Congratulations to all you Obama supporters out there! Your man is going to the White House.
Prior to the election I expected that I would have been thoroughly disappointed by this result. But, strangely, I am not. I strongly disagree with most of Obama’s policy positions—from his extreme pro-choice stance to his position on (re-)distributive justice—and am deeply concerned about his moral judgment, but as I watched Obama’s victory speech late Tuesday night I was surprised by what welled up inside of me—a peculiar feeling of satisfaction. What?! Yes, I was almost euphoric as I watched Obama and his family walk out on that stage in all of their meticulously choreographed political glory. The historico-social significance of the moment suddenly fell on me in a way I hadn’t anticipated and—at least for those few minutes—I was glad he won. But how can this be, when the thought of the implementation of his ideas makes me shudder?
Flashback 33 years… When I was twelve-years-old my family moved from Detroit, Michigan to Jackson, Mississippi, where I began attending a private middle school. At this school I got my first dose of hard-core Southern racism-unmitigated hatred of black Americans, complete with brutal jokes and frequent use of the N-word, not just by students but teachers as well. This terrified me, since, well, I didn’t hate black people, and kids who became known as “N-lovers” faced certain persecution. I couldn’t understand how people could hate other people just because of their skin color. My mother had always warned me never to have such an attitude, and she even scolded me when one day I accidentally mispronounced the name of the African country “Niger.”
One day in my eighth-grade civics class my teacher, Mr. Knox, went on a rant about how “our country would be better if we sent all them n——–ers back to Africa.” Something in my head clicked. Even at thirteen I knew this was evil, and I silently resolved to try to be a friend, not a foe, to black folks. And as the years passed I found myself doing this almost by reflex. Later that year I went out of my way to befriend a black kid in my neighborhood, and two years later I got my first job at a Popeyes Fried Chicken restaurant in the middle of a black neighborhood, where a friend of mine and I were the only white employees. We loved it and even enjoyed how our fellow workers referred to us as “Pixie” and “Dixie.” I suppose this was our meager way of raging against the Southern white racist machine. Not a big deal, really, but for us as young teenagers in that culture, it sure felt like a big deal.
Years later, after my conversion, I found that I sometimes had to rebuke fellow Christians for their occasional racist comments. Even during my college years in the mid-80s this was not uncommon. And the typical response to my challenge was a condescending roll of the eyes or a verbal dismissal—“Oh come on, Spiegel. Lighten up.” This was exasperating, but by now I had the resources—biblically and philosophically, to challenge their foolishness. Still, they didn’t listen. (By the way, I don’t mean to suggest that all white Mississippians/Southerners were hard-core racists in those days. But racism certainly was, and perhaps still is, more rampant in the South than in other areas of the country.)
Fast forward two decades, and there I am watching a black man give a victory speech, having just been elected President of the United States. Suddenly I felt the same way those people in the crowd looked—euphoric and satisfied. I heard a voice deep inside me say “Take that, Mr. Knox!” and “Take that, old college buddies!” I felt vindicated somehow. But most of all I was happy for our country, that we had reached this milestone in our racial and ethnic struggle. It’s not the end of that struggle of course, but it’s a hugely significant step. And I can’t help but feel good about that aspect of Obama’s election.
Of course, the Obama presidency will be about much more than racial healing, and even in that domain it is far from a cure-all. There are enormous challenges facing the next administration, and it will be interesting to see how much success, if any, Obama can have in dealing with the problems they will inherit, particularly since he will enjoy strong Democrat majorities in both the House and the Senate. For people like me who sharply disagree with Obama’s policies—we can at least give the man a chance. And we can find some solace in the fact that our nation has taken a big step forward in its struggle with racism.