By Jack White
No one is more American than I am. Our country’s history is inscribed on my genes.
Some of my ancestors came here on slave ships. One arrived on The Mayflower. Others fought in the Revolution and the great Civil War.
But because I am 67 — old enough to have personally experienced legally segregated public schools, water fountains and restrooms and white-only public accommodations; old enough to have been shocked into terrified silence by photos of Emmett Till’s brutalized body after it was dragged from a muddy river in Mississippi; old enough to have written more stories than I can remember about black men and women who seemed to have lost their lives for no reason other than being black — I have deeply ambivalent feelings about this nation.
W.E.B. Du Bois called those warring emotions “twoness” and “double consciousness.” I call them not feeling at home.
There was a time, in the heady wake of Barack Obama’s first successful run for the presidency, when I let myself hope that America would finally let that happen. I thought America might finally stop asking the question it has posed to black people since the days of the slave-hunting “paddy rollers”: What are you doing here? I thought it might finally say we belong.
I was so wrong. What are you doing here? is still the question America asks black people like me, all these years after the emancipation, all these years after Brown v. Board, all these years after the passage of civil rights laws, whenever one of us shows up in a place that some white person regards as inappropriate. It’s the question that underlies so much of the opposition to Obama’s presidency — not merely his policies, but the man himself — and the vile comments about his wife and their children.