Watching the inauguration last week was exciting and inspiring and emotional for so many people. There was so much history being made, and hopes being renewed and... well, you know it all. And yet, mixed in with all the big things happening, I still had time to notice little things. Like Michelle Obama's green gloves. I saw them and immediately did a double take and said outloud, to no one, as I was alone in the room with the television - "Oh man, I love those gloves!"
Later I would discover that this sentiment was shared by a lot of women and in fact there are entire blogs focused on the Obama fashion trends. Who knew!? A couple of friends and I, while discussing the election and the inauguration and the new direction this country is making, casually mentioned the fashion bits, but we did so sort of embarrassed to be talking about something so irrelevant, really, in the face of the world's troubles. But later I started thinking about it and I've come to the conclusion that perhaps it's not irrelevant, or a small thing, after all.
When I was a small thing myself, President Kennedy was in office and, frequently enough for me to notice, people used to compare my mom to Jacqueline Kennedy. They thought she looked like her and often, as an upper middle class woman in a small Midwestern town, dressed like her. And she did. Both look like and dress like her. As I grew older I would often catch a glimpse of my mom in person or in photos and be startled by the similarities between them. But my point here is that, even as a young child, I remember how proud I was of my mom for looking like the First Lady. It lent her a sort of glamour that helped me to feel as if she was someone special too. (And of course, she was, in her own right, but that's another post altogether.)
Being able to remember those feelings all these decades later, they must have had a influence on me in a strong and lasting way. And although I can analyze them now, as a child I simply absorbed them into myself and acted on them as meaningful and truthful things about the world. So, back to the present, what sort of influence will these strong, beautiful faces have on the many people in our country, even in the world, who can look at them and think "My mom/sister/friend/dad looks like her/him." or even "I look like her!" And what small seeds of self worth will be watered and grow because of it? Think of the healthy growth, the blooming of possibilities, in each of these people, and because we are all bound together, the positive affect it will have on all of society! No, this is not a small irrelevant thing!
I think it's honest to say that we all have a gap, some of us a small crack and some of us a major canyon, between the world as we think of it intellectually and the way we respond to it when we react on a "unconsciously learned" level. I'll tell you an embarrassing story about myself, to make my point.
This was about fifteen to twenty years ago because it was when we were living near enough the area to be watching a San Francisco Bay Area news station. Sitting on the couch, I was probably trying to read at the same time, because I remember looking up and being confused. There was a man on the news talking and it wasn't making sense to me. I turned to Hubby and said "Why is he talking about immunizations?"
Hubby: "Because that's the topic."
Me: "Immunizations? But what does that have to do with sports?"
Hubby: "It doesn't have anything to do with sports. Why should it have anything to do with sports?"
Me: "Duh - Because this is the sports section? Because he's the sportscaster?"
Hubby: "No. He's a doctor. This is the Health Tips section."
I realized immediately, what I had done. I had made a huge assumption based on stereotype. I'd seen a black man's face staring out at me from the newscast and assumed he was going to tell me the evening's basketball scores. I. was. so. embarrassed.
Would I make that assumption today, several decades later? I hope not. But then, I didn't think I would make that assumption back then either. We don't realize how much, even when we know better, that we make sense of the world by putting things in boxes. Boxes we can neatly label and understand, boxes we sometimes don't even know exist.
But now I'll tell you another family story, both funny and, hopefully, showing how far we've already come.
William and I were watching the special celebration concert on HBO the night before the inauguration. I got a laugh out the Obama's older daughter on the sidelines, busy with her camera, photographing all the celebrities, while she herself was being photographed by many in the crowd for the same reason. It occurred to me that she was young enough to not really know who a lot of the older celebrities were that were performing. I turned to William and told him my thought. William disagreed.
William: "No, I think she'd know who they are. Everybody knows who they are."
Me: "Actually, that's not true. You know who they are because you're part of a family that listens to a lot of music of different generations and different genres, but that's not true of all families. Think of the people you know in town." (Although there are many smart and educated folk in Susanville, to say that many people around here have had limited multicultural exposure would be.....*cough*... uhm... honest.)
William: "Yes, but we're not talking about just any family. These are the Obamas. I think they're a little more sophisticated than that."
Me: "I don't know. I think you're assuming too much. Think about how old they are. They might hear some of their parent's music, but they are probably more familiar with someone like Hannah Montana or .... or musicians that get played on the radio now."
William: "Mom!" (getting my attention so I look at him, he puts his hands up and makes a little bracket in the air to his right) "Children of mill workers." (he then moves his hands to the left and makes another set of air brackets) "Children of the leader of the free world."
And then, having rested his case, he went back to watching the concert. I laughed at his conviction that his perspective was right and mine was wrong. I do think he overestimates a seven and ten year old girl's musical sophistication. BUT, I was also laughing with joy that he could be so certain that this was an obvious fact. I'm proud that we now live in a world where the faces on the television prompt an entirely new type of assumption, a world where a face of color will never make my son jump to the thought "And now, time for sports."
And as for the green gloves. As much as I love them, you gotta know that they're gonna be a new fad. Maybe I'll find myself a pair of red leather gloves.....