The waning days of this presidential election reminded me of Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in Zaire in 1974-The Rumble in the Jungle. There was George Foreman swinging away, punching himself out while Ali rope-a-doped his way to victory, catching a worn-out Foreman with a left hook in the eighth round for the knock-out.
John McCain tried to hit Barack Obama with everything, punching wildly. Socialist. Pow! Bill Ayers. Bang! Spread the Wealth. Whop! Joe the Plumber. Rat-a-tat-tat! And there was Obama-oh so pretty-not a mark on his face.
One of the dirtiest Republican campaigns ever failed Tuesday night. Fear-mongering failed. Bush/Cheney/Karl Rove-style politics was put to rest. 50-plus one? Try a united coalition of Americans from all backgrounds. Red states vs. blue states? Try red, white and blue. But let’s not foolishly think an Obama win erases centuries of racism in America. We’ve come far, but we’re not there yet.
Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream. Barack Obama has made it more of a reality. This is a victory for all Americans, all races, and all ages.
This isn’t hyperbole. For this country to elect a black man when many believed it couldn’t, or wouldn’t, ever happen is among the greatest moments in this nation’s history.
In the last days of the campaign, I also began thinking about our elders. My parents who are in their 60s and 70s. Aunts and uncles who lived through segregation and Jim Crow. Other elders who may have wanted to tell racist whites who discriminated against them to “Go to hell,” or worse, but didn’t because they knew those might be the last words they’d ever utter. I thought of Emmett Till, who was murdered in the South by whites for supposedly whistling at a white woman, though many believe he did not. And even if he did, it shouldn’t have cost him his life.
I thought of the four little girls who were killed in the 1963 Ku Klux Klan bombing of the 16th St. Baptist Church in Birmingham. And I thought of the millions of ancestors who were enslaved. Some may have hoped for a black president one day, but many more likely thought that was as far out of reach as freedom itself.
I also thought of the generation that followed our elders of the Civil Rights Movement. I thought of Mae Jemison, the first black women astronaut to travel in space, and Carol Moseley Braun, the first black female ever elected to the U.S. Senate. They too, like our new president, call Chicago home.
I had other thoughts: Putting aside the flare-up with Rev. Jeremiah Wright this summer, the issue of race in this campaign was the 800-pound gorilla in the room few wanted to talk about. Not that we needed to dredge up the old arguments about race or issues like affirmative action.
Could a black person be elected president? Would it happen in our lifetime? And why do so many whites from various backgrounds simply refuse to even consider voting for a black person? Those were some of the questions people couldn’t bring themselves to grapple with.
And though race as a symbol matters greatly in Obama’s win, it also doesn’t on a certain level. Black Americans have achieved great things despite the problems we’ve faced. If Barack Obama were white or any other color, what difference would it really make?
Barack has shown that an individual can transcend race, even as we’ve not yet transcended racism as a nation. But I think we’re closer to Dr. King’s other dream: that we as a people will get to the promise land.