Obama placed the issue of race as far in the background of his candidacy as he could without having his ‘hood pass revoked. But he never tried to make himself, in the now almost unbearably trite parlance, “post-racial.” Rather, he made himself race-impartial. In his victory speech, he conveyed the resonating subtext of his candidacy all along: “I may not have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your president too.”
Ironically, perhaps, it was McCain who had more latitude to take stock of and pay homage to the historic significance of Election Day for African Americans, invoking Booker T. Washington’s visit to Theodore Roosevelt’s White House, telling his supporters, “though we have come a long way from the old injustices that once stained our nation’s reputation and denied some Americans the full blessings of American citizenship, the memory of them still had the power to wound.”
It may be tempting to think of Nov. 5 as the new Juneteenth, but that wouldn’t be in keeping with the new Obama paradigm. A shift has occurred, and it’s not simply that the leaders of the civil rights movement have now segued to a new emeritus status in American politics. It’s not simply that the hip-hop generation came of age politically in 2008. It is that an African American offered his leadership in a political campaign with the highest possible stakes for Americans and the world, and emerged as president of the United States. American history. Not just African-American history. And no fur coat.
David Swerdlick is a regular contributor to The Root.