Thursday, November 6, 2008
A Leap Forward
Ever since President-Elect Obama(!) became a serious candidate for the Oval Office, I've been hearing about how his campaign changed the way white people (in general) think about black people (in general). That's an incredibly broad statement, but I do think we're witnessing a cultural shift that won't be entirely clear for some time. Plus, that street runs two ways. I've had a couple of conversations that make me think the election is changing the way black people (in general) think about white people (in general).
While black voters were especially excited about this election, there's no way Obama could have won by such a wide margin without the support of millions of white voters. That level of support for a man of color took some of my friends and family members by surprise.
My friend V., who is black and a physician, inhabits a mostly white professional world. She likes many of her colleagues. Yet, she admitted that she was surprised — stunned, really — that so many white people of all ages cast votes for Obama. She is not given to fits of optimism about social progress, but she said this election has challenged some of her long-held opinions about race.
"I just never thought we'd elect a black president," my mom told me last night. "I can't believe I'm seeing this." My mom grew up in South Georgia in the '40s and '50s. When she and her sisters walked to school, they had to pass a house where a little white girl yelled "niggers!" at them every day — until my aunt K. snapped and punched her, hard, in the chest. Then they ran like hell. When she began her career as a music teacher in the '60s, she said some of the white women she worked with gave her nasty looks in the cafeteria. (Of course, that could be because my mom was a total babe back in the day. I am retroactively jealous.)
My mother doesn't hate anybody, but she is very skeptical and guarded where race is concerned. But Obama's election is a clear indication that her grandchildren — my son and daughter – are coming of age in a very different world. Not a perfect one, but a better one in many ways.
I don't know where this is going, but I like it.