By Ken Krayeske • 10:05 AM EST
Forty-four years ago, when Fannie Lou Hamer and her Mississippi delegation of Democrats walked to Atlantic City to demand representation at the Democratic National Convention, the concept of a dark-skinned man as 44th president of the United States of America seemed an impossible dream.
So for a moment Tuesday night, I allowed myself the pleasure of reveling that racism suffered a deep wound – though not mortal. We have moved forward, progress is visible, I though as I watched the election returns in a friend’s backyard on a very seasonable evening.
The hoots of joy and hollers of excitement echoing across the West End testified to the end of the illegal Bush presidency, and the defeat of McCain's destructive politics. Watching his speech, I wondered where that man was the past six months.
McCain's eloquence concession acknowledged the tribulation of the African-American.
"But we both recognize that, 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," he said.
McCain mentioned Booker T. Washington's invitation to dinner at the White House from President Teddy Roosevelt. Booker T. Washington believed in the theory of racial uplift – which posits that the black community can defeat racism and overcome oppression by developing citizens of impeccable intelligence and manners.
The black college movement – Howard University and its law school at the forefront – anchored this racial uplift. If we have precise manners, and speak articulately and eloquently, and we perfect our usage of majority cultural norms, then those racists we encounter, we can create cognitive dissonance in their minds to defeat racism.
When a white racist encounters a black man of proper manners in his Sunday best, who is smart and sharp, that racist must acknowledge the fact that this person in front of him does not fit the stereotype. Unfortunately, all too often, the cognitive dissonance ends when the racist says – but he is the exception.
The race uplift theory holds that integration is not necessary, that blacks can achieve equality from within the black community, and that they don't need whites to be the same. Race uplift never died – it lost some traction when the NAACP Legal Defense Fund began its litigation strategy to destroy "separate but equal."
It still lurks today in the academic works of scholars like Derrick Bell, who say that we don't need to integrate de facto segregated school systems like Hartford – these black and Latino students don't need white students to make them better, they just need more funding and resources.
All-black schools are fine, Bell, a law professor at NYU (who turns 76 Nov. 6), would argue, as long as they are equal with all-white schools.
Obama may be the pinnacle of the racial uplift theory. He broke barriers in the oppressor's system to rise to the top. While he stated that his story is not possible anywhere else, my friend today challenged me that Evo Morales, the president in Bolivia, an indigenous peasant has a similar tale of triumph.
McCain, too, trumpeted American exceptionalism – we are the greatest nation on the earth - which I hope we will overcome, because I see the nationalistic narcissism as dangerous to our identity. But McCain also professed that Obama is his president – a nod to the possessive, individual relationship we all have with the executive branch.
Obama even tipped his language to this – "I may not have won your vote, but I hear your voices. I need your help, and I will be your president, too." This is opposed to the left's mantra of "Not my president" after Bush assumed the office of the presidency.
The divides McCain/Palin fostered still seem ferocious, as McCain's crowds booed his humble acceptance of loss, and still seem determined to counter Obama's leadership. I hope that an out-of-control Frankenstein, ready to fight Obama, never raises its head.
Yet both men utilized words of unity, contrition and healing Tuesday night. Obama's victory speech in front of a million people provided a masterful contribution to the rich history of American political rhetoric. He even quoted Lincoln - "a government of the people, by the poeple, for the people has noterished from this Earth."
I will acknowledge that Obama is my president too, even though I proudly cast my vote for Nader – a man I helped put on the ballot, and who remains staunchly against the war. Before I praise Obama's speech for its wordsmithing, let me first criticize.
He did not offer specifics – he did not say that he would close Guantanamo Bay, that he would end the war on terror, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, that he would dismantle the prison-industrial complex. We had to settle, once again, for lofty abstracts.
Obama barely admitted to the fact that the machinery of the American electoral system is badly broken. He mentioned people who waited three or four hours in line. I think many people waited longer than that. He has yet to approach vote caging, and any of the nasty Republican tactics we saw in the past two elections.
The Bush crime family stopped at nothing to win the White House, and the cheating we saw in 2000 and 2004 was nowhere yesterday. Even Karl Rove, thief in chief, predicted an Obama win, which makes me wonder if the Republicans realized that stealing from a black president-elect would lead to chaos, and accepted defeat.
Highlight of Obama's speech Tuesday night: he opened the American tent in ways Bush would never – immigrants, gay, straight, disabled; and this in itself represents a huge change. Obama called out to the working class with his invocation of calloused hands and the suffering of the worker. It creates a new psychological atmosphere.
Do I believe that he will raise the minimum wage, or change the conditions that led to the shooting of a 19-year-old on Gillette Street Tuesday morning, or that led to the stabbing of an eighth grader at Quirk Middle Tuesday afternoon? No, I am not that naïve.
Obama is a conservative president in comparison to me. He is middle of the road compared to the right-wing fascists of the outgoing Bush administration (words I have longed to write for years).
Most importantly, Tuesday night, Obama referenced his humanity, and set us up for "tomorrow."
"There will be setbacks and false starts," he said. "There are many who won't agree with every decision or policy I make as president, and we know that government can't solve every problem. But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face."
I appreciate that candor, although I don't trust it for a second. The real work of democracy starts now, as we have to hold him to the lofty rhetoric of change that he has promised. Someone Tuesday commented that this election was the greatest civil rights demonstration in history.
We need to maintain that quality of citizenship, so that 40 years from now, the third parties oppressed in this election cycle – like Fannie Lou Hamer was 44 years ago - will sit at the table. Progressives have to be critical of Obama to insure this.