Ever since last summer, when Barack Obama became the presidential candidate for the Democratic Party, black friends have told me myriad stories about non-black people smilingly congratulating them. “He could become president!” they enthused.
Could and did. But he didn’t become president of black America: He became president of the United States of America—all of them. Even the ones that didn’t vote for him.
Now, somewhere between Election Day and Inauguration Day, “my” president has become “our” president. And this is an excellent thing. On Inauguration Day, we heard scores of people on the Mall, in pundits’ chairs, and in diners, parks and churches around the country offering hopeful prayers and best wishes to the man who had become the nation’s head of state.
For all that, some well-intentioned people haven’t quite gotten out of the old habit. They’ll still offer their black friends, acquaintances and even strangers congratulations for Barack Obama’s history-making first. For some, it will take a little time to make the transition from “you” to “us.”
They will get there. In the interim, be gracious—but gently correct them: “Congratulations to you, too. Congratulations to all of us—he’s our new president.”
Karen Grigsby Bates writes The Root’s newest blog, Come Correct, a daily primer on manners and etiquette, starting soon. A Los Angeles-based correspondent for NPR News, Bates is co-author, with Karen Elyse Hudson, of The New Basic Black: Home Training For Modern Times (Doubleday).