Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Madelyn Dunham's march into history

Ta-Nehisi absolutely knocks this one out of the park:

But now, more than anyone, I am thinking of Barack Obama's grandparents. One of the big mistakes we make when we look at the history of race in this country is to focus on big people and big events. What should be remembered is that, though our racial history is mired in utter disgrace, though the deep cowardice of post reconstruction haunts us into the 21st century, at any point on the timeline, you can find ordinary white people doing the right thing.

Last night, when news of Obama's ailing grandmother was making its way onto cable news broadcasts, I turned to the First Lady and said: "Those are some good-hearted white people."

And I was nearly wrong. Madelyn and Stanley Dunham are merely good-hearted people.

Like many folks, I sometimes lean on lazy language and analysis - stereotypes, eh? - when it comes to issues of race. It can be too convenient to write off an entire people under the guise of remaining true to history or personal experience: all white folks didn't hold those fire hoses and all black folks didn't get on the bus with Freedom Riders, dig?

Big Boi says something like this: "Now question: is every nigga with dreads for the cause? Is every nigga with golds for the fall? Naw. So don't get caught in appearance."

But to build on TNC's key point here, I'll refer to a quote from James Baldwin: "History is not a procession of illustrious people. It's about what happens to a people. Millions of anonymous people is what history is about."

And, once upon a time, the Dunhams were merely anonymous people who chose to love their daughter and their brown-skinned grandson despite the relative disapproval of the world at large. Sure, Hawaii ain't Hattiesburg, but the racial lines were clearly drawn in the 1960s. Crossing them, no matter your address, was dangerous.

Back to TNC:

... let us speak of people who were ahead of their times, who were outside of their times. Let us remember that Barack Obama learned the great lessons of life from courageous white people. Let us speak of those who do what normal, right people should always do when faced with a child--commit an act love.

Right. And as much as I generally wish good health for everyone, I have a special place in my heart for Madelyn Dunham. She was one of those people who anonymously moved the history of our nation forward. It only seems just that Mrs. Dunham be around to see her grandson make a little history himself.

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