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Poetry Radio Project

Conversations with America: Treasure Williams

Treasure Williams

David Schulman

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Treasure Williams
(Courtesy Treasure Williams)
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Americans have elected a new president, and the implications of that election are still rippling out - as they will continue to do during this period of transition. Our country's founders set up a gap of about eleven weeks between Election Day and Inauguration back when the world was a much slower place. And probably that's still a good thing. These days, presidents have a lot to prepare for.

We're continuing our series "Conversations with America" with a look at transition - a time of both uncertainty and anticipation. Treasure Williams is a poet and performer based in Memphis. She also teaches at Rust College, an historically black liberal arts college in Holly Springs, Miss. For her, the implications of Barack Obama's election are just starting to sink in.

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I'm teaching two classes this module. English 131, which is a traditional Composition 1 course. And I am teaching an English course designed around the argumentative rhetorical model. Every week we focus on something that is incredibly provocative. And I'm going to ask them if they think Barack Obama would have been elected had he been Muslim.

"Okay, a five-minute quick write. Would Obama have been elected if he were Muslim? I'm gonna give you, I wanna give you a couple more minutes to respond today and then we're going to talk about your responses."

I wasn't on board with Barack Obama at first. I was on board with Hillary Clinton. And I could not believe that this country would elect a black man. I just kept thinking that it was the day before November fourth, and that it would always be the day before. I just didn't think that we had actually gotten to that day.

I didn't think that the first black president--I doubted that this person was born, and if they were born, I thought they were my son Ramsey's age, maybe around eight. I think that this election will define their generation. I think that they will forever be known as the Obama generation, as the kids who were never cognizant of the fact that this was long thought to be an impossibility. When I was in school, I mean, it was common for people to say, "You know, he could be the first black president. You might be the first black president." But that was sort of like saying, "You know, you might be the first black person to go to Neptune."

You know, there's a lot of gallows humor in the black community, where people kind of laugh to keep from crying. There are black comedians who have these routines where, "If there was a black president, he'd be cooking barbecue on the lawn, and you know, they be listening to Funkadelic."

And my children's generation will be the first ones who don't get the joke. Who actually have seen a black president, or two, in action.

"All right, you can stop wherever you are. Let's, hear what you said, if you thought Barack Obama could've been elected if he were Muslim. Hasan?"

"In my opinion, I think he'll still be elected, even if he is a Muslim or a non-believer."

"It don't matter whatever religion you are. I can still talk to you, I can still kick it with you."

"That's what it should be. If I told her right now I was an atheist, it shouldn't matter, but it does in this society."

Is this the end of racism? No, unfortunately it is not. I like to give myself small heart attacks, so sometimes I listen to conservative talk radio. I don't know why I do it. I guess so I can shout in my car as I'm driving. But I've heard a couple of the conservative talk show radio hosts say, "Well, excuses are over now! No need for affirmative action now."

If you have a section of the population that believes it is the rightful owner of progress, or a section of the population that believes that it will be denied progress, no matter how deserving it is, then you're losing that human capital that we have in this country. It's our greatest resource. And I think that this affirmation that I felt when I voted for Barack Obama was a similar affirmation that many caucasian Americans felt. That said, "You know, we're human. And at this point I'm going to step out of my racist historical shadow and vote my heart."

More stories from our Poetry Radio Project series

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