Friday Jukebox: Presidential Precedent
(Please read my disclaimer here to get a bit of a sense of how I approach music. Or don’t. Just know you’ve been warned.)
Today, the Jay-Z remix of Young Jeezy and Nas’s “My President” came on my Pandora. Despite the original song being almost 5 years old and the remix being just six months younger than that, I had never heard either song. And while I like the three primary artists on the track, I didn’t find the track anything particularly special. But as I thought more about it, I realized how simply being able to utter the lyric “My president is black” truthfully must have been an incomprehensibly powerful moment for these three black men.
Which got me thinking of a powerful memory that had somehow left my consciousness…
It was November 5, 2008. I was teaching in Northwest DC. During my lunch break, I drove just up the road to Silver Springs, a middle class suburb with a large black population. I ran into the chain grocer needing to grab one thing or another and immediately noticed a long line of people, all black, most of them middle-aged or older, waiting patiently at the customer service desk. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why. The best explanation I could come up with (and one I’m not particularly proud of) was that they were doing some big hiring push and with the down economy and all, these folks were hoping to apply. I went about my shopping, grabbed whatever it was I needed, and went to the cashier.
“What’s up with the line?”
“They’re waiting to buy the paper.”
“Why would people wait in line to buy the paper?”
“Um… Barack Obama won the election.”
And it hit me. Like a shit ton of bricks.
Now, I had voted for Obama. At the time, I genuinely liked what I knew about his policies and thought him to be a vastly superior option to McCain. But, being the good white person I was, I felt a little extra proud that I had voted for the man who would become our first President of color. Yet, the fact that I was a relatively young (25) white person isolated me in many ways from just what that moment meant from a cultural, social, and historical perspective. I knew it was a big deal. But I had no idea it was a Wait-in-line-for-hours-with-lawn-chairs-waiting-for-extra-shipments-of-the-paper-to-arrive kind of big deal.
Despite the memory having drifted from the front of my mind until hearing this song, the visual and the “Ohhhhhhh Fuuuuuuuudge” moment have stuck with me in a really profound way. And hearing the song today brought me back to it. And I’m glad it did.