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June 04, 2008

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he had assumed that Obama was "some kind of stunt"

Wow.

As much as I'm happy to have taken a great job in Singapore, I'm a little disappointed that I won't be able to watch Election Day 2008 from American soil. And the possibility of being around a lot of African-Americans who feel as you describe, as Obama wins, is especially beautiful.

Wow.

Well, he was one up on DMX, in that he'd at least heard Obama's name before...

At least in its milder form -- 'he can't win' -- as opposed to the more ominous 'they won't let him win.'

The latter sentiment is not unique to african americans. In the one recent conversation I had with my wife's ~85 year old relatives, both democrats, they were both convinced (and probably still are) that some "hillbilly" would kill him. Not sure if that kept them from voting for him, but the sentiment was there. Could be a generational thing (i.e., there hasn't been a major political assassination in the U.S. since, what, the late 60s?).

Great post! I've been thinking along the same lines and wondering how race relations will change in the wake of all this. I think the generation born post-JimCrow is ready and eager to enter this new and improved era, but I imagine the older generation, of whatever color, is pretty blown away. I've been speculating that this was a factor in Wright's off-the-wall behavior, as well as HRC's and Ferraro's. All of them seemed to go wobbly in the same way, unbalanced by the shifting of the paradigm.

But yeah--it must be amazing for a member of the AA community to witness the outpouring of love and respect for Obama from white America.

Great post! I've been thinking along the same lines and wondering how race relations will change in the wake of all this. I think the generation born post-JimCrow is ready and eager to enter this new and improved era, but I imagine the older generation, of whatever color, is pretty blown away.

They have a saying in the sciences that a new paradigm really doesn't get accepted until all the defenders of the old one die off. It may be that all us "dinosaurs" from the 1960s have to die off to let the true civil rights era begin...without the baggage of the past...

"it must be amazing for a member of the AA community to witness the outpouring of love and respect for Obama from white America."

I just realized that my last comment might sound condescending--I certainly didn't mean it that way. I was married into the AA community for about 6 years, and became intensely aware of how mistrustful blacks and whites are towards each other, and like many I'm hoping that Obama's campaign will help bridge that divide.

i'm still pretty jazzed about the symbolism in the following dates:

August 28, 1963: Martin Luther King gives his “I Have A Dream” speech.

August 28, 2008: The first black presidential nominee will give his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention.

"It may be that all us "dinosaurs" from the 1960s have to die off to let the true civil rights era begin...without the baggage of the past..."

Maybe not literally, but politically, yeah maybe. I think the boomers did most of the heavy lifting on this one though, and we're finally seeing the fruits of those labors.

Terrific post, hilzoy.

For what it's worth, the same thing happened with Lula in Brazil: people never imagined that northeastern working-class bottom-of-the-rung people like them (with a poor command of their own language) would ever be President of the Republic.

The elites came together many times to make sure it never happened (see 1990, 1994, 1998).

Until it did.

Then again, one could say that Jackson started this trend.

Really great post Hilzoy! As eloquent as ever.

Reading about the joy experienced by someone like Jim Clyburn from this nomination, makes me so happy it's hard to describe.

My concern for Obama's safety became less abstract a couple of weeks ago as a result of this odd and disturbing incident:

I had just finished running and was standing on the sidewalk at a sizable intersection in my liberal Atlanta neighborhood. The driver of a car waiting at the light rolled down his window and got my attention. I thought he was going to ask for directions, but no, he asked:

"Am I irrational to cling to my prayer that the 'Obamanation' will be assassinated?" After the light turned he took off, letting out a maniacal cackle, and I could here him as he drove away yelling "I CLING to my prayer that the 'Obamanation' will be assassinated!"

Maybe he was just some methed-out redneck trying to yank someone's chain, but I've been a pedestrian in that area for close to 20 years, and I never heard anything like that about Clinton, Gore, Kerry, etc.

Hillary Clinton will concede Friday.

August 28 is such a special day.

It didn't really hit me until Iowa. Up until then I, too, was an Obama supporter for the wonkier reasons (Samantha Power on the team was his best selling point for me) . . . but there was always that part of my mind that said: "Sure, he's great and all, but c'mon, he's a liberal multi-racial guy from Hawaii with a funny name (hey! that sounds like me!). He can't possibly win. And if he does, they'll shoot him."

Then all those white folk in Iowa (Iowa!) voted for him. And I started to cry and cry and cry. And I realized how much it would mean to me, personally, for him to win.

I hate (hate!) racial issues in politics. But man oh man are they there. And, yeah, I gotta say it: I'm with Michelle on this one. For the first time in my adult life I'm really proud of my country.

Side note/personal confession: I still get incredibly scared every time I see him speak live (either in person, or on the tubes). I keep expecting the shot. It makes me literally, physically sick.

Wow, you know this is really a deeply beautiful thing.

I remember hearing an anecdote (maybe it was here) of a rally in Cleveland where families brought there kids to see someone who might become the first African-American president. It was touching.

I think it will be difficult to run (and I have sympathy for a person who has to do it) against a person whose election would be a world historical milestone. But that's the position John McCain's been thrust into.

Hilzoy's post is top of the front page on all three of the blogs I read first.

There may be hope for us after all.

kudos

-------------------
Mother, mother
There's too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There's far too many of you dying
You know we've got to find a way
To bring some lovin' here today - Ya

Father, father
We don't need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate
You know we've got to find a way
To bring some lovin' here today

A few months ago, I was watching the excellent Elia Kazan movie "A Face In The Crowd." There's a scene early on where Andy Griffith's character brings a black woman on-camera on his TV show, and there's a reaction shot of black viewers frantically calling their families into the living room because "There's a Negro on the television!" I couldn't help but imagine the reaction you'd have been greeted with if you told someone fifty years ago that a black man would be the front-runner for the presidency in 2008.

My twin daughters will be turning a year old on Election Day in November. I love it that the idea that the president has to be an old white guy will seem impossibly quaint to them.

It didn't really hit me until Iowa.

I remember after he'd won the Iowa caucus I was watching his victory speech and feeling swept up in the excitement of what seemed to be a huge and very unexpected electoral upset.

I wasn't really thinking about his race, mostly just the eloquence of his speech, which was drawing me in with his words calling on us to come together in a spirit of national reconcilation after the bitter divisions and disgrace of the Bush administration.

The longer he spoke, building up theme upon theme (and all of it sounding just pitch perfect) I had this unreal sensation of knowing with absolute clarity, as I was watching this, that I was hearing the next President speak, even though the nomination contest had only just barely begun.

And then suddenly it hit me - OMG - this guy is going to be the next President, and he's an African American, something I had never expected to see happen in my lifetime.

It felt like something had abruptly shifted inside the spirit of the country all in the course of a moment, as if somehow a slow movement of tectonic plates underlying our culture had suddenly produced a political earthquake, and at the end of that evening I lay down to sleep in a different nation from the one in which I had woken up that morning.

For once the cliched phrase "paradigm shift" seemed appropriate.

Of course this is not how it actually happened. A long contest lay ahead (and still lies ahead) and we are seeing the fruits of an immense labor by many people over a long period of time, and a change which would not have been possible without an incredibly talented campaign and candidate, extraordinarily favorable circumstances, and also a good deal of luck.

But I'll take it. Sometimes we deserve to be lucky.

Thanks, Tltiabq, that was beautifully said. I felt it too.

I was a political appointee in a Democratic governor's administration in 1984 when Mondale nominated Geraldine Ferraro. I will NEVER forget what it felt like to watch her and see someone like me, and what that meant for possibilities. I admit that until that point I didn't REALLY understand the power of "role models." It was a bit of an epiphany, and it did occur to me at the time that the effect this had on me was probably a fraction of what a similar dynamic would be for blacks.

For millions of people, of all colors, America just shifted in some profound ways.

excellent post - totally agree. i first noticed this listening to a local black radio call-in show, where the callers were expressing similar skepticism.

i really thought some of the emails that andrew sullivan posted were touching. though i'm obviously not AA, i think one of the great dilemmas that community has faced over the years was whether (in light of history) working "within the system" could ever change anything. it must have looked pretty bleak circa 1968.

and we still have a frickin' long way to go. but this is not nuthin' either. it's a big deal, substantively and symbolically.

and that's what this email was saying (not completely sure it's right, but it seems at least more right today):

Tomorrow I will go to the African American cemetery outside of Chicago where my great-grandparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, neighbors, and my mother and father are buried. And I will tell them that they were right -- that if we studied hard, worked hard, kept the faith, fought for justice, prayed, that this day would come.

And it has.

I had a high school friend named Rob. He once said to me that his one regret was not having a black friend. I’m only now beginning to understand his thought process.

[H]is one regret was not having a black friend.

The thing that is regrettable here, B.O.B., is that you live in a racially segregated society, wherein it is difficult for people to form meaningful relationships with people of a different ethnic heritage. Which sucks.

Is that the "thought process" you are now beginning to understand?

When Barack Obama won Iowa, the ground beneath that fear began to crack. Now it has been blown apart, in the only way it could have been. And whatever any of us think about this race, or Senator Obama, that is cause for celebration; as is the fact that it turned out not to be true.

I still don't entirely believe this.

I think he still has to win the general election. If Obama wins, the fear will be blown apart. If he loses, no matter what the actual reason, it will come back double or triple.

What we're fighting here is the fundamental attribution error. Every time Democrats lose the presidency, whether by landslide, freak accident or election-rigging, there is a crowd of pundits crawling all over each other to identify the tragic failing in the party or in the candidate that made it inevitable. This time, if they lose, the tragic failing identified in hindsight will be that they nominated a black person, and white Democrats will blame it on the blacks in much the same way straight Democrats blamed Kerry's loss on the gays (wrongly, I think, but it was a popular and plausible-sounding argument at the time).

So this nomination is a big, big risk. It's one I voted for, simply because I think Obama is the best candidate, and I thought and still think that this roll of the dice is the best way forward. But I can't say it doesn't make me nervous.

"(i.e., there hasn't been a major political assassination in the U.S. since, what, the late 60s?)."

Perhaps Harvey Milk wasn't major enough?

"This time, if they lose, the tragic failing identified in hindsight will be that they nominated a black person,"

Really? I expect that, absent some other clear reason, which might develop, of course, my tendency would be to blame it on America's deep-rooted racism. Why would I or anyone not an idiot blame it on a reason only a racist could blame it on?

"and white Democrats will blame it on the blacks in much the same way straight Democrats blamed Kerry's loss on the gays (wrongly, I think, but it was a popular and plausible-sounding argument at the time)."

Wait, what? Which "straight Democrats blamed Kerry's loss on the gays"? Did I just miss this entirely? I literally have no idea what you're talking about.

Did the majority of "straight Democrats" do this? Or 30%? 20%? How many? Where? When? Why?

I mean, what? I've never read anyone say this, or heard anyone say this. I know I live a sheltered life, but I do read a lot about politics, and I've seen a million reasons given for Kerry's loss -- most blaming him -- and can't recall a single case of what you're saying, so: what? Can you point to some major examples of this, please?

I think that this comment by Mark Anderson over at Digby's place is accurate, evenhanded, and insightful.

In October, I shared a plane ride with a black man, and upon finding out he'd gone to university in Hawaii, I asked him how he felt about Barack Obama. He'd been pretty open up to that point in our long conversation, but he immediately closed up. Finally he admitted that "they" would never let a black man win, whoever "they" were. I let him know I felt differently--like you, I'd watched Obama's career for a while, and I thought he was exceptional. But he said if Obama got anywhere near the presidency, "something bad" would happen.

I'd love to contact him now, and see what he thinks.

NEWS FLASH.
It’s as good as done.

historical implications aside, the party has finally nominated the best candidate. The smartest, most forward thinking candidate. Dean, Bradley, Tsongas, the list goes back a long way. The individual who pauses and thinks has finally got a shot.

that's what i see when i see barack obama.

Obama is smart. He has understood Rob’s thought processes completely for a while now. He’s turned it into a multi-million dollar annual business. He got himself eighteen million votes. You cannot argue with that kind of success.

Congratulations Barack, you’ve earned it.

Now onto those 150 million working people.

The presidential debates ought to be fun. Obama's youth, his grasp of the issues and his smooth baritone voice against McCain's age, crackly tenor and general cluelessness, not to mention the actual contents of their likely contention, ought to make this campaign a gratifying spectacle.

Nevertheless, a lot of Americans voted twice for the embodiment of Alfred E. Neuman just because they identified with him.

"(i.e., there hasn't been a major political assassination in the U.S. since, what, the late 60s?)."

Perhaps Harvey Milk wasn't major enough?

And George Moscone...

Hilzoy - once again you have put into words the thoughts that I havent organized enough to say - let alone write. Thank you for this post. I thought I was alone with my assassination fears.

I have had quite an awakening over the past several months to the concept of "priviledge". I've always scoffed at the idea feeling like I had personally overcome any of those racial/gender issues. As a woman in management in the construction industry, I "got" it. I lived overseas for several years so thought I didnt have an "ugly american" bone in my body. My sister's husband is black. WOW look how progressive my family is!

How amazing that the priviledge is so insidious that I didnt even notice. My awakening started at the hands of the pastor at my incredibly liberal church If you get a chance, take a listen to his "Black Liberation Theology" and "Voices of Color" podcasts (http://uuce.libsyn.com/ or uuce.org and click podcasts)

...it did give me a vivid appreciation of why it matters that women and people of color actually occupy various jobs: so that other people can get used to the idea that they are just normal...

That's why I had thought the first black president would be an ex-general like Colin Powell, because for a long time the military was the only American institution that allowed minorities to rise to the top.

I'm glad it will be Obama instead.

Really? I expect that, absent some other clear reason, which might develop, of course, my tendency would be to blame it on America's deep-rooted racism. Why would I or anyone not an idiot blame it on a reason only a racist could blame it on?

That's what I meant. The reason stated will be that they ran a black candidate in a racist country where no such person could possibly be elected. Whether this is true or not.

Wait, what? Which "straight Democrats blamed Kerry's loss on the gays"? Did I just miss this entirely? I literally have no idea what you're talking about.

Did the majority of "straight Democrats" do this? Or 30%? 20%? How many? Where? When? Why?

Well... maybe I was paying too much attention to the people who post comments on EJ Graff's articles at TPM Cafe. I know that every time she posts something about gay rights, there's somebody there blaming 2004 on liberal elites who made gay marriage a big issue and wrested the Democratic Party away from the old labor/economic left.

The standard line was that Bush won in 2004 by turning out the "values voters", and the values voters were countermobilizing against gay marriage. Scott Lemieux and others have convinced me that this isn't the case, but it was a popular argument.

I didn't support Barack Obama because of his race.

A lot of people in KY and WV could probably say the same thing. (That's a joke, of course.) Actually, I'm shocked no one has already played with that sentence.

With that out of the way, I've tried to explain variations on the following to a number of people during my years thus far on planet Earth: why it matters that women and people of color actually occupy various jobs: so that other people can get used to the idea that they are just normal, and realize, without any particular fanfare, that their worst fears about what having (say) a female colleague might be like are groundless. There is a form of racism that is primarily fear of the unknown and that can be overcome relatively painlessly, I think.

...and all other manner of isms for that matter.

Remember there was an assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan in 1981. Only luck prevented it from being an assassination, so it seems as relevant as the others. Still, 1981 was a long time ago (regardless of how it feels to me). There was also an attempt that wounded the pope that year.

Thanks for this beautiful post, hilzoy. I'm a 50-something female, I live in Illinois, and have had the privilege of voting for Obama both for Senator and for the Presidential nomination.

Several people here have brought up their assassination fears. As I watched Barack and Michelle work the crowd after his speech on Tuesday night, a little voice in my head was saying "too close, he's too close to the crowd, too many people there". I suppose such fears are the price we, and they, must pay for living in this world. I wish it wasn't so.

But, since Obama's campaign has so inspired and encouraged me, I'll end on a positive note. Yes, we can!

Perhaps Harvey Milk wasn't major enough?

As devestating as the killings of Milk and Moscone were, I wouldn't call them "major" in terms of national politics. If I were to refer to the "Twinkie Defense", how many here would know what I was referring to?

I think it is wonderful that we had a Democratic primary in which the major candidates were a women and an African-American. It says a lot about how far we have come as a nation.

However, as an atheist, I must sadly admit to myself that it will be a long time (probably long after I am dead), before a person who publicly professes no faith is allowed the same opportunity (explicit clauses in the Constitution not withstanding).

Baby steps, I guess.

It is possible - even as an AA - to support Obama for reasons other than the obvious historical import. For me, first and foremost, was his stance against this war. A sizable majority of black public opinion is against this war and to have a candidate who professes to all: "what I do oppose, is a dumb war!" makes my heart sing.

But yeah, I would have voted for the black candidate in the primary anyway. I did so for Jesse and Al and I would have done so for Shirley - had I not been two at the time. Just as a means of letting the larger society know that we are here. I have always been honored to discover that there are AA political figures and politicians, willing to speak on AA issues to the highest powers in the land; to have an AA actually strive to be that highest power in the land - and to do so on a platform of - being black is an aspect of who I am, but I am more than that - is awe-inspiring.

And yes, AA still believe that even in the year 2008, Obama will face dangers on his route to the presidency that GWB cannot even being to imagine.

Great post. Thanks.

FupDuck - Just wanted to say that I loved that book a lot. Great stuff.

I love you for this post. For the past few days, I've felt isolated, having to contain my joy (and disbelief) that someone who looks like me really could possibly change the world. But the people around me -- who don't look like me -- seem less than thrilled. And I just want shout, "Don't you understand? Don't you know what this means?"

People like to debate and wax poetic on policies, track records, experience, whatever. But all I can think about are the little boys I see everyday. This is giving them real evidence that, yes, you CAN do whatever you set your mind to. Your future isn't limited to jail or the street corner. YOUR life is worth SO MUCH MORE than that.

Now let me go before I start tearing up again...

And again... thank you.

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