The election of the first Black president of the United States is not the end of white supremacy in America.
But it is the beginning of the end.
America was founded upon the very idea of the white man reigning. America was conceived by conquering, colonial, Christian Europeans. They vanquished the continent’s native population, and enslaved Africans to build their nation.
But America’s independence was won by men who talked of Freedom. The result: America was born with two opposing Manifest Destinies. One was the desire to build a new empire for the European on emptied land. The other was the ideal of a new nation where all Men are free.
The entirety of American history is the result of this split personality, the two sides trying to reconcile themselves — from the 3/5ths Clause in the Constitution, to the Civil War, to the Civil Rights movement. These conflicts were the direct result of the presence of Black people in America, a constant reminder to the white man that his ideals meant nothing if he did not pursue them to their logical end. Every election since then has been a referendum on where we lean on this question: Are we a patriarchal, white, Christian nation? Or are we a multicultural democracy?
For the past two presidential elections, the contest between these two ideas was so close that small acts of fraud kept power in the hands of the party that most represents the interests of the patriarchy. For eight years, the Republicans squandered our treasure on missions to expanding American supremacy against foreign and domestic foes both real and imagined. Faced with the prospect of four more years of war and financial ruin, the American electorate chose overwhelmingly tonight to reject American triumphalism and replace it with American realism.
The Republicans lost for the same reason that all patriarchies eventually lose. The rule of the privileged creates corruption and greed. Corruption and greed inevitably produce ideas so foolish and breed people so incompetent that they burn their own house down. It took just eight years for the idiot son to destroy everything his fathers had built.
The Democrats won for the same reason that all democracies eventually win, by including and inspiring all people. The Democrats, after decades of paying lip-service to Black Americans and taking the Black vote for granted, finally yielded to a powerful candidate who represented Black folks’ interests — not just for who he is but for what he believes. But in so doing, the Democrats tapped into something they never expected: A new generation of young whites who wanted to close the chapter on America’s racist past and be a part of America’s multicultural future.
Obama or not, we are all going there. But the road will not be easy. The Klu Klux Klan of old may not be marching in the streets, but the forces of white supremacy are still very much here. Some of them are skinheads and militiamen with guns and explosives. Others are corporate men who seek to preserve their financial and skin privilege through the power of their money; through their ability to hire, or not hire. Still others are politicians who will use this opportunity to claim that racism no longer exists, and that its remedies should be withdrawn. Right now, these people are all cornered. And a cornered animal is the most dangerous. There will likely be decades of struggle as the political pendulum swings back and forth, as the former powers-that-be adjust to the new philosophical and demographic reality. Some of our foes will go quietly. Others will not. But go they will. Hopefully, the Secret Service will do its job. We must also do ours. Stay vigilant.
Obama’s ascendance to the nation’s highest office will open horizons and create higher aspirations for Black Americans. A Black family will now occupy the same White House from which Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. But a Black Camelot will not immediately heal our country’s split personality, and certainly will not change the facts on the ground for many Black Americans — still the poorest, still without good schools, without decent housing, without health or child care, still without fulfilling jobs that pay a living wage. Even if president-elect Obama is everything we hope he is, it will take more terms than he could legally fill to put all Americans on an equal footing.
Tonight, we are a country changed, and we are a country unchanged.
Tomorrow, America takes her first steps toward her true Manifest Destiny, the multicultural democracy.