barack obamaI Saw The Look in His Eyes

by Moses Miller
September 2008

The other day I was sitting on the Long Island Railroad, dozing in and out of consciousness during the early morning hours. The stops all blended together as a never ending dream occupied the real estate in my mind. I awoke somewhere after the Jamaica, Queens stop, only to find a middle-aged white lady sitting next to me that I hadn’t noticed before. She smiled awkwardly when our eyes met, and I smiled back. In her hand she was holding the morning’s issue of the Post. I glanced at the cover, for the second time catching her gaze.

It seemed as if she was waiting for me to awaken because she didn’t waste any time asking me, “So, what do you think about Barack?”

He was on the cover of her paper, so the question wasn’t really thrown at me from leftfield. However, over the many years I’d been on this earth, a white person had never ventured to talk politics with me. So in a way, I was pleasantly surprised.
I politely replied, “I think he’s an intelligent individual.”

“Yeah, it must feel good to have someone like you running for office, huh?”

I laughed taking her comment in stride and said, “I don’t know if Barack is like me, but it feels good to know that we may have someone qualified in office soon. I mean after Bush and all.”

I could tell that my answer wasn’t quite what she wanted to hear. Her face was slightly contorted, and her skin had started to redden ever so slightly. Still she seemed to be fully focused on our discussion, shifting in her seat so she was facing me now. I’m a blunt individual, however even I was surprised by her next statement.
She boldly said, “I meant it must feel good to vote for a black man.”

Yes, she took it there. It was respectful though. I was tempted to lie, but I didn’t feel a need to. This was a day after the North Carolina primary where greater than 90% of the African American vote went to Obama. So, her assumption was reasonable.

Back in 1910, a black heavyweight boxer named Jack Johnson stepped into the ring with a white fighter named Jim Jeffries. At the time there wasn’t a black person alive that wasn’t praying that Johnson would knock his block off—and he did. When Jackie Robinson stepped up to bat for the first time, blacks were holding their breath hoping that he wouldn’t strike out. To be honest, after hundreds of years of injustices being committed against black people, O.J. could have walked into court for his first trial with a jagged knife in his pocket, a mask on his face and bloodied Bruno Magli shoes on his feet. Right or wrong, a lot of people I know would have still been saying, “He’s not guilty. He didn’t do it.”

I must have zoned out for a minute because I heard her say, “Do you know anything about his policies? All I ever hear him talk about is change. Are you going to vote for him just because he’s promising change?”

By now we had attracted the attention of other passengers on the train, most of which were Caucasian. They all seemed to be looking at me indirectly, or their ears seemed to be aimed in my direction yearning to hear my response.

The following words flowed out of my mouth without much thought.

“The other day I was doing a speaking engagement with a young group of African American teens from a low income neighborhood. At the end of my discussion, I asked them each what they wanted to be when they grew up. I got the typical answers from football to basketball players and a couple that wanted to be rappers. But, when I got to one teenager he told me that when he got older he was going to be the president of the United States.”

She smiled and said, “Really?”

“Yeah, really,” I said with a slight tinge of attitude. “He didn’t say he wanted to be the president, he said he was going to be the president of the United States with confidence in his voice. And when I saw the look in his eyes, I could tell that he actually believed that his dream would come true. It was at that moment that I truly realized how much hope and inspiration Barack brings to my people—especially the next generation coming up. So, honestly, I don’t know everything about his policies. I don’t know everything about any of the politicians that are running for office. They all say what they think the people want to hear any way. But, I do know what I saw that day in the eyes of that child. And I know I want to see that look of hope more often.”

moses millerThe lights flickered off and on as we went beneath the tunnel that led to Penn Station. Over the loud speaker the conductor made a few announcements. People began to stand grabbing briefcases from the overhead racks, and jockeying to get in position in anticipation of the doors opening.

Silently, I wished that we had more time to speak because I knew that she could never understand what it meant to have someone intelligent, articulate and deserving representing my people in a race for the most powerful position in the world. No disrespect to Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton, but neither one of them had a prayer. Barack transcends race, due to the fact that he can’t be challenged on anything outside of the obvious, which is the color of his skin.

The doors to the train opened, and I headed down the aisle towards the exit. When I reached the platform I felt a tug on my arm. I turned around and saw the same middle-aged white women standing there in her business suit, with a smile on her face.

“I just wanted to say thank you,” she said.

“Why?” I asked.

“You just reaffirmed my belief. I go back and forth with my husband every night, but he is adamant that Barack doesn’t have a chance to be president. And he says even if he did, somebody would assassinate him anyway. So, he’s voting for McCain in the general election. For me, Barack represents everything you just said, but not only for black people. I believe he represents hope for everyone,” she replied with conviction.

A man hurriedly rushed off the train, and bumped into the lady without even saying excuse me, knocking her bag to the ground as he stormed off. Engrossed in the discussion, we both hadn’t even realized that we were blocking the doorway the whole time. Some of her belongings fell out of her bag, and we both bent down to retrieve them as other people on the platform stepped around us.

I picked up her keys, and handed them to her along with an ID badge that was attached to a lanyard. Her purse had also fallen out the bag, and she was collecting some loose change that had been ejected. As she put her change away a picture in her wallet caught my attention. She saw me staring when she glanced upwards and I looked away embarrassingly.

“That’s my husband and our daughter when she was first born. She’s going to be three next month,” she advised as she put the last of her belongings away. “I’ll just have to keep working on my husband. Hopefully he’ll let go of the past and embrace change as well.”

We bid each other farewell, and went our separate ways, both happy that we had taken the time to talk to one another. Throughout the day, my thoughts kept drifting back to our conversation and that picture she showed me. Her daughter had hazel eyes and a fair skinned complexion. Her husband was African American with skin darker than mine. I saw the look in his eyes too . . .

Moses Miller is the author of, Nan: The Trifling Times of Nathan Jones and Once Upon a Time in Harlem. For more information visit:

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Jaxon :
Posted 2578 days ago
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Jarold Imes :
Posted 3650 days ago
Wow... I think that's all I can say.
Good job Moses.
Jonathan :
Posted 3659 days ago
Powerful Piece, Moses. I too see that flicker of hope in our young people and along with Barack we must set an example that fans the flame. Keep doing your part, Brother.
Nardsbaby :
Posted 3660 days ago
Render me speechless! I so agree Jenn, this is a beautiful piece. Tanisha, the sad thing is self hatred is obviously plaguing a lot of us. It's not something that can be erased overnight, but if we work as a whole maybe we can help change things.
Moses this is such an engaging story and I'm so happy that you've shared it with us. I appreciate the truth from his conversation and the truth of the matter is that despite the fact that Barack Obama is a black man, he is a man who is promoting change; a change, which we're all in need of. Can anyone of us gamble on another four years of the same thing?
Iím Barack ď08!!!
disgusted :
Posted 3661 days ago
Tanisha---What a statement and the truth! To add to that it seems we enjoy pulling our neighbor (sista or brotha) down as well. We do need to get it together and fast because if we don't and Barack is elected, I fear he will distance himself from "us".
Jenn :
Posted 3661 days ago
This is a beautiful piece; heart warming and thought provoking.
Tanisha :
Posted 3661 days ago
Black folks are more surprised than whites on Obama making this far. I'm starting to believe that blacks may be more racist than whites. Blacks get it together and stop the self hate.



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