Barack Obama is the President-elect of the United States. I still really don't know what to say.
Though I expected the Democrats to win and win big, I've got to say I was unprepared for the wave of emotion that flooded over me when the race was called for Barack Obama. Our little family just grabbed each other, hugged, and held on. Then we said a prayer of thanks to God for the blessing of the day, and of thanks to our ancestors for persevering through it all and making a day like yesterday possible. Another significant date has been added to the panopoly of sacred dates/events in the advancement of African-Americans up from slavery, joining the Emancipation Proclamation/Juneteenth; the culmination of the Civil Rights Movement (in the form of the Voting Rights Act of 1964); and now the election of the first person of African descent to the highest office in the land.
This is not simply a victory for Blacks, but rather an overwhelming victory for the American people. However based simply on my own history and experiences, at first glance I have to look at it from the perspective of being a Black man. I've been conversing with friends, family, and blog buddies since last night, and keep ending up in the same place. Namely, that just a few short years ago when I was coming up, we used to joke (in a serious way) that a Black person would never, ever become the President of the United States. There were just too many obstacles in the path of such a victory.
For example, there just aren't enough Black people in this country to elect a President. We only comprise 12-13% of the population, so on a good day, if all of us voted for the same candidate and could vote in the same state, we'd have trouble electing a governor in California or Texas by ourselves, let alone a President.
Then there's racial prejudice. In the world I grew up in in East Texas, it was quite clear to everybody that a color line existed and that major obstacles faced Blacks trying to advance in almost any endeavor. That same line existed, sometimes in more subtle fashion, pretty much everywhere else I've lived and worked. White folks simply would not vote for a Black candidate if a viable (read White) alternative was available. National level politics? A President? Yeah right, quit dreaming.
Yet here we are in 2008 and not only is an African-American the President-elect, his victory is due in very large measure to the millions of Whites who voted for him. Oh, I'm not leaving out Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and others who formed part of the victory coalition, but the fact that Obama captured such a large percentage of the White vote is amazing and gratifying to me. I am proud that so many folks voted based upon their best interests instead of out of fear or ignorance. In so doing, the impetus has been provided for America to take another great leap ahead as a country.
In many ways this election validates our hopes in regard to America's future. I know when I've discussed issues of history and race with teenagers, a lot of times it's as if they have no idea what you're talking about, and their almost universal refrain is that "that was then and this is now. Things have changed." Apparently they are right. Our kids all get along until they're taught not to, and the youth vote in this election proved that beyond a doubt.
Now I haven't buried my head in the sand to the point where I think that the race issue in this country has finally been dealt with definitively. Maybe it never will be. Like Obama, pretty much all of us (especially Blacks and Whites) are mixed-race if you go back far enough and uncover some of the forgotten leaves in our family trees. We're from the same families in other words, and the problem is that historically one side of the family tree reaped the majority of the inheritance. That reality and other deep rooted issues can't be washed away based on the results of a single election.
But Barack Obama's candidacy exposed an essential truth that I hope is built upon in the coming years. That truth is that we Americans have a lot more in common than different. Our interests are the same. A lot of us even have the same names, and common ancestors. We all want to be able to provide for our families, for our kids to get a good education, and to be afforded the opportunity to live healthy and in security. The current administration and its policies has shown us all that we're in the same boat. High gas prices, unending wars, and organized theft from the national treasury affects us all, and we'll be paying the price for two G.W. Bush terms for years to come. Last night's victory is a great start towards that recovery, and a spingboard for a better future.
I sure hope so anyway, and I really wish some of those people who meant the most to me in my life could have lived to see it.