Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day

I grew up in Millington and Basking Ridge, New Jersey. I didn't see a "colored" person until I was in fifth grade in Basking Ridge. He was one of the boys in my class who lived at Bonnie Brae Farm for Boys, for which read "just this side of the state reformatory home for boys". Of course, that's what we children thought it was. It may not have been. It may just have been a home for troubled boys from broken homes. I was ten years old. What did I know?

When I was fourteen, my family moved to Lewes Beach, Delaware, now year-round and summer home for some of our most famous bloggers ( ! ). That was 1959. I was in my first year of high school. We lived in a post-Victorian house one block from the "colored section" or ghetto.

When we first moved to Lewes, the children from that "colored section", out of curiosity, came down to meet us. I remember one girl who would visit with me on our porch. That didn't last long. Some kindly neighbor had a little chat with my mother. It was all right if my youngest brother, who wasn't of school age yet, played with "those" children. But school age children were expected to stay clear of the "colored" children. My mother would do well to see to it we children no longer allowed "those" children to socialize with us.

It was 1963, my senior year in high school, before any child of color crossed the color line and entered high school in Lewes. She entered my class and she graduated with my class. I don't remember any of us socializing with her. Her name is Gloria.

Today, Glory be to God, Barak Obama will be inaugurated President of these United States. His inauguration will not end racism. We humans are determined to have some class or classes of people be beneath us, so we can have contempt for them, demean them, and thereby make ourselves feel bigger than we know in our hearts we really are.

If we are no longer allowed legally to enslave, segregate or otherwise make invisible people of color, we'll find someone else to whom it is not illegal to reduce to less-than-human status. While I served as a priest in Delaware, a bill came out of the Delaware House of Representatives which would add the words "perceived sexual orientation" to the list of those for whom basic civil rights of housing, insurance and employment could not be denied. Note the word "perceived".

I testified on behalf of the bill as a priest, wearing full clericals, speaking biblical as well as civil speech. The bill passed the house. It passed the house again the next time it came up. However, the bill never made it even into committee, much less out of committee and to a vote in the Senate in Delaware. The senator in charge of the committee to which the bill was assigned never took it out of his drawer. He had no obligation to take it out of his drawer. There was no way to compel him to take it out of his drawer. Everyone knew he was intentionally not taking the bill out of his drawer. I don't know if that house bill has ever managed to be passed, to this day, in Delaware. But I'm not surprised.

On this historic inauguration day, as I rejoice in the election and inauguration of Barak Obama, I want to remember those days in Delaware. There is still a long way to go before we are truly human. We will not be so until there is no longer in us a need to demean or make base any other fellow human being in order for us to feel big. We will not be human until there is no longer in us a need to pull out holy writ as a warrant for our basest instincts and desires and call it "obeying God". We will not be human until we become that which we were created, the image and likeness of God.

That day is not here yet, but this day we come a little closer to being that image and likeness. God bless, protect and defend Barak Obama, 44th President of the United States.


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DeanB said...

Probably most people our age have had to do some work on ourselves to get rid of the racism that was so prevalent when we were kids, and probably haven't gotten completely rid of it even so. But things are lots better. When kids who are born this year get to be 20 and hear about segregation, they will say, "how could that have been? what were people thinking?"