Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Where We Came From, Where We're Going
Got an e-mail from a friend today, simply titled: we did it.

Yes, we did. I share the pride so many are feeling at what Barack Obama accomplished last night, and I look to the future with new hope as well as a sober sense of just how daunting are the challenges in front of us. Obama's exceptional talents, the larger Democratic majorities in Congress that will (mostly, hopefully) support him, the goodwill of millions of Americans and billions all over the world, the exceptionally gracious concession speech McCain gave and the avowals of support from virtually every corner of the political map all might not suffice to reverse the country's severe economic tailspin, conclude our two foreign wars as successfully as possible, provide health care and educational opportunity or restore the best traditions of American governance that were strained perhaps past the breaking point over the last eight years.

And it doesn't mean the end of racism--much less bigotry in any form--in America. Obama's victory marks a wonderful symbolic step... but it won't eliminate racial profiling or the disproportionate number of African-Americans in the nation's jails and prisons, it won't close the income and educational gaps between races, and it probably signifies little in terms of how, say, the average suburban white woman reacts when she sees a black teenager walking towards her on an otherwise deserted street in the evening. I've been meaning to try and find a biography of Benjamin Disraeli, the 19th century British prime minister of Jewish extraction whose elevation to the office did no more to end anti-Semitism in his country than I suspect Obama's win will to fully close the book on America's fraught racial history. But what this does mean is that merit, and self-interest, can now trump prejudice. This is not a small thing.

At the same time, the evident victory of Proposition 8 in California, banning gay marriage in the Golden State, reminds us that the struggle against ignorance, fear and hate continues. That African-Americans, whose votes helped give Obama a landslide in the state, reportedly broke for this measure against the civil rights of California gays by a margin of 70-30, is a heartbreaking irony.

I'll add some more thoughts about the election, and the road ahead, later tonight or tomorrow. For now, I'm just trying to focus on the joyous recognition that America's story is not over, that the country has reaffirmed its gift for self-correction, and that, as the man himself has put it, more unites us than divides us.

2 comments:

The Navigator said...

I have real albeit modest hopes for this presidency along a few axes, one of them being a diminution of prejudice by his example. There were a startling number of Americans who admitted out loud this year that they thought a black president would 'put the blacks on top' or only do things for blacks; a fraction of them are incorrigible racists, but I'm optimistic that some other fraction of them will come to see that their fears were unfounded, and hopefully their children will grow up realizing that their parents' fears were ridiculous.

There's also the matter of the subconscious prejudice that's nearly universal - the one Malcolm Gladwell refers to when he says that tests reveal that he's mildly prejudiced against blacks, even though he's half-black himself. It's the one that (so I've read, and I believe) leads people to identify Lucy Liu as less American than Kate Winslet. People's semi-conscious picture of what a law-abiding American leader looks like will have to adjust, thank goodness.

Feral said...

The great thing is, in one election we were able to diminish prejudices against a black candidate AND a female candidate, thanks to the shark-like, unrelenting and vicious efficiency of the Hillary campaign and candidacy, not to mention the sense that Hillary would possibly have had an easier time defeating McCain. Now it's as if she won as well, in the sense that a second female candidate won't feel novel.

This phenomenon can be easily observed in the universally accepted lameness of Buzz Aldrin (oh great, the SECOND man on the moon...)