What this means

Many of you know that my education is in History.  Specifically American History.  Specifically Ante-Bellum American History.  Specifically the American South in the 18th Century.

In that focus, it’s impossible to not study and be aware of the impact of slavery and race in our history.  To say it is important is a great understatement.  It is the lasting carryover of our dark, shameful history in this country.  Slavery and racism is our sad legacy and the lasting effects of it can be felt all over America.

I’m writing this not as a joyful, gleeful, hopeful Democrat (which, naturally, I AM!), but as an observer and student of the history of our country.  What I’m about to write is not partisan.

Last night, as I was watching Obama’s acceptance speech, tears were streaming down my face.  And it wasn’t even his eloquent, beautiful words.  It was a keen awareness of the fact that I was watching history being made.  I was a part of history.  The feeling and the awareness was overwhelming to me.  It’s something I’ve never felt before- not truly.

“Watching history being made” is a statement that is bandied about without much concern for what it means these days.  People always think that what happens in their lifetimes will be everlasting, but it isn’t the case.  Almost everything becomes a footnote, only focused on and studied by historians with specific, esoteric fields of study.  The 2000 and 2004 elections will not be widely remembered in 200 years.  I’m even prepared to say that George Bush will not be widely remembered- even though his is officially our most unpopular president ever.   Kids in advanced history classes in High School will memorize his name and some cute little mnemonic to remember that he was 43, but his legacy- good or bad- will not endure for centuries.  I know it is hard to imagine, given our passions about him and his politics, but people were just as passionate about Taft (remembered for getting stuck in his bathtub) and Chester A. Arthur (remembered for his especially ridiculous facial hair).

But what happened last night was different.  This is a date that little kids will have to memorize.  This is a man who statues will be built for and High Schools will be named after.  This isn’t politics, this is an honest-to-god defining moment in American History.  This is as significant as Cornwallis surrendering to George Washington in Yorktown, VA.  This is as significant as a group of soldiers in Charleston, S.C firing on US Soldiers at Ft. Sumter.  This is as significant as the Constitutional Convention.  This is a Pearl Harbor.

That we have gone from a Nation built on the back of slaves only 150 years ago, and a nation that murdered black men and women trying to vote 70 years ago to a  country that just elected a black man as our leader is something to truly be proud of.   Our changing nation is miraculous.

I feel like this is a moment to savor- a moment to ignore the political squabbling and the division and the arguments and the anger and frustration and disappointment (and trust me, as a Democrat, boy do I ever know how you feel) and to just embrace that we have become a nation that has just thrown off the largest lasting yoke of inequality in this country.   Today, we are truly all Americans.  We truly all have a voice.  We truly belong to one United nation.

I am so awed.  And so proud.

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23 responses to this post.

  1. Agreed, on all points. I was just so awed by this moment.

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  2. Congrats guys! I will be very interested to see where the next four years takes us!

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  3. Posted by Josh on November 5, 2008 at 10:36 am

    First of all, congrats to all the Obama supporters. Yes, I was a McCain supporter, but I’m not a sore loser. Obama is now my president (elect) and as such he has my full support. He will continue to have my full support until his policies or decisions begin to negatively effect me or our country.

    Having said that I have one small complaint. Why is everyone calling this a historic election. Race, that’s why! I don’t get it. First of all we’re told that we’re not supposed to see the color of a person’s skin… we’re supposed to judge people by their character. Yet, I haven’t read a story today that doesn’t mention Obama is black. I haven’t read a story that doesn’t talk about the historic significance of this election. Why not discuss his amazingly quick rise to the presidency? Where’s the discussion about how this is going to better our country (or make it worse)? I guess my point is this: In a society where everyone tries so hard to make race a non-issue, it frequently becomes the ONLY issue due to the importance we place on making it a non-issue. The same people who tell us the color of someones skin doesn’t matter are the sames ones clammering about importance of electing a black president. What does it matter? To me, the only thing that matters is that the country elects the most qualified person to the presidency (I don’t think either candidate fits that description, however). Again, I’m not trying to take anything away from Obama. But, in my opinion, to make such an issue about his race takes away from the ideas and changes he is trying to bring to our country.

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  4. I am thrilled at the turn this country is taking! Long live the Obamas!!!

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  5. Posted by Teresa on November 5, 2008 at 11:36 am

    I for one decided who I was going to vote for purely on the basis of what they and their party stood for. Race and gender did not matter to me in the primary, and they did not matter to me in the general election. It could have been two white men, and that would not have changed my position…the Republicans could have run an African American, or a woman (for president), and that would not have changed my position.

    Where I grew up (*not* in the South, I should note), there were still crosses being burned as recently as the ’90s–to have gone from that, to having an African American president in my own short lifetime, is truly amazing.

    As much as we in the U.S. like to pretend that we’ve gotten beyond racism, it is simply not true. We have come a long way, but there is still much more to do. That is why this election is so monumental.

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  6. Josh, so what you’re saying is …
    we shouldn’t be so excited about this being historic because it’s only historic because of race…
    and also that we spend so much time pretending that race is a non issue when it really is…
    so we should stop pretending that this is an historic occasion because it’s only historic because we’re acknowledging the big thing (race) we wrongly spend so much time not acknowledging?

    it’s ok, I find my above sentence confusing too.
    My main disagreement with you would be your categorization of race as the only issue. It is an issue, but not the sole and most important one, even if it is what makes this occasion so historic.

    I personally don’t see race taking away from the ideas and change Obama’s trying to bring to this country, because wasn’t so much of the change stuff more about warm fuzzy idealism than concrete things? Wasn’t that the big criticism early on?

    (I for one, am so jaded about policy things that I see the influx of naive idealism to the nation to be one of the most heartwarming things I’ve ever seen in politics during my lifetime. We probably should be more cynical, but I’m finding the lack of cynicism refreshing and so terribly frightening after so long that it makes it hard to breath.)

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  7. Posted by Josh on November 5, 2008 at 1:12 pm

    Wade, I understand the point you’re making. I was trying to point out that race will be an issue as long as we continue to treat it like one.

    I’m not trying to belittle the historic significance of this election. I guess I just don’t consider it to be a “world changing” event like some people have described it. It’s significance is based solely on the fact that it is a FIRST. It doesn’t change anything.

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  8. But if we don’t treat it like one we’re just ignoring the elephant in the room aren’t we? Kinda damned if we do, damned if don’t, huh?

    You may be right, but that’s a pretty significant FIRST, isn’t it? Obama even mentioned in his speech last night that something along the lines that now is the time for that change to start happening.
    Sure, things might not have suddenly changed in a second last night, but would you agree that maybe this is chance that now things CAN change, things that would not have had the chance had this election gone another way?

    He ain’t president yet; we got 76 more days of Bush left.

    [sorry to just jump on and start throwing things around on your blog Taylor]

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  9. Posted by Ezra on November 5, 2008 at 2:06 pm

    When people in the nations we are allied with are celebrating, it must be a pretty big deal. When a man wins the majority of states, electorals, and popular votes, it’s a pretty big deal. The fact that the man accomplishing it is black doesn’t make it important, it makes it surreal. If you cannot see this as an incredible moment, then you probably haven’t lived anywhere where there was real racism. I have often thought that my time in Indiana was the most racist environment I’ve lived in. But it was heartbreaking to see a polling number last night that asked if race was a significant factor, and among McCain voters it was most significant in Alabama. Perhaps this can open a lot of eyes, if only they don’t all turn the other way.

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  10. I don’t think Josh is saying that racism doesn’t exist anymore. I believe that what he is trying to say is that we are repeatedly taught that race shouldn’t matter. However, that is all that I am hearing today. The first BLACK man was elected. If race isn’t supposed to matter, why is there so much emphasis being placed on it?

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  11. And I really don’t want to be offensive here, but perhaps this election can also open some black american’s eyes. No one is holding you back. A black man was just elected president. If you want to succeed, it is possible and race should not be used as an excuse.

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  12. Posted by Ezra on November 5, 2008 at 3:10 pm

    You are right, Becs, it is a call for people to believe in themselves. A call to go out there and make their lives better.

    I think we say it isn’t supposed to matter as a way of trying to ease things along. It is a psychological trick people play on themselves so that they can try not to think of centuries of injustice. It isn’t supposed to matter, but for many people it always has. This is a huge step into the direction of it actually not mattering.

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  13. Becs, your reasoning is flawed. Sure we’re taught that race shouldn’t matter, and I think we’d all agree that it would be great if it didn’t, but the fact of the matter is that it does.
    The reason all this attention is being put on the race matter is precisely because it does matter. Even if in an ideal world it wouldn’t be an issue, we live in much less than an ideal world.
    Luckily, electing Barack Obama is a step towards that never-fully-attainable ideal world.
    There is no hypocrisy in celebrating something this historic, which is what you’re insinuating.

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  14. Got a little snippy there, sorry about that.

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  15. I was never meaning that you were being a hypocrite. Sometimes it is hard for me to really express what I am trying to say through typing.

    I think one of the problems here is that some people truly believe that Obama will deliver that “never-fully-attainable ideal world.” He may be a step in that direction (which I do not agree with at all) but no one man can get us to that “ideal world.” A lot of Obama’s words made it seem like he was promising us this world of euphoria and some people got caught up in that. This “influx of naive idealism” may be a breath of fresh air to you, but it is not reality. Unfortunately, some people are going to be very disappointed.

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  16. I’m much more comfortable with folks having problems with his policies than any idealism.

    Faith can move mountains, right?
    Now I’m not saying that the heavens are going to open up, a light will come down, etc, but you have to believe something can happen to have any chance of it getting done. One has to set oneself up to the opportunity to be disapointed, otherwise we just live in insular boxes, miserable and motionless.
    Not one mortal man can change the universe, sure but have you noticed the repeated use of the word “We” in certain speeches?
    You are entirely correct that there will be disapointment and imperfection, but if we have to choose between idealism and the chance of pain, and cynicism and the certainty that we won’t have our hearts broken then I’ll choose idealism.
    One leave the opportunity for change and the other leaves the utter impossibility of it.
    Unchecked idealism and unchecked cynicism are both dangerous, but I find cynicism easier, insidious, and more corrosive.

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  17. I do have problems with his policies though. I really don’t agree with anything Obama is planning. That was why I did not vote for him.

    I understand what you are saying and I would be excited and hopeful too if McCain had won. However, I would not put ALL of my faith in him. I am not saying that any of you guys are doing that. However, there are people that truly believe that Obama (and the government) are going to take care of them. I don’t want the government to step in and take care of me. I want as little government as possible.

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  18. OH MY GOD!

    Stop it. Stop with the arguing. STOP.

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  19. Posted by Ezra on November 5, 2008 at 6:15 pm

    Gee, Taylor, why don’t you cry about it.

    Have you ever noticed that in the little picture that appears by your post it looks like you have more hair than a lion?

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  20. Great post. I was going to write something similar, but this is better than anything I’d do.

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  21. Posted by Josh on November 5, 2008 at 9:31 pm

    My comments were misunderstood… I was not referring to any policy or plan that Barack has in store. I guess that’s what happens when I rush. What I was trying to say was this:

    The election of Barack Obama proves that there is NO institutionalized racism (i.e., there is no “man” keeping the black people down). A black man went to Harvard, became a senator, and is now the president of the United States. However, I don’t believe this will do anything to bridge the social and economic gap (either real of imaginary) that exists between whites and blacks.

    I hope I articulated my point better that time…

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  22. Posted by Becs on November 5, 2008 at 10:35 pm

    Obviously, since my last comment was deleted, I said something that you didn’t agree with. Nice to see you are open to someone disagreeing with you. You have one less reader. Good luck with everything.

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  23. Wow, man, there are some real twits among the commenters!

    Reply

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