Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Table with Room for All: Celebrating Steps to Racial Inclusion

I awoke in the night with the picture at the head of this posting in my mind. It’s a picture taken from the first dinner the president-elect and his wife Michelle were able to have together following the election. The picture appeared on many news sites last Sunday, following the Saturday night dinner.

That picture sticks in my mind largely because of the radiant smile on Mrs. Obama’s face. It’s a smile that brings light to one who sees it. And I hope that it’s a smile of joy at a long struggle ended, of a victory won.

Not just a personal victory, but a victory for an entire group of citizens whose rights have been assaulted time and again over the course of American history . . . . As I lay awake remembering this picture in my head, I thought, too, of all the pictures from my own lifetime, pictures of pain and hardship as people of color fought for basic human rights. I thought of pictures of the Little Rock Nine integrating Central High School, as white students and adults jeered and screamed beside the sidewalks on which those students walked to school.

I thought of the pictures from Birmingham, of Bull Connor’s dogs and fire hoses turned on peaceful demonstrators. I remembered the pictures of the churches in which black children died after those churches were firebombed. I thought of pictures taken in the period of slavery, of somber faces, work-worn bodies.

It gives me great joy to take the picture of Mrs. Obama smiling as she leaves a dinner with her husband and juxtapose it with all those other pictures in my head. A diptych of hope to keep in mind as we struggle to extend rights to other groups of despised human beings . . . .

And a reminder that as I continue to fight for my rights and the rights of my brothers and sisters, I should stop and celebrate the accomplishments of other groups who have achieved a measure of victory in the ongoing struggle to bring everyone to the table of participatory democracy . . . .