(1) Sometime during the primaries, for no obvious reason, it occurred to me to reflect on the question: suppose I were a black parent: how would I handle the conversation with my child about whether or not she could be President? The idea that in America anyone can be President is so basic to our national mythology that, I imagined, the question would come up at some point; at any rate, I couldn’t assume that it would not. What would I say? Would I try to explain to my child that while perhaps, in her lifetime, an African-American might become President, it didn’t seem that likely at the moment? Would I lie? Or would I say that of course she could become President, even though I didn’t believe it, on the grounds that I didn’t know for a fact that it wasn’t so, and that I should not blight her hopes without certain knowledge?
I didn’t know what I would choose. But I hated the fact that these seemed to be the options. I hated it all the more because, as I said, the idea that in America anyone can become President is so basic, and so if I believed that neither I nor my child could ever become President, that thought would have to take the form: it is part of what America is that we think that anyone can become President, but it is not true for people who look like we do. We are exceptions. These ideals do not apply to us.
Of course, I knew all that before, but somehow the idea of trying to explain it to my child, to whom I ought to be able to say that the entire world was open to her if she worked hard and did right and had the talent, who I ought to try to prepare to face any danger and rise to any challenge, and whose heart I ought, above all, never ever to break — it brought it home in a new way. I suppose this is better than the conversations of an earlier era — the ones about why we couldn’t just get a soda in the department store, or sit down in the bus, or do anything, ever, that might annoy some white person, not to mention the still earlier conversations about how her daddy had been sold and she wouldn’t get to see him again — but still.
No parent ever has to wonder how to have that conversation any more: whether to lie to his child or to take her dreams away before she’s had a chance to try to realize them.
That is extraordinary.
(2) After eight years of assault on our Constitution, we have elected a President who teaches Constitutional law. I cannot express what this means to me.
“The skill of an Obama administration has yet to be proven. The structure of our government will prove a more able opponent of change than John McCain. But for the first time in years, I have the basic sense that it’s going to be okay. Not great, necessarily. And certainly not perfect. But okay. The country will be led by decent, competent people who fret over the right things and employ the tools of the state for recognizable ends. They may not fully succeed. But then, maybe they will. At the least, they will try. And if they fail in their most ambitious goals, maybe they will simply make things somewhat better. After the constant anxiety and uncertainty of the last eight years, maybe that’s enough.”
I think I might put the odds of actual goodness slightly higher than Ezra does. But the knowledge that we will at least have basic competence is an immense, almost inexpressible relief.
(4) I live in a rather sedate part of Baltimore. It’s residential; you can find largeish streets if you walk four or five blocks, but it’s nothing like a downtown commercial district.
I had just gotten home from watching the election returns with friends, and I was checking some results on my computer. Suddenly, I heard this huge cheer coming from all around me. It wasn’t a crowd in the streets, or a visible celebration, though it sounded like one: as though there was a victory parade right outside my windows, on all sides. It was people in a bunch of townhouses reacting to the fact that the networks had called the race for Obama. Everyone was cheering. About fifteen minutes later, someone started shooting off fireworks. Horns were honking, people were cheering. It went on for at least an hour.
(5) I still can’t really believe that Obama actually won. But I’m trying.