Thursday, September 10, 2009

Mixed Race Milestones

Last night, during President Obama's speech in Washington, a Congressman from South Carolina was moved to yell "You lie!" at him, an unprecedented outburst.

At almost the same time, more than 45,000 people in New York were cheering wildly as Derek Jeter reached an historic milestone in the annals of baseball.

Both the President and Jeter are the products of racially mixed marriages, which at the time of Barack Obama's birth, were illegal under miscegenation laws in South Carolina and 16 other states of the Union.

It's unlikely that anyone in the crowd at Yankee Stadium was thinking of Jeter's heritage, but it's hard not to believe that Rep. Joe Wilson's breach of protocol--prompted by the President's accurate statement that illegal immigrants would not be covered by his health plan--had no connection to either the President's race or that of the people he was talking about.

The juxtaposition of the two moments is a reminder of how far America has come in the last half-century and how far there is still to go.

Until the mid-1940s, African-Americans like Derek Jeter were not allowed to play major league baseball alongside Lou Gehrig, whose record he tied last night. During that time, as a soldier in South Carolina, I had to ride on segregated buses.

Now, with Obama in the White House and Jeter idolized by millions, all that is long gone but should not be forgotten. One encouraging sign is that, within hours of Wilson's outburst last night, more than $50,000 poured into the campaign of his opponent in next year's election, making it likely he will not have to be offended by Obama's speeches to Congress much longer.


David Goodloe said...

Good post, but I have a couple of observations to make:

1) I understand why you mentioned Lou Gehrig in this post, but, technically, he retired -- and died -- years before the color barrier was broken in baseball.

Even though it was Gehrig's record that Jeter matched, it might have been better to refer to a Yankee who played before, during and after the time that the color barrier was broken -- like Joe DiMaggio.

2) I'm sure that Wilson's opponent appreciates the infusion of money, but there are several factors that make it, at the very least, premature to suppose that money will deprive Wilson of another term in office.

One is the fact that Wilson's district hasn't elected a Democrat as its representative in more than 40 years.

Another is the fact that the president's party usually loses ground in midterm elections.

Amy said...

I can't believe the inappropriate and disrespectful behavior towards our president.

Fuzzy Slippers said...

Oh my goodness. You don't honestly think that anyone who calls BO out on his web of lies is a racist? That's nuts. The man lies. And that's the truth.

I do so love the way you write, though. The juxtaposition of the two events, the two men, is divine. (even if I disagree wholeheartedly about race being a factor in Wilson's ill-considered outburst.)