Ben Buchwalter


The Fire
November 6, 2008, 2:10 pm
Filed under: 2008 Election, Barack Obama, Civil Rights, Race | Tags: , ,

The other day Leigh pointed out how different the rhetoric has been in the past few days since Obama got elected with respect to his race. Before the election, people made passing references to the impact of electing the first African American president, but no one really got into the emotional aspect of it. Maybe that is because people were nervous to make too much of a big issue about his race before the election. Or maybe it was because they did not want to jinx his chances of winning. 

But in the past few days there has been an outpouring of emotion about the momentous importance of Barack Obama’s election as the 44th President of the United States. It’s like we’ve been holding our breath for the past two years and simply cannot do it anymore so the words just spew out uncontrollably. I got pretty emotional during Barack Obama’s speech the other night. But I cannot imagine how poignant that moment must have been for people who lived through the Civil Rights era. And that cuts across racial lines. I think that it is just as important, though entirely different, for white people who experienced the racial turmoil of the 1960s, as it is for the black people who were consistently and sometimes violently suppressed.

Most of the texts that I have read regarding race relations in America have shared the same thesis: that whites inherited a position of power over those with darker skin and they are not willing to give it up. In The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin writes that waking up to a racially equal America would be the equivalent (for a white person) to opening your front door in the morning and seeing your entire world on fire. All of a sudden, what you thought was up was down, and what you thought was good was bad.

Though I think that holds true for much of America, I believe that white entitlement will start to fade with my generation and the next. A generation of children will grow up seeing Barack, Michelle, Sasha, and Malia Obama in the White House. For the next eight years, someone who would have been viciously oppressed as a slave two hundred years ago, will be the most powerful person in the world. The next two hundred years will reap the benefits of the fact that we are finally equal.

Eugene Robinson writes very eloquently on the importance of Barack Obama’s election. Here is an excerpt:

I can’t help but experience Obama’s election as a gesture of recognition and acceptance — which is patently absurd, if you think about it. The labor of black people made this great nation possible. Black people planted and tended the tobacco, indigo and cotton on which America’s first great fortunes were built. Black people fought and died in every one of the nation’s wars. Black people fought and died to secure our fundamental rights under the Constitution. We don’t have to ask for anything from anybody. 

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