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Anna Donald’s American dream

6 Nov, 08 | by BMJ

Anna DonaldI have just finished sobbing for hours over Barak Obama’s winning the US Presidency. I lived in Boston, Palo Alto (California), and Albany New York as a small child. My father a student on a scholarship, we camped all the way across the country and back. (What possessed my family to go south in summer and north in winter is beyond me, but it did mean seeing spectacular ice formations in Wyoming, hanging off the gutters of the motel we could just about afford.)
We witnessed a time of great change in America: the civil rights’ movement; the last throes of the ghastly Vietnam War. The end of the 1960s. I went to three schools. The last was a school which had a predominantly black population, at the butt end of town, where we could afford to live in one room in a student hostel. I will never forget it. The black kids were lovely: they had dignity, humour and a sense of fun despite shocking teaching (one teacher used to take their lunch money if they ‘were naughty’ and pocket it for herself. Another made us put our heads down on the desk because we ‘talked too much’ while she popped butterscotch in her fat poor-white-trash mouth, did her nails, and read Mills and Boon.)

Although my friends were black, the teachers made me sit with skinny white kids who were mean and taunted you when you went to the toilet. Although, at 7, I was still colour-blind, I was getting the hint that Life in America was not the same for everyone. I couldn’t work out how my black friends stayed so open and cheerful, despite our horrid and slutty teachers’ obvious lack of care for them. I’d never witnessed teachers who didn’t give a monkeys for their pupils before. I developed a marked squint from nerves. I literally couldn’t bear what I was seeing. My parents took me out of the school and let me cycle around Albany on my little bike all day in the remaining months before we returned to Sydney.

Another incident was in Tennessee, where, on a very hot day, I leapt joyfully into a public swimming pool, not realising I was in the ‘wrong’ section. I remember the bemused looks of the black onlookers, who, I think, were generously smiling at a little girl who couldn’t see the problem. They certainly weren’t unkind or try to push me out.

Much later, I went to Harvard’s John F Kennedy School of Government. Despite my great love of that school, which probably gave me the most sophisticated education I’ve had to date, I was still appalled at the pall of racial awareness that infected every classroom. It was like being stuck in a psychic prison – for everyone – that we just couldn’t break out of. No one was unaffected. The black students – particularly the smart ones – consciously or unconsciously registered their protest by persistent lateness which made everyone else angry and guilty and generally miserable about the whole stupid business none of us could change.

So, over a lifetime, I’d stored up great sadness for America’s confused and violent legacy of slavery, which made it almost impossible, for example, for my brother and his Caribbean-American wife to raise their children there. And which spoiled such an otherwise fabulous country. I wasn’t aware I was carrying this grief around until today. I guess you can’t just jack connections once you’ve made them. Perhaps we are all one, even though I write this from 13,000+ miles away.

In any case, many of my own bottled-down feelings got released today, hence my inability to stop crying. I know Barak Obama is many things other than black, which is why he’s won the election. But what a massive symbolic release for a country so mired in seemingly intractable racial tension. If people like me: foreigners; mere look-ons, are so affected, I can’t imagine the feelings tonight across the country for people who’ve had to endure the heartbreak of the whole sorry history for their whole lives, whatever their colour or persuasion.

Because beneath the aggression, guilt, dismay, anger, rage – usually lies heartbreak, which is the hardest thing to face of all. I think it’s denial of this underlying, unbearable heartbreak – the denial of the sacred space that connects us – that goads people into violence and self-destruction, because the alternative might just be too sad and too hard to bear.

So, Angie, my 7-year-old playmate from that tiny, caged asphalt playground and horrid toilets and lazy bone, bigot teachers in our school in the back streets of Albany, New York, if you see this blog know I will never forget you or our other friends and the suffering you’ve all been through, which I could escape from and you could not. Except, of course, we whities couldn’t escape, none of us. You can’t watch others suffer, knowing you are part of their suffering, and escape it yourself. Which is why, I think, I spent the day sobbing, releasing a lifetime of held-in helplessness and dismay.

Sobbing with joy because my deepest hopes for humanity have, at least for a day, been made real. Obama is right. America always struggles forward, somehow, when others might just stick their heads in the sand. I lived and felt that spirit of hope, despite everything, during both 2-year periods living in the United States, twenty-two years apart.

Sobbing because after so many bleak years I can once again feel hope that perhaps we can move beyond this period of war-mongering and projection of America’s inner angst onto innocent people (as well as some rather nasty ones). Who perilously seemed to lie for such a long time beyond America’s imagination, to all our chagrin.

And suddenly, everything has changed. I can once again wave joyfully to the flag I pledged allegiance to with such sincerity, aged 5. The global crash helped, no doubt, but is not the whole story. The world just flipped over. It will never be the same to be black again. Or white. Or yellow or red or blue or green. Oh happy happy day.

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  • Catherine

    Anna, some time after 4am (here) on 6th November, while waiting for Obama to make his victory speech, I read your last blog and remembered that other things were happening in the world. I had forgotten. It’s quite amazing how a far away event can transform the importance of all the other everyday things which had seemed so stressful and absorbing. I hope your happiness gives you strength for a long time. You are wonderful, and that’s making me cry too! All this crying! Lots of love, Catherine

  • http://annadonald Vivian

    Well said. Well said.

  • justin jewitt

    Anna

    I share your hope of a new form of belief in America. I spent 2 years in the USA during the early 90′s mainly on the east side of USA cities involved in retailing all manner of goods to mainly poor black and white americans.I have walked through ,and in, most of the worst government housing projects in Washington, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit and a few other beauty spots. My learning was that free healthcare is a real gift as well as social care and benefit payments .Every country needs to invest in all its population to make sure everyone can grow up and become future members of its society.
    I just hope that BO ( unfortunate initials for such a great man) casn deliver on the hope.

    Justin

  • ghislaine young

    I too was awake at 4 am (UK time) sobbing joyfully at the results of the US election: finally someone to inspire and unite us in hope for a better and more peaceful world!
    Wishing you love and light Anna- get those deviant and rebellious cells under control again.
    Keep writing: you and Obama my heroes!
    Ghislaine

  • Kate

    And I thought I was the only one crying with joy!

  • Cybertiger

    Peace for out time? Forget it: that Obama has chosen a strong Israel partisan as his chief of staff indicates a very poor prognosis for peace in the Middle East. Nothing will change: the American dream will forever represent a nightmare for the world.

  • Tom

    Lovely post sis’.

  • Dr Anthony Papagiannis

    Colour does matter, and the Obama victory carries strong symbolic value for those who lived and experienced harsh discrimination based on the hue of their skin. One hopes that the young and promising winner will not (have to) sacrifice his pre-election pledges to the cynicism of everyday reality. However, the hot seat at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, Washington, DC is different from the campaign rallies. Therefore, some reservation in rejoicing would be warranted.

  • Joseph W. Blackston, MD, JD

    Yes, Anna, many Americans are indeed sobbing but NOT with joy.

    We have managed to elect a person with massively limited leadership experience, who clearly has problems telling the truth, and has alliances with terrorists and racists, but who looks great on TV and would make an excellent used car salesman. What a fine country this is.

    The person who did not get elected only has a life-long history of bravery and military and civilian service to his country, but whose candidacy was linked to a financial crisis in our country which he did not cause, but in fact helped try to prevent.

    One of the failings of our country has been our preference for form over substance, for shiny glittery objects (Michael Jackson and Paris Hilton) over things that matter (education, hard work, and economic prosperity). These “chickens,” as Obama’s best friend and admitted “spiritual advisor”/ aka racist preacher likes to say, are “coming home to roost.”

    The US Healthcare system needs change, but not the kind that Barack Hussein Obama will bring. Just as the Soviets discovered they had bankrupted their country with military spending, the Obama socialist philsophy toward “free everything for everyone” will bankrupt our economy, and the economy of our children’s children.

    For those of you who blog here from outside the US, PLEASE move immediately to our country so you can begin paying taxes in support of all these wonderful things that Obama will be bringing our nation. If you like it so much where you are, but wish to criticise our nation from your spot, just send your money directly to Washington DC and be assured it will be spent (or more likely wasted).

    Thanks!

  • http://annadonald Vivian

    Dear Anna, today I came upon a bibliograpy regarding spontaneous cancer remissions at Institue Of Noetic Sciences website. You might be interested in this chapter of documented spontaneious remissions.

    http://www.noetic.org/research/sr/files/behavior.pdf

    Metta, Vivian

  • Natalia

    So nice to read of your rejoicing at our great electoral achievement. Philippe is in the US this week and says everyone is jumping for joy!

    Much love to you sweetie pie, X Natalia

    p.s. I completely disagree with everything that Blackston guy said, in particular, linking Obama with terrorists

  • Dr.priya thorat

    Dear Anna
    I have been following your story and blogs for many months now.I have spent 2 yrs living in US and your story still resonates with my ‘work-out mates’ who are almost all African-American.
    I always look forward to your blog- in fact it has become the highlight of the BMJ every week!This one is arguably the best so far..Keep writing! u r an inspiration.
    tc
    priya, Indianapolis, Indiana, formerly of Mumbai, india
    PS The ranting and raving of this Blackston character above is a very common reaction among white doctors here.Its really sad in a way.

  • Tom Witt, MD

    Yes, indeed Dr. Blackston, you too have the choice to move elsewhere in this world if you’re not able to accept the decision of the majority and wish to continue to live in the past. I imagine you also look at the last eight years as a constructive period for this great country of ours. History will judge both of these administrations/periods of time, but I’m excited to move on and see what this decision of ours will bring. Get over it–look ahead.

    P.S. You also did a nice job of including all the code words used during the negative part of this campaign!!

  • Ruth Howard

    Hi Anna Im loving you, thanks for a raw emotional diatribe, it all deserves such emotion. Education is so incredibly devisive. Im aware that the education crisis and financial crisis and environmental crisis all point to a human spirit crisis. But of course Im speaking about myself!

    I love you I’m a little challenged at this time I was hoping for a breakthrough that isn’t! I wish you big big big health.

    xxxxRufus

  • Tom

    For those of you who keep track of Anna via this blog, she hasn’t posted in a while as she’s battling the side effects of the latest round of chemo. She’s in hospital, and seemingly through the worst of it, but will be there for a bit longer and not able to post blogs. Thoughts, prayers, etc. all appreciated.
    Tom (her brother).

  • http://bmj.com David Payne

    Dear Tom,
    I really appreciate you updating us all via the blog. Birte and I (blog moderators on bmj.com), look so forward to Anna’s postings and wonderful comments she gets from you all. Please send Anna our love.

    And Anna, if you’re reading this, your tips for entertaining my teenage Aussie cousin during her time in London last weekend were spot-on. She loved the British Museum and Windsor in particular and in January, when she returns from Germany, we’ll do all the other things you recommended.

  • justin jewitt

    Tom

    Thanks for the update on Anna , I was getting worried so pass on my best wishes.And I’ll pusha few prayers into the ozone layer as well.

    All the best

    Justin

  • Diana

    As a medical specialist who works in a country with universal health care for all, let me state categorically that I happily pay my taxes to support this. Our system in Australia is far from perfect, but at least I can be assured that all my patients – both public and private – have reasonable access to the health care they need. My advice to medical colleagues in the US: pay more tax and produce a better health care system for all.

    All the best Anna

    Diana

  • Dr Anthony Papagiannis

    Anna, your insightful comments in this blog have urged lots of people to voice their best (and sometimes, it would appear, second best) sentiments on all the issues you have touched upon. We appreciate the effort it takes to keep doing this while you also struggle with one more round of our “routine” treatments for people with cancer. We pray and hope to read from you again soon, with some good news.

  • Lauren

    Dear Anna, i have been reading your blog but haven’t yet expressed how much your sharing means to me. Thank you for your depth, inspiration, sensitivity, sharing your insight and wisdom and wonderful humour as you travel your journey. Especially thank you for taking the time and energy to write. Your courage and capacity for joy is awesome, in the true sense of the word. I have been through a long and difficult journey with post-traumatic stress disorder, am now a lot better and rediscovering the joy of life. Reading your blog has been a great inspiration and strengthening for me – Thank You. I send you much love, healing prayers and blessings. You are a Blessing to us all.

  • Tom

    Some folks have asked for me to post another update about Anna here in the comments, so here goes: She’s out of hospital and back at home. Recovery from the most recent round of chemo continues, but as she said “I’m crawling towards it”, so another blog post might take a while. She’s been through quite a trial (which I’m sure she’ll write about herself) so we’re all thrilled she’s back home.

    Also, I’ve seen the backlog in Anna’s email inbox which is daunting given how long she’s been off the grid. So posting kind words here might be best.

    Tom (her brother).

  • http://annadonald Vivian

    Tom, thank you for update. Anna, so very glad you are home at last, best wishes for a full recovery. Metta, Vivian

  • Liz Harding

    Dear Anna

    So very pleased to hear that you are out of hospital and back home. We’re all thinking of you back here in London. Love and prayers, Liz, Dave, Lillie & James. x

  • ghislaine young

    Delighted to hear you are back home!
    I love this poem from Raymond Carver (1938-1988)

    Late Fragment
    And did you get what
    you wanted from this life, even so?
    I did.
    And what did you want?
    To call myself beloved, to feel myself
    beloved on the earth.

    Keep going Anna for you are surely beloved. Ghislaine

  • justin jewitt

    Anna

    Great to hear you are back in circulation.Looking forward to enjoying your next blog on life .

    very best wishes

    Justin

  • Anna Donald

    Dear Anna,
    thinking of you with all I have.
    From the other Anna Donald

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