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Eugene and Helene Allen
November 7, 2008 3:35 PM   Subscribe

"In its long history, the White House -- just note the name -- has had a complex and vexing relationship with black Americans." An article that's not quite what you think it is. Read to the end. Just make sure you have a Kleenex handy.
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posted by jckll (41 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
I came very close to posting this earlier. Touching article.
posted by proj at 3:38 PM on November 7, 2008


Damn it, got something in my eye here...
posted by marxchivist at 3:56 PM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Jesus Christ, Wil Haygood, why did you have to go and do that?
posted by mr_roboto at 3:56 PM on November 7, 2008


Yes, I thought this was interesting, and moving of course. The very last line is so abrupt, though - I guess it makes sense if the emphasis is on the "so", but even still, it seems like a really odd phrasing choice. I spent a couple minutes trying to figure out if the article continued, and then if there was a second part of the sentence that had been truncated.
posted by peachfuzz at 3:58 PM on November 7, 2008


reminded me of this... Which I remember being really fascinating when I was a kid.
posted by billyfleetwood at 4:01 PM on November 7, 2008


I worked with Wil Haygood some years back. As soon as I saw his name on the byline, I reached for the Kleenex on my desk. He's good.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 4:05 PM on November 7, 2008


Like the death of Obama's grandmother, it's really a reminder that America has waited far too long to elect a black president.

Can we do Native American next?
posted by Citizen Premier at 4:06 PM on November 7, 2008


Damnit,

That was sad. It also made me realize how far we have come in my own lifetime.

*quivering lower lip*
posted by The Power Nap at 4:08 PM on November 7, 2008


Can we do Native American next?

Everyone will get their turn.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:10 PM on November 7, 2008


I would have like the article more if it weren't for the sentence you highlighted. As though "White" in "White House" has anything at all to do with race. I found it jarring. I'm already tired of hack writers who can't resist "Hey, look! a black man in the White House! Get it? Get it? Ironic, huh?"

Otherwise great story that hit on my pet peeve of the week.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 4:11 PM on November 7, 2008


Nah, I'm good on that, us Jews don't want to take the cut in pay.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:15 PM on November 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


Wow.
posted by ColdChef at 4:17 PM on November 7, 2008


Why did you underline the dot if it's not a link? Just to confuse me?
posted by smackfu at 4:24 PM on November 7, 2008


I should have seen that ending coming, but I didn't, and now I couldn't if I wanted to because I got this crazy water in my eyes.
posted by katillathehun at 4:43 PM on November 7, 2008


.
posted by limeonaire at 4:43 PM on November 7, 2008


Back in 1812 we did our best to make it the Black House. Sorry we didn't do a good enough job Americans.
posted by GuyZero at 4:52 PM on November 7, 2008 [8 favorites]


Everyone will get their turn.

Let's not get ahead of ourselves. Obama's election is historic and unprecedented, but I think in a hundred years people will wonder why he didn't win every state except Arizona and Alaska. That the race was ever even in question given the disastrous mismanagement of the McCain campaign, and the incredible fundraising and effort of the Obama campaign, is strong evidence of a persisting unrecognized racism in our society.

More pointedly: the most lingering "slander" against Obama in the campaign was that he was a Muslim. It doesn't matter so much that it was a lie, politicians get lied about all the time in campaigns. What's telling is that the lie itself was unapologetically racist, that people felt it went without saying that a Muslim man would be an unfit president, and more importantly that it was common knowledge. That's basically square one, folks. African Americans have reached a tremendous milestone with this election, but the social constructs for racism are as real and alive as they have ever been. "Everyone will get their turn" is an admirable sentiment, but no more likely today than it was a year ago.

The Obama campaign did a great job encouraging its supporters to "run through the finish line" in the last few weeks... but now we all need to realize that, in real terms, what we just crossed is the starting line.

Superb story in the original post, thanks for sharing it.
posted by Riki tiki at 4:53 PM on November 7, 2008 [10 favorites]


The WH had been tornced by the Brits and rebuilt, painted white to cover over the burn marks...
Legend says it got the name White House when it was rebuilt and painted white after the British burned it in 1814. In fact, it was known as the White House at least three years earlier. A letter of 1811 mentions a politician who went "to act as a sort of political conductor to attract the lightning that may issue from the clouds round the Capitol and the White House at Washington."

other history books say this is true rendition of the name.
In the film Yankee Doodle Dandy, the figure of George M. Cohan (played by J. Cagney) goes to the W.H. to get a medal to be presented by FDR. he is ushered in and chats with the butler, a black manwho as in the post had worked there for many years.
posted by Postroad at 4:55 PM on November 7, 2008


weepy now
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:55 PM on November 7, 2008


Like the death of Obama's grandmother, it's really a reminder that America has waited far too long to elect a black president.

Can we do Native American next?

posted by Citizen Premier at 4:06 PM on November 7

Amid all the jubilation over Obama's win, I've felt like a party-pooper when I've pointed out to people how massively overdue America was for an African-American president. And how much of a drag it is that gays and atheists are not going to have their 'Obama Moment' for decades. And what about the little black girls seeing Obama and thinking 'Well, my brother can be president some day, but how about me?' I understand that a massive step has been taken, and I am overcome with admiration for the incredible black activists, and ordinary African-Americans, who have fought and fought to bring America to this incredible point in its history. But I am an impatient motherfucker. I want chicks, fags, redskins, Christ-punchers, trannies and Muzzies in that White House, and I don't feel like waiting till I'm 106. And I don't feel like waiting for a UK PM in a sari, or a nice Aborigine man and his husband to start redecorating the Lodge either. This is 2008. We should have sorted this shit out a long time ago. Get on it, World!

I'm not really advocating that we elect people just because we've 'never had one of those before', but I really wanna see the day when who you screw, what deity you burn incense before, or what you've got in your undies just doesn't come into the equation.

Whew! Sorry, I've been dying to get that rant off my chest. Now, let's return to our regularly-scheduled amazement at Obama's colossal achievement.
posted by ShameSpiral at 5:00 PM on November 7, 2008 [15 favorites]


"First lady Bess Truman was a member of the organization, but she made no effort to get the DAR to alter its policy. Scott's husband, Harlem congressman Adam Clayton Powell, subsequently referred to Bess Truman as "the last lady of the land." "

What does that mean -- "last lady of the land"?
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 5:12 PM on November 7, 2008


And how much of a drag it is that gays and atheists are not going to have their 'Obama Moment' for decades.

Didn't gays have their "Obama Moment" back in 1856 when James Buchanan was elected president?
posted by millardsarpy at 5:43 PM on November 7, 2008


Didn't gays have their "Obama Moment" back in 1856 when James Buchanan was elected president?
posted by millardsarpy at 5:43 PM on November 7

Not at all. Buchanan was a closet case who was one of the worst presidents ever. If Obama were a complete fuck-up who claimed he was a white guy who'd just been hitting the solarium a little too often, black people would now be having their 'Buchanan Moment'.
posted by ShameSpiral at 5:58 PM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


What does that mean -- "last lady of the land"?

It's an insult. The president's wife is usually called "First Lady."
posted by desjardins at 5:58 PM on November 7, 2008


What does that mean -- "last lady of the land"?
I took it as a play on "first lady." Oh, snap!
posted by Airhen at 6:03 PM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


.

I totally lost my shit when I read that, as I've done several times in the last few days.

I can't wait until we can elect a Muslim president. Then we'll have truly gotten past our prejudices.
posted by mike3k at 7:03 PM on November 7, 2008


I understand that a massive step has been taken...

Massive step indeed. But am I right in thinking that Obama's massive step out of the senate and into the presidency means that there won't be a single black person left in the senate? (Not that I'm saying it's a 'one step forward, two steps back' thing, I was just gobsmacked to learn how white the senate is, given the demographics of the US.)
posted by jack_mo at 7:04 PM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


I can't wait until we can elect a Muslim president. Then we'll have truly gotten past our prejudices.

Our prejudice of Muslims. There's always a new "other" out there.
posted by smackfu at 7:18 PM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh really just F YOU for posting this. Damn... I had heard about Eugene before, maybe something I read or a radio piece. He seems like someone I'd like to meet. This just kills me.
posted by Kloryne at 8:03 PM on November 7, 2008


I'm still going to wait and see what kind of a president we've just elected. I mean, it's a great accomplishment, but as others have said, he better not fuck this up for the rest of us.
posted by Eideteker at 8:29 PM on November 7, 2008


awww...

I've never heard of this guy Haygood, and I thought it was going to be some sappy see-the-black-guy-proud-of-Obama, but that ending totally hit me out of nowhere.
posted by jacalata at 8:32 PM on November 7, 2008


Can we do Native American next?

And here I was, thinking that Obama was elected because he's a smart guy, and that his race had obviously become irrelevant, and I rejoiced that the human race had made this step forward.

I see what you mean, though, and I agree, but please just continue voting for people based on who they are, not how they look.

But still, I'm glad Eugene got to see Obama elected.
posted by DreamerFi at 10:24 PM on November 7, 2008


It is sad that many of us don't seem to realize that the fact that Obama is black is irrelevant.

Some voters may have cared one way or another, but the reason Obama is president is simple: he ran the better race.

We need to focus on electing better leaders, not on getting everyone their turn. That's just ridiculous. Rather than yearning for a more inclusive politics, let's just yearn for a smarter, more ethical crop of politicians.
posted by ewkpates at 2:29 AM on November 8, 2008


I don't think Obama would say his race is irrelevant.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:52 AM on November 8, 2008


So can I never use the word black as an adjective then?
posted by A189Nut at 4:41 AM on November 8, 2008


The very last line is so abrupt, though - I guess it makes sense if the emphasis is on the "so", but even still, it seems like a really odd phrasing choice.

Of course the emphasis is on the "so"; it wouldn't make sense otherwise. It's a perfectly good sentence, a shorter form of "He missed telling his Helene about the black man bound for the Oval Office so very much." And if you try reading that aloud, you'll see that the shorter one works better. Criticizing sentences because if you read them in some perverse way they don't work isn't really a sensible way of criticizing sentences.

Nice post, thanks!
posted by languagehat at 6:41 AM on November 8, 2008


Definitely check out the photo gallery that goes along with the WaPo story. Allen himself narrates it, and it shows both current pictures and snapshots of him at work.
posted by dogrose at 6:55 AM on November 8, 2008


Made me cry too, then I flicked back to the main page to see the warning again. Very moving.

Does the crowd think that electing a Muslim would be easier or harder than an atheist, incidentally?
posted by imperium at 8:01 AM on November 8, 2008


Heartwarming human interest, heartwarming human interest, humorous anecdote, heartwarming human interest...

*punch to the gut*
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:27 PM on November 8, 2008


I ran across this story by Jim Rupert of Bloomberg. It's got a funny ending, based on a misunderstanding of the word "black."

As I left the farmers, a car pulled up. Kim Barker, my Chicago Tribune colleague, was offering me a ride. Her driver, Majid Ali, dropped her at her house and we drove on to mine.
"Kim is too happy about Obama," Majid said. Yes, I replied, many Americans are excited because Obama is our first black president.
Majid's fluent English, stylish clothes and rectangular-lensed glasses give him a worldly air. But Obama confused him. Surely, he said, it could be no surprise that a black politician had taken power.
Fumbling for the disconnect, I explained, "our black people were slaves through much of our history, and we have never healed that wound."
Majid was silent for a moment, and then his response was pure Pakistani.
"Ah, so his skin is black!" Majid said. "I thought people were saying he has corruptly gotten his money."

posted by etaoin at 6:34 PM on November 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


"Can we do Native American next?"

Star Trek rules dictate that the next leader will be a woman. But her VP will be Native American. And he'll have spirit powers.
posted by Eideteker at 9:12 AM on November 9, 2008


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