Obama and Me: Integration Babies
Like the president, who turns 50 on Aug. 4, I belong to a generation that expected a racial utopia.
I understood that when you're black, you really do have to work twice as hard in life, even when everyone else is half as good, no matter who you sat next to in school. Also true: Nobody wants to hear it. To survive and thrive, you have to get over it, suck it up and move on.
With a smile.
You keep your emotions in check. You learn to be cool because everyone knows what happens when you don't. In the new book A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mother, Janny Scott says that the president perfected self-control as a child in Indonesia. He learned to tolerate and ignore racist taunts from his classmates, rather than respond, if he wanted them to stop.
The Integrated Truth at 50
We Integration Babies learned hard lessons and have the emotional battle scars to prove it. But like the civil rights warriors who came before us, we have kicked opened the door to the next generation. More and more black people are moving to the suburbs -- but not the all-white burbs of my childhood. Many 21st-century suburbs are a melting pot of people of all colors from all over the world. Others -- such as those outside Chicago, Philly, New York and Atlanta -- are mostly black and sometimes more affluent than the communities that surround them.
My children, who are about the same age as Sasha and Malia, have never been "onlies." We live in a mixed-race community, and they go to schools that have a little bit of everyone. My son's middle school is 25 percent black, 33 percent white, 35 percent Latino and 5 percent Asian -- and the principal is an African-American woman.
So, to the Integration Baby-in-chief, I say: Welcome to the sixth decade. With age comes bad knees, reading glasses and colonoscopies, but also wisdom. The gift of turning 50 means accepting every part of you and having the grace to do the same for others. Was the president raised by a white woman? Yes. Is he still proudly African American? Yes.
Was I ever hired to fill a quota? Yes. Did I work hard and excel on my own? Yes. Am I an affirmative action oreo who talks white, listens to both rock and rap and can't do the Electric Slide? Yes. And?
Linda Villarosa is the director of the journalism program at the City College of New York and a regular contributor to The Root.