Thursday, November 13, 2008

When One Part Rejoices, All Rejoice

I have been holding these thoughts in my heart for over a week now, trying to find true enough words. I also wanted to be sensitive to those disappointed in the election results, because I know that can be difficult. But a couple friends who voted differently took the time to graciously say congratulations, good work for your candidate. And besides the fact that I did so, so little, here’s the thing: sure, I’m happy and proud for me. But I’m rejoicing for these brothers and sisters:

Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, election night


When one part rejoices, every part rejoices with it.


Oh, yes, I’m pleased that Obama won and hopeful that he will be a wise president and bring about progress on health care and other things that concern me. I’m relieved that the election was not decided by prejudice or muddied by recounts. I’m thankful that all those who gave up so much to do so much for what they believe in could see their labors pay off and encouraged by the level of determination to participate in democracy.


But my deepest happiness is for those to whom this means so much, much more: our fellow citizens who because of color have felt (even if they didn’t really realize it until now) not quite represented, not quite included in the possibilities, not quite sure they would ever see a brown, bold, beautiful first family like this one. The grandchildren of slaves, the survivors of Jim Crow, the marchers and riders and friends of the martyrs, the millions who have borne the burdens of our tangled American history—this means something to them that it never quite could to me, and I am proud that America has affirmed their hope.


I hope we can all recognize the significance of this moment for many of our brothers and sisters even if we do not feel the same or voted differently. We can be happy or disappointed about the electoral outcome, and for me, I am happy—but for black America, I rejoice. I share in their joy in a spiritual way knowing this was more than a political moment. We share it as a human moment.


I rejoice for John Lewis.

I rejoice for Jesse Jackson.

I rejoice for Ebenezer Baptist Church.

I rejoice for the black boy of about nine who tried to explain what it means—“It means no one can tell you you can’t do something . . . No limitations . . .”—but he choked up so badly he had to sit down, his friend patting him comfortingly on the back.


Their joy, pride, and emotion has humbled me and brought me to tears many times this week. I hope we can all recognize the significance of this moment for many of our brothers and sisters even if we do not feel the same or voted differently. We can be happy or disappointed about the electoral outcome and still share in their joy in a spiritual way knowing this was more than a political moment. We share it as a human moment.




What does it mean for the future? Who knows. Black Americans know better than most that inequalities don’t disappear because somebody shared a nice moment. We are not now “post-racial”; we are not “colorblind.” The absurdity of this should be as plain as the ridiculousness of Steven Colbert telling a guest on his show, “I don’t see color, but I’m told that you’re black. Is that true?” Of course he sees color. We all see color, and there is nothing wrong with that. I see color, I see hair—I see brown skin and cornrows on the White House lawn, and it is a beautiful sight!


For me, right now, it means just one less question my daughter will ask: “Why aren’t there any brown presidents?” (A thousand more will still test my—our country’s—ability to answer.)


It means the possibility of seeing one of the first daughters on TV and saying, “Anna, check out Sasha’s twists—should we try your hair that way tomorrow?”


It means many who sometimes felt not quite represented now feel more connected to the community that is our nation, and that is a good, good thing.


It means our children may believe, and that is the greatest of all.




These two boys waited as a long line of adults greeted Senator Obama before a rally on Martin Luther King Day in Columbia, S.C. They never took their eyes off of him. Their grandmother told me, “Our young men have waited a long time to have someone to look up to, to make them believe Dr. King’s words can be true for them.” Jan. 21, 2008. © Callie Shell / Aurora for Time



LINKS for perspective:
"In Our Lifetimes" by Henry Louis Gates at The Root
"Free Our Minds" by Lynne Duke at The Root
"The Imagery of Tuesday" at Jack & Jill Politics (I encourage you to read the comments on some of these election night and day after threads)
"We Rejected So Much History and So Many Rules That Have Bound Us" by Baratunde Thurston
"Daring to Dream of a Black President," leading black voices share what it means to them



3 comments:

Matt Walton said...

Awesome read, Wendy!

Amy said...

Now we've got to work on getting foreign-born adoptees allowed to be presidents, so we can have an Anna or Roman as president! :)

WMW said...

Amy, I agree! Just make the rule that you have to be a citizen for 35 years. So if you were adopted as a minor, you'd be eligible by age 53 at the oldest.