Black people know what it’s like to feel invisible, as though you exist only in the dark recesses of other people’s imagination.
They know what it feels like to be marginalized, put upon, spit on.
They know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of the ugliest of stereotypes, to be demonized by those who refuse to acknowledge the person you really are and not some conjured up, distorted perception of you.
They know what it feels like to have others use the U.S. Constitution as a blunt object to make you second-class citizens, or worse.
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They’ve felt the ugly aftermath of others using a particular interpretation of the Christian Bible to place an undo burden on their souls.
They’ve been beaten for the sin of having been born.
They’ve been killed for the sin of demanding equality before the law.
They’ve been overlooked for the sin of being different from the majority.
They know the effect misleading popular images can have on their self worth.
Boy, do they know.
And that’s why they cheered so loudly in November 2008 when Barack Obama was elected president.
That’s why they cried tears full of joy that allowed them to release centuries of pain.
It was because their humanity had been affirmed on the world’s largest, most important stage.
On Wednesday, the man they helped put in the White House affirmed another group that has been marginalized and put upon, spit on.
He became the first sitting president to say out loud that he supported the rights of gays and lesbians to marry the person they love.
With that, he affirmed their common humanity.
He affirmed their right to be equal before the law.
He affirmed their true existence – not the funhouse mirror version too many people have of them.
He affirmed that they are fellow Americans, no better or worse than the rest of us.
That’s what he did with a few simple words.
And because he did, the questions about his re-election chances have soared, primarily because of the potential reaction of the black voters who helped make this day possible.
Will they be turned off?
Will they decide not to vote?
If only a small percentage of them do that, it might be enough to swing a close election.
If that happens, the irony would be thick. And sad.
They would have helped to oust a president for giving another group in 2012 what they received from him in 2008.
If that happens, they will make a statement that will reverberate for generations, that the slogans and chants and banners and non-violent marches they used to force this country to live up to its truest ideals were only for themselves, not for all Americans.
They will have forgotten it was argued that allowing blacks to become equal before the law would represent a slippery slope, or special rights – the claim being used against gays and lesbians today.
They will have forgotten that men of God pulled out their Bibles, flipped to particular chapters and preached to blacks being held in bondage that God called for slaves to obey their masters – just as Scripture is being used against gays and lesbians today.
They will have forgotten that though their kind was targeted in slavery, gays and lesbians were targeted alongside millions of Jews in the Holocaust.
They will have forgotten that though their skin color for too long kept them out of neighborhoods where they wanted to live and good jobs where they wanted to work, that gays and lesbians still face those hurdles for the sin of loving the wrong person.
Many people will be encouraging them to ignore those common struggles.
I pray that they don’t.