I confess that I still don't know how I feel about the events of last Tuesday. There's an overwhelming elation, but also the knowledge that the next 4-8 years will be tough. Republicans will be sniping at the Obama administration, and the Democratic circular firing squad is already assembling. On some issues, it'll be necessary to reassemble the movement that elected Obama so that we can force him to do the right thing, and other times we'll have to get the band back together in order to make sure other people do what he wants them to.
But above all that political meditation, I don't know what it means that we've elected a black president.
On one hand, it is a repudiation of the people I met when canvassing who dismissed me by saying "you know 'they' won't ever let him win." Whoever "they" are (and several people referred to this mysterious group), it's obvious that "we" were more powerful. But does this overcome an institutional racism that has run through American society since colonial days, which was written into our Constitution, and which still manifests its effects in acts of violence and in socioeconomic distinctions 140 years after its abolition, 40 years after the death of Jim Crow.
Barack Obama didn't run as a black man, nor did I back him because of the color of his skin. Skin color could never be ignored, of course, and it is significant that a solid majority of Americans chose a black man to lead the nation. But it is also significant that I knocked on doors, doors of solid Democrats from a non-Southern state (Nevada) who refused to look at his website because "I don't like to look at gorillas," and who were encouraged by the thought that the KKK would have a resurgence if he won. It's significant that there were Obama supporters who flew a Confederate flag over their Obama yard sign. Obama lost votes to racism, just as he won votes from some racists, and got a lot of votes from people who saw the act of voting for him as significant because of his skin color.
Barack Obama isn't Martin Luther King, Jr. Not yet. King's legacy is measured not in what he achieved during his life, but in what was done in his name and in his memory. He led a movement that changed race relations forever. Barack Obama, it seems to me, has led a movement that has great potential to do the same, but the change has yet to take hold.
But I may be wrong. Here is the nut of Donna Britt's stunning essay in today's Washington Post. She begins by describing her son and his friends, young black men crumpled on the basement floor, spent from the emotional high of Tuesday night:
Skin color didn't vault this candidate into the presidency. What got Obama elected was Obama.
His fluency with words and ideas. His imaginative campaign. His unflappability. His penchant, displayed in the debates, for agreeing with foes before pointedly telling them where they're wrong. At this particular moment, calmness, inspiration, creativity and alliance-building were catnip to folks facing two wars, recession and a waning international reputation.
Yet the power of what Obama's skin color symbolizes is undeniable. He's a black man -- half white, but so brown there's no confusion as to how he's identified. As moved as I am by revelers in Japan and Brazil, I keep thinking about the guys in my basement.
No group in America is more feared, stereotyped and misunderstood than black men. Centuries of rejection, fear and hatred have taken a toll; is it surprising that so many display self-doubt and self-loathing? Economics alone can't explain many young brothers' seeming contempt for their own women, their exaggerated displays of machismo in dress and attitude, or the scores who've blown each other away out of perceived disrespect. Truly confident people don't need to trumpet their masculinity, their power.
But the men downstairs were lucky -- college-educated, employed or in college, with dedicated mothers and father figures who'd taught them to respect women and their own worthiness. So why were they losing it?
Everything in human existence comes back to love -- whom we love, how we love, whether we are loved. The lack of love shrinks and deforms us; its presence helps us grow and expand. To black folks, Obama's hordes of volunteers and enormous rallies represented more than a populace weary of shrinking possibilities. They were an outpouring of love -- not just of the effortless politician who'd captivated them but of that which they hoped their nation was capable of.
On Tuesday night, my son and his friends saw their neighbors give their trust -- their love -- to a man whose grace, facial features, commitment to doing the right thing and multicultural view resembled theirs; a man who could have been their father, their cousin -- or them. Their response wasn't just about the notion that they, too, could become anything. It was about the suggestion that they could be embraced in ways that others have long taken for granted.
When I knocked on doors in Reno and in Las Vegas, and when I dialed numbers from New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, and Indiana, none of what Britt describes was on my mind. But if it is the consequence of what I and thousands of others did, then we can – as a nation – be proud. It would have been impossible to accomplish what Britt's son felt by trying; the only way it could happen is when enough of the nation was willing to see past race for a while.
This is the start of a journey, and I look forward to seeing where it takes us all. But we are surely not there yet. If Donna Britt and her sons are any guide, it will be a glorious place when we arrive.
Republicans will be sniping at the Obama administration
Yes, very true. I am sure that they will go no further than mild sniping. This is because doing everything in their power to undermine and destroy President Obama--our Commander in Chief--during a TIME OF WAR would be treason.
Republicans will be sniping at the Obama administration
Limbaugh is already referring to "Obama's Recession".
Right wingers will now list presidential history as the progression: "Carter - Clinton - Obama".
What is the Democratic circular firing squad? Is that anything like the Tweed Ring?
Here in Toronto, where race doesn't have the psychological significance it does in U.S. cities, emotions ran just as high. But the focus was not on Obama's skin, it was on his brain. He talks like a normal, reasonably intelligent person, addressing public issues instead of spouting the loony gibberish we've been hearing for so long from south of the border. Canadians breathed a sigh of relief on election night. It is reported that even an overwhelming majority in Canada's Conservative Party wanted to see Obama elected. The cliche of Canadian politics is that sharing the continent with the U.S. is like "a mouse sleeping with an elephant" --- even if it doesn't mean the mouse any harm, the elephant can roll over in its sleep. But under George Bush, it was more like sleeping with a schizophrenic elephant addicted to crack cocaine.