Alexander S. Pushkin, the father of Russian literature - often called the Shakespeare of Russia - was black. His great-grandfather was Major-General Ibrahim Petrovich Hannibal, a darling of Czar Peter the Great, was either of Cameron or Ethiopia. My father and my grandmother, a French teacher in Russia, only learned of it when they saw this portrait in an Immigracion office in New York with the caption" Pushkin: Russia's Great Negro Writer." What does this have to do with Inauguration Day?
I'm not sure. But it may explain the rejoicing I feel today. The child of immigrants, who myself experienced prejudice during the Cold War, my parents did their best to raise me without prejudice.
I think they succeeded. I felt the pain of the black children, afflicted with tuberculosis, who were my playmates at a rural Ohio tuberculosis sanitarium which my dad ran.
I tanned well as a child, thanks to the Slavic Muslem blood of my paternal grandfather, and the nurses would often catch themselves, almost saying I looked like a little colored girl, the polite expression of the time, saying instead that I looked like a little Tahitian girl. I learned the English language from those playmates, which translated a lot like Russian. So I never understood what the fuss was about Ebonics, though I didn't like it later myself. But it came in handy with my three urban black roommates my freshman year of college.
I remember overhearing a stupid friend of my Mom's ask her, "Aren't you afraid she might marry one of their friends?" My Mom, with sarcasm I am sure only I could detect in the other room, replied, "I am only afraid she might marry someone who is ignorant."
I am proud to be a citizen of a country that has learned from its mistakes and seemingly wised up.
And I rejoice today, that America is a giant step closer to being a unified country, one in which none of us has to look away from their heritage to be a part of the one that is being created today.
I don't know why my Mom latched on to the phrase of Dr. Martin Luther King, "We shall overcome." But after she was widowed, and left to finish putting me through college and on track to a difficult career, she would often say, "Don't worry baby. We shall overcome." To my black friends today, I toss my hat into the air and rejoice. We have overcome! Now, there is more hard work ahead of us. But fear not. We shall overcome that too.