Nov 092008
 
Authors: Anne Marie Merline

I voted for a black man for the President of the United States of America.

On Oct. 28, I dropped off my son to dance lessons on Oak Street, and I decided I would drop off my mail-in ballot to the Courthouse across the street. I finally had the fortitude to fill the ballot out earlier that afternoon.

The poster child of procrastinators (the proof being that I had already had the ballot for weeks), I decided to exonerate myself by actually walking across the street and dropping it in the ballot box since I had the time and no good self-imposed excuse for not doing it.

I walked in, handed the ballot to a registration judge and then turned around to walk back out of the Courthouse. I then burst into tears as 40 years of life passed before my mind’s eye, most of it my family’s history with racism and some of it within the last 13 years or so of teaching experience.

My father grew up in Dorchester, Mass., the largest neighborhood of Boston.

Dorchester is known for its cultural diversity, most notably its large African-American population. A son of Italian immigrants, my father’s family was not on the upper end of the socio-economic scale and therefore lived in this then-depressed part of Boston.

Needless to say, my father and his family had several “run-ins” with poor blacks in his neighborhood. This was evident in my childhood.

My parents saw blacks and whites as “different,” and not in the good “different” of my son’s upbringing.

To their credit, my parents did not teach us to discriminate or hate people who were different. It would not have worked on this girl, anyway. I do believe I was born with a gene that saw everyone, as humans, with more similarities than differences.

This semester is the second time I have taught a course about voting rights history in the U.S., after proposing it for the first time in 2004.

In this and every course I teach, it is apparent that racial issues have always been couched in terms of the white, dominant culture and its clash with the cultures of color — most notably black culture.

Of the topics that I teach — public education and inequality, human rights, voting rights, ideas and expressions of community and race and ethnicity in contemporary society — all have to do with our history regarding how we have segregated ourselves or others because of income, race, ethnicity or value system.

I teach these courses because I have a passion for exposing this inequality to the students that I teach, most of which have lived in homogeneous white middle-class communities.

I am hopeful that these courses expose these students to life on the other side of the tracks and allow them to see how society affects individuals and affects how these individuals fare in comparison to those in other social groups.

What my tears told me is, despite time and lessons to the contrary, a person can overcome and, better yet, teach others that equality of opportunity can be a reality in families and times and places where the color of a person’s skin is seen before the content of his or her character.

I certainly voted for Barack Obama because of the content of his character, his value system and his ability to convey ideas to the public. I would not vote for or against him based on his skin color.

For me, this historic event is nearly 400 years in the making and a dream that I could see come true, for this white girl, who could see past her family’s injuries. As an epilogue past my tears of last week, I think it important to note that my father also voted for a black man for President of the United States. This is a testament that time and education, formal or not, can change the course of an individual, and yes, that of a nation.

Anne Marie Merline is an instructor for the University Honors Program. Her column appears biweekly Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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