‘Race’ in Obama’s victory

by Michael O. Allen on November 6, 2008

In the waning days of the campaign, as I struggled to overcome my deep pessimism that this could actually happen, that Americans would actually elect a black man president, I began to let go of my anger for the noxious and dishonorable that campaign he ran against our now president-elect Barack Obama.

I have never worshiped at the Cult of John McCain, never believed him to be the truth-telling, straight-talking, national war hero. I felt that he showed himself during the campaign to be the craven, corrupt politicians that he truly is. McCain’s campaign, at times, seemed to be inviting people to kill that traitorous and treasonous character they were running against, a fictional character named Barack Hussein Obama. As the campaign wore on, I felt McCain deserved to have his name go down in infamy with Joe McCarthy and others who have besmirched our history.

I began to cope with my paralyzing anxiety about the outcome of the election by letting go of my anger at McCain.

I liked that he promptly came out and gave his concession speech, that it was somewhat gracious. Nevertheless, something about the speech stuck in my craw. I am talking about this passage:

This is an historic election, and I recognise the special significance it has for African-Americans and for the special pride that must be theirs tonight.

I’ve always believed that America offers opportunities to all who have the industry and will to seize it. Senator Obama believes that, too.

But we both recognise that, though we have come a long way from the old injustices that once stained our     nation’s reputation and denied some Americans the full blessings of American citizenship, the memory of them still had the power to wound.

A century ago, President Theodore Roosevelt’s invitation of Booker T. Washington to dine at the White House was taken as an outrage in many quarters.

America today is a world away from the cruel and frightful bigotry of that time. There is no better evidence of this than the election of an African-American to the presidency of the United States.

Let there be no reason now … Let there be no reason now for any American to fail to cherish their citizenship in this, the greatest nation on Earth.

Senator Obama has achieved a great thing for himself and for his country. I applaud him for it, and offer him my sincere sympathy that his beloved grandmother did not live to see this day. Though our faith assures us she is at rest in the presence of her creator and so very proud of the good man she helped raise.

I was overwhelmed and overjoyed at Sen. Obama’s victory and I did not complain about what everyone was insisting was a gracious concession speech. I stumbled upon a discussion thread on Facebook that led me to believe I was not the only one to think that there’s something not quite right with McCain’s words here.

The person who started the discussion titled it: race in the Obama win, then wrote:

It was interesting to me how McCain’s concession speech, gracious though it was, seemed to dwell on the “achievement” of an African-American, while Colin Powell’s remarks noted that Obama’s win went “far beyond race”. I guess the fact of Obama’s rainbow ethnicity is not easily grasped here.

A commenter wrote:

McCain (and Gerry Ferraro) truly believe the ONLY reason Obama won – was because of his ethnicity. They     cannot and will not see him as who/what he actually is – beyond the color of his skin. That is their prism for all people of color. That is their limitation. We are leaving them behind…sadly.”

But it was another commenter who captured my (irrational?) bitterness at McCain’s choice of words:

Of course, as we all know, being black has always been a tremendous advantage in this country. Just ask Dred Scott, Rosa Parks, Emmett Till, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Homer Plessy…

President-elect Obama’s victory in the presidential election has been hailed in every corner of this nation by people of all races and celebrated all over the world, every corner of the world. This victory simply goes beyond race, although race is a significant component. It is an achievement for America to be proud of, not just African Americans. This historic event restores, for the moment at least, America’s role as a beacon of hope for the world.

McCain, of course, was not the only guilty part in this fixation on race, the entire media and our political class was guilty. Obama has willfully refused to pander to race or note the racial import of his quest, at times frustrating the media. I remember media types noting with frustration that he did not mention his race (he did not actually mention himself, crediting voters, instead) when he claimed the nomination from Sen. Hillary Clintoon in June.

I could not wait to get my New York Times but found its front page of this historic event deeply underwhelming. If any newspaper was capable of capturing such an important and historic while noting the significant racial component, it would be my beloved Times. But on this occasion, it failed:

Something about that front page did not move me. Here are some other front pages:

Or, The Wall Street Journal:

The Washington Post:

The Philadelphia Inquirer:

I don’t know why but I really like the Omaha World-Herald front page:

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