I screamed a lot while reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’s My President Was Black. When I was done reading and screaming, I cried.
The last time I felt this far removed from this president was when I first worked so hard to elect him.
In 2007, the very idea of a President Barack Obama was ridiculous to me. I was and am southern, god bless. I am black. I come from black people who are southerners even when they were New Yorkers for a spell. We are the black American story of enslavement, rural migration, urban displacement, resistance, boostrapping, mobility, and class fragility. In this milieu we, as a friend once described it, know our whites. To know our whites is to understand the psychology of white people and the elasticity of whiteness. It is to be intimate with some white persons but to critically withhold faith in white people categorically. It is to anticipate white people’s emotions and fears and grievances because their issues are singularly our problem. To know our whites is to survive without letting bitterness rot your soul.
That’s what I was dealing with when I went to my first Obama house party in 2007—a few generations’ worth of lived and inherited expertise in knowing our whites. Our whites are southern, like me. Even if they spent some time in places north and west, to become white in the south is to absorb some large part of its particular iteration of the U.S. racial hierarchy. The house party was being held in Myers Park, a lush wealthy in-town enclave in Charlotte, North Carolina. Charlotte was my home. I knew Myers Park as a place and a symbolic map of the city’s racist histories. Myers Park is gorgeous. The streets are wide. The homes are stately without being garish. The residents are mere miles from the center of the city’s banking, employment, transportation, and entertainment hubs. As neighborhoods throughout Charlotte fell victim to blight during the housing crash of the 2000s, Myers Park remained stable, thriving even, with housing values continuing upward trends year-over-year.