Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Reacting to Obama's Historic Victory

Had Al Gore won the presidential election in 2000, I would have pumped my fist. Had Kerry won in 2004, I would have done the same. But at 10 PM Central Standard Time last night, when John Stewart (yes, I was watching comedy central at that moment) announced that Barack Obama had won the presidency, I didn’t pump my fist.

Instead, my hands trembled. I blinked back tears. I flipped over to CNN and stared raptly at the images of celebration—at Obama rallies in Chicago and New York, at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, in Kenya. Had Al Gore or John Kerry won in their races, I would have reacted in much the way I react when the Buffalo Bills win an important game: My team pulled it off! Yeah!

But this wasn’t just about my team. This was something more. A black journalist on CNN, who would have been born just about the time of Martin Luther King’s assassination, expressed the point in roughly the following way (this is a paraphrase, since I don’t have the transcript):

“Growing up, if a black boy or girl said they wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer or a business executive, their parents and teachers would have said, ‘Go for it!’ But if they’d said they wanted to be the president of the United States, they’d have been gently told that the country might not be ready for that. But now, now if my children say they want to grow up to be president, I can give them a different answer.”

This election didn’t cure the ills of racism in America. It didn’t erase the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, or the persistent inequities that seem to fall so consistently along racial lines. But Martin Luther King’s dream of a world in which people are judged by the content of their character rather than by the color of their skin, this dream in which skin color no longer defines one’s place in society or one’s prospects for the future—this dream has become more than just a dream.

As my sister put it in an e-mail I received this morning, “Now let us all pray to keep our new president safe from those who don’t share the dream, and to give him the strength and the wisdom to move forward.”

Amen to that.

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