Custom Search

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. on the Election

No matter how wonderful Obama's election has made me feel, nothing must compare to the feelings of our black neighbors. A major irritant for me during MSNBC's election night coverage was Keith Olbermann and his pale pals telling us how much this must mean to blacks while showing footage of them weeping and hugging at Ebenezer Baptist and Grant Park. How in God's name does Keith Olbermann know how it feels to be black in America? If you cannot possibly relate, take a lesson from Walter Cronkite and shut your pie hole. The images themselves spoke volumes, and needed no white interpretation. None of us whites know how it feels to be a second-class citizen day in and day out. Whites encounter prejudice, surely, but we are in no way defined by prejudice. Obama's victory must be nothing less than miraculous for blacks. Shambollocks wanted to make sure we included a black record of their important evening, and now we do.

Henry Louis Gates. Jr. is one of the great black intellectuals of our day. Currently, he is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and the Director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University. That's a whole lot of words basically telling you he's Harvard's black face. As editor of chief of the Oxford African American Studies Center (yes, the man collects titles like MJ), he wrote an article describing his feelings the day after Obama's election for the Oxford University Press blog.

So what does Barack Obama’s election portend for the future of race relations in America, and for African Americans in particular? I wish we could say that Barack Obama’s election will magically reduce the number of teenage pregnancies or the level of drug addiction in the black community. I wish we could say that what happened last night will suddenly make black children learn to read and write as if their lives depended on it, and that their high school completion rates will become the best in the country. I wish we could say that these things are about to happen, but I doubt that they will.

But there is one thing we can proclaim today, without question: that the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States of America means that “The Ultimate Color Line,” as the subtitle of Javits’ Esquire essay put it, has at long last been crossed. It has been crossed by our very first postmodern Race Man, a man who embraces his African cultural and genetic heritage so securely that he can transcend it, becoming the candidate of choice to tens of millions of Americans who do not look like him.

How does that make me feel? Like I’ve always imagined my father and his friends felt back in 1938, on the day that Joe Louis knocked out Max Schmeling. But ten thousand times better than that. All I can say is “Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound.”

Sweet, indeed. I can only pray that Obama's victory gives much-deserved succor for a peoples whose enslavement provided the foundation for this great experiment, America. We wish the Obamas safety and good health, and Barack, in particular, the wisdom and courage to continue the healing which began on our historic evening.

No comments: