The 2008 election process was in full swing during most of my tenure at St. F, and this caused a great deal of stress for me, even more than the crazy parish politics that were enveloping me at the time. To really understand this, you have to know several things about me. The first is that I’m black. Or to be more precise, I’m what American culture designates black. If you saw me on the street, my ethnicity might not be too obvious, but I’m considered black because one drop rule. Which is absurd, but that’s an entry for another day. The second issue is that for me MLK is bigger than Jesus. Some people may take offense to this statement, but it’s true. For black people, MLK IS bigger than Jesus. They might say otherwise so as not to appear too heretical, but for most black Americans, I suspect the easiest thing to do is just to buy a black velvet picture of MLK and Jesus down at the gas station and keep on going. The third thing is that while I was going to St F, I was working for the King family (yes, THAT King family) and learning about black history in an immediate way that has to be experienced, not explained.
Suffice to say, this was a strange place to be at a traditionalist parish on the eve of the election of our first black president. While federal law prevents priests from endorsing candidates in the pulpit, there was a generalized feeling that “good, orthodox Catholics” were going to vote the McCain/Palin ticket, because otherwise you’d be voting for abortion, infanticide, and a black man. The Catholic blogosphere, unrestrained by the same laws that muzzled their pastors, made no secret that Obama was some kind of baby-killing anti-Christ and that anyone who voted for him was going straight to Hell, do not pass Purgatory, GO, or collect $200.
While my mind was being warped by the Catholic blogosphere, my mom was telling me that if I didn’t vote for Obama, black people would be in an even worse place than they had been after Reconstruction. Well, that’s a fine choice: eternal punishment if I do vote for Obama or the Re-Birth of the Invisible Empire if I don’t vote for Obama. In the end, I just did a write in candidate for my mom so I could truthfully say that hadn’t voted for Obama either way, but on election night, I felt myself to be in a terrible bind; on the one hand, I wanted to revel in the vindication of over 400 years of black struggle, but at the same time, a voice in the back of my head was telling me that no “orthodox Catholic” would be celebrating at a time like this. It was like black people had finally made the jump from “metics” to citizens, but I was supposed to be content with my metic status.