Wednesday morning, I woke up and looked out my window, searching for signs of a changed world. It was gray and dreary; I still had to take the subway to Kendall for my game theory class, and people still shot nasty looks if you happened to get in the way. Not much had changed, in other words.
There were moments when I’d forget entirely–in the morning when I was fixing coffee or in the evening when I was cycling back from the department–and then I’d remember, and my heart would swell. It was the first day in my 26 years of living that I felt like a full citizen of my own country. I couldn’t tell if the world was different, but I knew I was.
I don’t know if what I mean to invoke is a universal of the Black experience, or the biracial experience, or the bicultural experience, or the immigrant experience, or if it just my peculiar experience.
Since I was a very young child, I felt at odds with the world around me. I always wanted to travel abroad. It was a generalized feeling of restlessness beyond explanation or reason. Maybe there was a part of me that hoped I’d find a homecoming somewhere far away, where my true tribe lived.
Tuesday night, when Barack Obama gave his acceptance speech, I was moved (how could I not be? it was enough to make Pat Buchanan misty-eyed), but it was that image of him with his beautiful wife and two beautiful daughters that had me balling like a baby. A perfect picture of a loving a family. A family whose image will be endlessly photographed and transmitted around the world the next eight years, until it becomes absolutely commonplace, maybe even ordinary. The First Family. A quintessentially American. Like mine.
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Ahhh yes, here’s the photo I was looking for:
I ended up writing a post titled “Saving Africa in blackface” for the Guardian’s group blog, Comment is Free. Here are some of my thoughts:
“I am waiting for my last day in school; the children in Africa are waiting for their first one,” reads the slogan hovering alongside a young German girl who’s just cute as a button. It would be just another run-of-the-mill solidarity campaign, were it not for the puzzling fact that her face, stretched into a farcical grin, is covered in mud. Let’s save Africa. In blackface.
I was a bit appalled, but laughed in spite of myself. I can appreciate satire. Lord knows after Kate Moss’s Nubian makeover and Gwyneth Paltrow gone native – OK, more Cherokee Indian than Chewa, actually, but why get lost in the details? – the debate over celebrity advocacy for Africa could use some.
But an email exchange with UNICEF headquarters in New York revealed that this children’s minstrel show was not, as I had hoped, the latest in a long tradition of internet hoaxes trafficking in bad taste. It was an actual ad campaign to promote an actual plan to give African children an education: UNICEF Germany’s “Schools for Africa” initiative. All I could do was shake my head.