Thursday, November 6, 2008


There is no television at my house. We don't need one - our NPR addiction gets us all the news we need, and on the rare occasions when we watch a movie we just use a laptop. For big events I buy a newspaper.

Needless to say, yesterday was a Big Event.

So I picked up a copy of the Washington Post (which I note is now selling for upwards of $50 on eBay - who knew?) at the gas station while Ben was in preschool. After I read it I left it on the kitchen table, where Lucy discovered it when she got home from school.

She looked at all the pictures carefully, and read most of the headlines. Then she said, "does Obama have brown skin?"

She knew we were campaigning for him. Indeed, she was one of the only children in her class to vote for him in their mock election. Have I mentioned that we live in a red county? But remember - no TV. Apparently she had no idea what he looks like until she saw him on the front page of the paper.

So I said, "yes, he does. He's the first African-American to be elected president of our country."

There was a pause. Then she said, "why?"

Uh... because of the insidious legacy of slavery? Because bigotry is damn near impossible to eradicate? Because people fear change and difference in equal measure?

In the end I said something about the unfairness of slavery, with which she is already familiar, and how it has taken a long time for that unfairness to begin to go away. An insufficient answer to a deep and insightful question. But does not the question itself speaks of the not-very-distant future, when people will think of the time before a black man was president the way my generation thinks of the time before women could vote: as ancient history?

Lucy is amazed by the fact that when her great-grandmother was a little girl she had no refrigerator. That when her grandparents were young most people did not have televisions. That when her father and I were kids there were no computers or cell phones. One day, I imagine, she will tell her children that when she was young, the first African-American was elected president.

And they will be amazed.

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