He didn’t say it in so many words, but I’m willing to bet that Charles Alexander has thought to himself at some point, “I never thought I’d live to see the day…”
To understand the reason for his emotions about this election, you have to understand the context.
…In my gut, I know there’s a chance that the first African-American to make a serious run for the presidency will lose. But that is precisely what’s new, and, in a sense, unsettling: I’m talking about possibility, not inevitability.
For African-Americans, at least those of us old enough to have lived through the civil rights movement, this is nothing short of mind-blowing. It’s disorienting, and it makes me see this nation in a different light.
…African-Americans’ love of country is deep, intense and abiding, but necessarily complicated. At the hour of its birth, the nation was already stained by the Original Sin of slavery. Only in the past several decades has legal racism been outlawed and casual racism made unacceptable, at least in polite company. Millions of black Americans have managed to pull themselves up into mainstream, middle-class affluence, but millions of others remain mired in poverty and dysfunction.
A few black Americans broke through into the highest echelons of American society. Oprah Winfrey became the most powerful woman in the entertainment industry by appealing to an audience that is mostly white. Richard Parsons, Stanley O’Neal and others became alpha males in the lily-white world of Wall Street. Through superhuman skill and unbending will, Tiger Woods came to dominate a sport long seen as emblematic of white privilege.
Along came Barack Obama, a young man with an unassailable résumé and a message of post-racial transformation. Initially, a big majority of African-Americans lined up behind his major opponent in the Democratic primaries, Hillary Clinton. The reason was simple: In the final analysis, white Americans weren’t going to vote for the black guy. Better to go with the safe alternative.
But an amazing thing happened. In the Iowa caucuses, white Americans voted for the black guy. That’s the moment Obama was referring to when he said his faith in the American people was vindicated. For me, it was the moment when the utterly impossible became merely unlikely. That’s a huge, fundamental change, and it launched a sequence of events over the subsequent months that made me realize that some things I “knew” about America were apparently wrong.
I guess I’m slightly less optimistic on some of those things. I can’t say they are apparently wrong. But it looks like they’re on their way to becoming wrong. That, in and of itself, is worthy of notice.