The New Us

Illustration for article titled The New Us

After months of watching Anderson Cooper, Campbell Brown, David Gergen and Jeffrey Toobin on CNN, after laughing and crying through many a Facebook chat with some of the smartest (and most fabulous) black and multiracial women in the world, after pouring my heart, mind and soul into blog posts on The Root, the Huffington Post and my own blog, twitting hundreds of pro-Obama tweets on Twitter, and scrolling through and responding to thousands of e-mails about Election 2008 on my BlackBerry, I can finally stop for a second.


And breathe.

The election wasn't stolen. Our candidate is alive. We showed up, changed the world and plan to get up tomorrow and do it again. Soon after the results were announced, President-elect Barack Obama sent his supporters an e-mail requesting our suggestions on public policy. True to form, he expects our input to begin now.

Such is the nature of change. It's a long time coming, but when it gets here, you'd better be ready. The last time I was in London, some friends told me Obama would never win because it would mean Europe, too, would have to change, "and," they said, shaking their heads in the back of a taxi, "that will never, ever happen."

As we breathe today, we must also accept that this is a different world, in many ways, than the one we thought we were living in.

This election showed us how far we were from true leadership. How far we were from being inspired by our government. How far we were from feeling connected to our friends around the world. It showed us how mired in cynicism we had become. How futility had seeped in and infected our very sinew. And then, when we saw how far we were from our potential, Obama showed us how powerful we could become.

And we began to fight in earnest.

Because our leaders had failed us, and the market did not police itself. Because identity politics proved too political. Because our streets, patrolled by minutemen determined to keep "illegals" from minimum-wage jobs, are no longer paved with gold. Because we have been demoted from liberator to occupier in the eyes of the world.


Because too many of us are sleeping in cars and waiting to be seen by doctors in traveling medical clinics. Because people are being thrown out of homes in the face of overwhelming debt. Because tent cities, the kind we've seen in news reports from Third World nations, are cropping up in cities around the country.

Because we want our children to live in peace, and if not in peace, then at least with hope. We began to fight in earnest.


Now Obama officially inherits our doubts and fears, our giddy rush to change; he carries all of us with him into the White House.

If the tears I cried after learning of his grandmother's death are any indication, I suspect the new American dream will be grounded in the sanctity of family. Obama speaks of the responsibility of fathers to show up, and of parents to turn off the television. He calls his beautiful wife, Michelle, the love of his life, the rock of their family. Because he was devastated by his father's abandonment and saved by the devotion of his mother and grandmother, I suspect his fierce devotion to family will rub off on us. Not as part of a 1950s fantasy cooked up by advertisers to sell cars and washing machines, but as a real engine of holistic success.


As this all plays out, I suspect that we may come to talk of race as a set of ideas, nothing more and nothing less. We will say the human experience is bigger than those ideas, so big it cannot be contained with words. This, we will say to our children, is why we have something in common with everyone.

I suspect that as we continue to work in earnest, we will teach our children to do more with less and to understand the finite nature of the world's resources.


We will teach them that extraordinary leadership, supported by an extraordinary base, can change the world.

We will tell them to believe in miracles. And, in turn, they will believe in themselves.


America is at the end of one story and the beginning of another. We are fortunate that Barack Obama is a writer. We will need his intuitive understanding of narrative to bring us to the other side of the current crisis. We will need him to teach us how to turn tragedy into insight and how to turn the decline of a superpower into an educational epic of redemption.

We picked the right man. Not simply because he's qualified and soulful, committed and brilliant. But because he knows how to create a phenomenal whole out of a thousand little pieces. It's the story of his life. Now it is the story of ours.


Rebecca Walker has a blog on The Root, Seeds.