When I was in high school (1968-1972), we would occasionally have "assemblies", where everyone in the school would crowd into the auditorium and hear the principal give some kind of talk, or there would be a pep rally for one of the sports teams (snore), or a guest speaker would address us.
One year -- I can't remember which one it was -- one such assembly was called. Our principal, whose name was Nicholas DelNegro, introduced the speaker, a black man whose name I cannot at this point remember. I think he may have been a politician or a college administrator -- it's been a long time, and it really doesn't matter for the purposes of this story.
The principal finished the introduction, and the guy started speaking. He began by thanking Mr. DelNegro... and as he said that name, an audible titter swept through the auditorium. I just wanted to crawl into a hole... it was so embarrassing. I couldn't believe that so many of these idiots I had to go to high school with were so stupid -- I mean, laughing because this speaker was black and he said "negro" (as part of Mr. DelNegro's name). It was the worst kind of "Beavis and Butthead"-type moment, long before Beavis and Butthead were created.
The speaker paused. You could tell that he was pissed and appalled (and justifiably so). "Did I say something funny?" he asked. An awkward silence went on for maybe ten or twenty seconds. To his credit, the speaker continued and said his piece. I don't remember what he said. All I really remember from that incident was feeling ashamed to be part of this group of morons, even though I was not one of the ones who laughed.
Why do I tell this story? It's just a way of trying to articulate how I feel now that Barack Obama has won the election and will be our new President next year. Like many people of my age, I grew up in a time when the idea of a black President was an interesting fantasy -- something that, given the evolution of race relations and the civil rights struggle in the US, might some day be possible. But I really never expected to see it this soon. In fact, I despaired of seeing it within my lifetime.
(And it's not just the idea of a black man becoming President of the United States -- it's the idea of anyone OTHER than an old white guy becoming President of the United States. And I say that AS an old white guy. If Hillary Clinton had gotten the nomination, I would have voted for her in a heartbeat. Just as it is long past time that someone other than an old white guy got to be President, it is long past time that all Presidents need be men.)
There are a lot of important reasons to be happy that Barack Obama has won the election. He's smart, tough and principled. He understands and respects the Constitution (a quality that those in the White House for the last eight years clearly don't share). But simply the fact that he has been elected -- a black man with an exotic-sounding Middle Eastern-type name, in a time when we are all supposed to be afraid of people with names like that, when those in power expect that when they say the word "Terrorist!" we will all froth at the mouth like Pavlov's dogs and march in lockstep to whatever fear-mongering tune they play -- is something that offers me hope that this country actually CAN get its act together and quite possibly have a decent future. Our evolution toward a better society -- which seemed to screech to a halt and start to backslide during the dark days of the current Bush administration -- may actually start moving forward again.
I'm not a "Pollyanna". I don't expect that Barack Obama will be a perfect President, or that everything he and his administration does will be right. But as I right now watch John McCain give his concession speech (to his credit, a very gracious one), I am filled with hope for our country, more so than I have been in any of the last eight years. -- PL