingers in an elegant and efficient manner and knew how to get everything done. My grandmother was rugged and fierce. I would watch her work the iron stove with astonishment as she moved wood around with her hands impervious to fire and hot embers. With all due respect to Scarlett Johansson my grandmother was a real life super hero. Together my grandparents were the kind of rugged individuals that built their lives without handouts but single-minded determination.
Yet, I always felt a sense of worry about a kind of fear and kind of violence that permeated the air. That aura hit me when we went to a nearby wooden shack that served as a candy and soda pop store. Run by an old blind white women I used to wonder how come people didn't just take stuff and run. Sure, there was southern hospitality and honor that still is distinctly different than attitudes up north but there was also that aura of a kind of punishment that would go beyond basic justice. That aura of fear always hurt my feelings.