Never have I been so happy to be an American, never so proud to look at my daughter, Mimi, who is almost seven, and say to her, “remember this night for as long as you live. Tonight Americans have done something extraordinary, historic, brave, and long-overdue. We have elected a president who isn’t white.”
The story of Obama’s election is a gift for Mimi and her sisters. They’re not white either, and an Obama presidency will be a reminder to them that, when our nation is functioning properly (which, by no means is all of the time), a person need not be white to enjoy the limitless possibilities this land has to offer.
The election of Barack Obama is no less important for me and for my wife and for our son who, like us, is white. By electing Barack Obama, Americans have rejected the sin of racism. The Obama presidency will not erase the stain of America’s record on race—it cannot undue slavery, Jim Crow, or the Chinese Exclusion Act—but it will tear down some of the barriers that limit some of us and separate all of us, and for that, I am proud.
I am proud also because the election of Barack Obama restores America’s leadership role in the international community. For too long, the United States, when it has led the world, has led in the wrong direction. We’ve led the world’s financial markets into recession, we’ve led the world into an idiotic war in Iraq, and while waging that war, we’ve led the world away from the international laws and agreements that attempt to mitigate the cruelty of war; we’ve led the world in conspicuous consumption and in cultural expressions that pander to the lowest common denominator. For most of my adult life, but especially during the last eight years, the American legacy has been one of air-headed, concupiscent, war mongering. Now Americans, listening to our better angels, have done something no military superpower or international economic powerhouse has ever done: we’ve handed the tiller of State to someone who is from a racial and ethnic minority community.
This is good not just for America. It is good for a planet where ethnic conflict is on the rise. The election of an American president who is black won’t be a magical fix, but it may make a few people stop and think: if folks in the United States can overcome the legacy of slavery and segregation to elect a President with African blood, perhaps we can look past the pain of our historical divisions too.
It’s a dream, to be sure, but then, two years ago the thought that a black man named Barack Hussein Obama might be greeted by a military band playing “Hail to the Chief” was beyond hallucinatory.
Sometimes dreams do come true.