One night during my freshman year of college I went to sleep. When I woke up the next morning the first African-American president of the United States had been elected into office. Something that I could not even bear to watch, that I hadn't even dared to hope for, had come true.
I remember when I first learned not to hope for things beyond my color. I was 10 years old. My mother, my aunt, and I were standing together in the living room, pausing in our conversation about something or other to watch a wrestling commercial in which "The Rock" strutted and flexed his sweaty muscles. Unlike my mother and her sister I had not yet learned to appreciate his particular physique. Instead, I was contemplating what bet my mother and I would make over who would win when we watched wrestling in the evening. It came as a surprise to me then, when my aunt suddenly asked me why "The Rock" would never be president.
I gave the question serious thought, nervous but also secretly pleased at the attention being given me as my mother and aunt awaited my answer. "...Uuumm." I stalled some more before finally saying, "Because he's not qualified?"
My aunt sucked her teeth. She was dissapointed. I could see.
I did not like dissapointing adults but surely my answer was the right one. "The Rock " was a wrestler. He couldn't be the president because he was not a politician! Simple, right?
"Wrong! It's because he's Black!" My eyes widened. This did not occur to me. I had already internalized the ideology that lighter-skinned Black people could do more and were liked better. I figured "The Rock" was light, so therefore the only thing stopping him was proper training.
Though my mother had not spoken during this exchange I could tell that she agreed with my aunt. When she finally did speak it felt as if she was ashamedly defending my naiveté on the matter. "You can't expect her to know that. She's too young." "Yeah, well she should know."
I should know.
I do know that three women, along with countless others, saw something happen that should not have been considered amazing or a milestone. That sentiment alone is enough to suggest that our journey toward equality is far from over.
This time, as the winds of change sweep over the United States, I want to be ready to meet them. I have decided to stay awake.