I spent election day glad for the many distractions that would keep me occupied – classes to teach, students to meet with, even an evening conference call. But eventually… it was just me, the internet and the returns.
As I caught up on my blog and news feed reading, I kept up with the electoral vote counts. Eventually Obama climbed to 240, and seemed to stay there a bit.
At 11:06 I noted there were 284 electoral votes on the Obama side… could it be? I started scrambling around for news feeds…
Ten minutes later I become aware of McCain conceding…
This wasn’t the way I imagined it happening. On the heels of the 2000 and 2004 election, and at the end of an increasingly vicious campaign on the part of the McCain camp, I assumed wherever we stood when the polls closed, whatever the outcome, it would be contested. There would at the very least be an all night deliberation, as in 2000, or at the worst, something that dragged out for days, like in 2004.
I know now that I let myself get too wrapped up in the negative campaigning, the downright scary stuff that was happening in the McCain/Palin rallies. As I watched the Obamas being called terrorists, anti-American, socialists and worse, I imagined this was all of America, or at least all of white America, looking at me and my people. I mean, intellectually I knew this wasn’t everyone. I had been quite heartened, for weeks, at the preponderance of Obama signs around the city and in my neighborhood, and the numbers of co-workers, neighbors and friends who were working their butts off for the Obama campaign.
Even so, I didn’t want to set my sights to high. We have hoped before, right? And when you lower your expectations, then the disappointment isn’t quite as harsh – or at least that’s what we talk ourselves into believing.
And so I had hope… to a point. I don’t think I ever let it sink way down deep into my soul that this could happen in the America that I knew. And granted, America has been pretty good to me. But I am not an island. I am connected to a people, to a history, to a story that is larger than my own. I am the descendant of people brought to this land through no will of their own, and who owned nothing, not even themselves. I am the daughter of parents whose childhoods, teenage years and young adulthoods were prescribed by the brutal limitations of legalized segregation. I am the mother of sons to whom I taught the lessons every black parent despises – if you are stopped by the police… keep your hands on the wheel. Say yes sir and no sir. Say I am reaching for my wallet – it is in my back pocket sir. Reach for said wallet slowly. I am the mother of a daughter who does not conform, as I do not, to the standards of American womanhood. It is a hard, hard thing to realize that you, and those who look like you, belong to a class of people that are feared, despised, disregarded.
And so it is a hard, hard thing to hope. Oh, I could say the words. And practically everyone I knew was saying the words along with me… and doing the work, showing up. Hoping, praying… breathing in the possibility of change. I don’t know if I really believe we can change the world. But I do know that I can’t not try.
So last night, as the news became real… I did what so many others of you have reported. I cried. I laughed. I cried some more – tears of joy, tears of relief. I went into their rooms and shook my children awake. I wanted to be the first to tell them. “He won. Obama won. We have a new president.” One who looks like you.
It is a hard, hard thing to hope. But it is a harder, and far worse thing, I think, to have despair as the only bread to feed your children.