No ordinary moment

There are (I suppose this was inevitable) some skeptics now claiming that people are rejoicing at Obama’s election because he’s black – which is true in one way but false in another. The way it’s true is probably obvious enough; the way it’s false is that 1) that’s not the only reason and 2) we would have been rejoicing anyway. Obama’s being black is neither necessary nor sufficient for the rejoicing. Here’s why. Suppose a Sarah Palin who was black – identical to Palin in every other way, but black. A very different, much smaller, and much more delusional crowd would be rejoicing. Suppose an Obama who was white – identical to Obama in every other way, but white. We would still be rejoicing – although a huge element of the actual rejoicing would be missing.

There are some people sneering at the emotionality. Fuck’em. Seriously. I’m as skeptical as the next person, I too like to be cautious with my admiration and respect (let alone affection), I too am aware that sentimentality is risky for clarity of thought. But I do not think this particular example of mass enthusiasm is irrational. It’s emotional, but it’s not irrational.

It’s funny…I wasn’t really prepared for how emotional it turned out to be. I’m not the only one. I never really allowed myself to imagine what it would be like, because like so many people I was so afraid it wouldn’t happen – I was trying to minimize the disappointment. So when it happened – so abruptly – it was like being knocked down by a wave. What can I tell you? It was no ordinary moment. It just wasn’t, and for so many reasons – not all of which were to do with race.

It’s interesting that it was very little about race until that moment. That aspect was left mostly in the background (including in coded messages from the opposition, of course) during the campaign, but then the moment the election was announced, that aspect zoomed into the foreground and took over for the evening. Good. The campaign was run on the merits, then once it was over, we could go ahead and celebrate the symbolism. Aided by the echoes of King’s mountaintop speech – not that there was much need for aid.

What can I tell you? We don’t get many moments like that. I can’t think of any like it. The sneerers can go write condolence cards to Sarah Palin.

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