Obama’s Triumph Is America’s Too
Like the senator, we are stronger for our diversity.
I must admit, I cried. I’m not perfectly sure why, but of course I was overjoyed. It is still astonishing that a country with our history of slavery and racism could elect a biracial man who identifies as African-American. This is a proud moment for all of us. I even photographed my ballot in the voting booth, my fingers pushing the X into the Obama-Biden slot.
But then again, I also cried when Bill Clinton won in 1992. I wept because after 12 years of Reagan and Bush, we were free at last. It was as if air had been released into an oxygen-deprived room. To be young in a nation under Ronald Reagan was to hate life.
So I guess I take politics personally.
When the winner was declared last night, I was deeply moved by the images of the Luo tribesmen in Kogelo, Kenya, dancing in the streets because one of their descendants is to become leader of the Free World. It would have been similarly appropriate for the CNN cameras to show the thrilled faces at the offices of the Harvard Law Review or in the dormitory lounges at Columbia University, or to look into living rooms in Honolulu or dens in Wichita as folks watched their hometown boy head to triumph.
I am mystified by what happened instead. All the news networks showed scenes in the streets of Harlem and Compton, on the campus of Spelman College, and in the pews of Ebenezer Baptist Church — all of which have nothing to do with Barack Obama. It seems that his win was mistaken for a black triumph, when actually it was a Democratic and human victory.
Of course, Mr. Obama’s election to the highest office in the nation is a particular party for the African-American community — only a moron would miss that point — but why leave the rest of us out? Anyone still thinking straight after this heady occasion knows that Mr. Obama is to be our next president in spite of race, not because of it. The winner of this contest may finally be Martin Luther King Jr., whose dream is at last realized: We judged Mr. Obama not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character. Why minimize the wonder of that by making this into a black thing?
Another point that’s been continually overlooked is Mr. Obama’s biracial identity. Insofar as ethnicity is part of his success, it’s in that he is equally black and white — in fact he was reared in a Caucasian family — and as such he is an avatar of inclusion. He represents what is great about America not because we have finally elected a black man as president, but because we’ve recognized the greatness of our mixed-breed heritage.
Mr. Obama’s appeal comes down to some form of hybrid vigor. Most of the multiracial people I know seem more beautiful and talented than those of us boring folks who are just one dull thing. America itself, which is a menagerie of mutts, has been a mightier nation for its diversity.
Mr. Obama has consistently separated himself from the ugliness of the past, and we love him for representing America’s future, which is spectacularly multicultural. It’s nothing new for white Americans to honor individual African-Americans to the point where they are our most awed icons. We have long adored Bill Cosby and Oprah Winfrey; we have of course admired Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. There is good reason to relish the symbolism of our first African-American president, and of a black family living in the White House — wow! — but this is about Barack Obama, the individual. Only he could have done this.
Miss Wurtzel, an attorney at Boies, Schiller & Flexner, is the author of “Prozac Nation” (Houghton Mifflin, 1994).