It’s 11:oopm Nov 4th, 2008, and Barack Obama has been elected the 44th President of the United States. Welcome back to the world, my American friends. You have one fewer reason to hang your heads. You elected George Bush twice, convincing us that you had all lost your minds. But now you turn around 180 degrees and show the world a remarkably new and encouraging, sane and rational face.
I find that a certain wet substance is blurring my vision at this historic moment. Four decades ago, Martin Luther King was killed for advocating for basic civil rights for Black Americans. There are Blacks who voted today who were not allowed to vote when they were younger. There are graves visited regularly where are buried selfless heroes who were murdered for registering Black voters in the 60s. There are Black Americans who voted today who, as youths, were not permitted to go to school, not permitted to use public bathrooms or drink from public water fountains, and not permitted to ride in the front of the city buses.
Not so long ago, Black Americans were property. They were legally considered three fifths of a human being. Debate even raged over whether they possessed souls. It is truly a heavenly wonder that this same nation has elected a Black man as its leader, within living memory of some of those dark days.
It does not matter that this particular Black man does not have a family history of slavery, having as his origins a direct Kenyan lineage that bypassed the American slave trade. The truth is that any non-White person living in the USA inherits the legacy of slavery. A Black man in America is a Black man in America, regardless of his actual origins.
Much has been made of Obama’s biracial nature, of how he has supposedly chosen to be considered Black for political reasons; he is, after all, equally White. But the truth is that historically American law has decreed anyone with more than one eighth African heritage to be Black; that’s how they decided who had to sit in the back of the bus. And the further truth is that, due to generations of the rape of slaves, every Black person in America has some White blood in him.
Regardless of your political stripes, you must be moved by the ascension of a Black man to the Oval office. Forever more, Black children in the USA will have as their role models not just singers and athletes, but now the President of the United States. The image of what it means to be American will be profoundly changed, as the First Family will now be comprised of Michele Obama and her two Black daughters. Take a moment to visualize that.
Why is this important? Well, when I lived in Washington, DC, seven years ago, I was dismayed to find on local dating sites White women whose profiles said they were only looking for White men (which is their right) because –and here’s the catch– they prefer to date “all American men”. These were not cartoonish redneck racists, but average women working in offices in the nation’s capital. The lesson was that so many of the White mainstream unconsciously and reflexively equate “all American” with “White”. The same is true among a lot of people in Canada, too.
This is the hurdle that all visible minorities deal with: convincing the mainstream to change its iconography, language and symbolism to be inclusive of our identities. Yes, it’s important. To see a Black First Family will be a transformative, revelatory experience in both the USA and Canada. Today’s decision has essentially modified what it means to be American.
And what of John McCain? His very generous concession speech was a taste of the old McCain, a man who would have made an excellent President. It’s his bad luck to have been saddled with the regressive figure of Sarah Palin and to have been forced to run against the epic, historic character.
We should all remember where we were at 11pm on November 4th. I was in my parent’s living room in Toronto, watching the BBC. I chose to be alone lest others see my sissy tears. Where were you?