For the entirety of my life, that was the answer I gave to the question “Do you ever think there will be a black President.” Call me cynical, I’m only 40 years old, but I never thought it would happen. That is, until four years ago.
I remember the moment. The Democratic Convention was on the television and as I passed through the dining room, I heard someone introduce the Keynote Speaker, some guy I’d never heard of named Barack Obama. Now, I stopped to give him a bit of attention, well, because he was black, truthfully, and I figured I’d give a brother a little respect. Moments passed and I found myself standing flat-footed and stock-still in the middle of the room.
I had no sense of when he would get there. I was still of the mindset that Kerry would defeat Bush and hopefully get two terms. I figured in eight or twelve years, he’d get his shot. But Bush was able to steal Ohio and, still drunk and high from his reelection party, drove this country into the ditch then climbed out and danced on top of it like Michael Jackson at a courthouse. Things got a lot worse, our nation’s mood got darker and Barack saw the unique opportunity to make a difference.
Like many, when Barack got in the race I thought it may have been too soon for him. I was in the John Edwards camp [cough!utterdisappointment!cough!] for most of the run-up to Iowa, but Barack’s debate performances pulled me into his camp by the time the primaries started. I was still skeptical though. Not of Barack, not at all. I was skeptical of Us. I believe the US is a great country that regrettably has very racist tendencies, so I in no way thought it would be an easy road.
But Barack knew how to play the game. While I repeatedly heard television pundits say that Barack needed to get “passionate” and “show some anger,” I knew what was going on. I knew that Barack had been a black man his entire life and understood that there was a fine line between “showing some anger” and being an “angry black man.” He played it cool and got it done.
I’m not a crying kind of guy. I tend to keep things pretty level and close to the vest, but sometimes moments resonate with me on a primal level and I have no control over that. The first time I heard my son sing a lullaby back to me that I had sung to him his entire life, for example. Tears flowed. Ten minutes after the election was called for Barack, I reached for the phone to call my mother and it hit me. I walked away from the phone and went to find my son. I held him and I cried. At three years old he doesn’t understand the difference between tears of joy and tears of sadness. He doesn’t understand what this moment means to someone like me.
I’ve always considered myself patriotic. But there has always been an enthusiasm gap. I haven’t said the Pledge of Allegiance since elementary school. I stand for but don’t sing the National Anthem. I believe in the promise of America but have always felt America had only given the promise lip-service. That black people’s citizenship was, to an extent, only provisional. Minorities’ in general to be honest.
No longer. A threshold has been crossed. America has shown that it’s willing to start embracing all of its people. For the first time in my life, I feel fully American. When promoting the American Dream, I’ll no longer feel like I’m lying.
Unfortunately, it took a disastrous Presidency to get us here. Citizen’s had to get to the point where the road ahead was so dire that they were forced to set aside their bigotry.
Now we’ve got a lot of work to do. Our economic troubles aren’t suddenly fixed. Our standing in the world isn’t healed. Racism and bigotry aren’t gone now (just ask your gay neighbors). We’re not out of this yet.
But at least we can see the end of the tunnel now.
Barack Hussein Obama is the next President of the United States.
November 5, 2008