Wednesday, January 21, 2009

My President Is Black

It snowed yesterday in Memphis. Not "real" snow, just some flurries in the air, but it added an unreal sparkle to the morning... a morning in which so many other things seemed so unreal.

I watched the Inauguration ceremonies in our campus pub, surrounded by rapt colleagues and students. People cheered and clapped and laughed, and a couple of times I almost cried. I kept saying: I can't believe this. I can't believe this is happening.

Immediately after the benediction by Rev Lowery, I went back to my office to get ready for my 12:30 class, Philosophy of Race. The last time I felt so totally unprepared to say something significant was when I had to give a toast at my brother's wedding rehearsal dinner. I went into class, paused, and began: I suppose it goes without saying that what just happened was positively historic. Like many of you, I thought that the most important thing that ever happened in my life happened on September 11. Don't think that anymore. It's what happened today. The President of the United States, President Barack Obama, our President, is a black man.

We spent the next 75 minutes talking about the Inaugural Address, what needed to be done (and not done) first by the new Administration, the wonders of our nation's peaceful transfer of power. My impression was that they were, in fact, filled with hope... but also caution, a little suspicion, a palpable fear. It was uncannily similar to September 11, when it seemed as if everyone knew something really bad had just happened, though none of us were equipped to wrap our heads or our hearts around the sheer enormity of it. But this time, something really good had just happened.

I thought: This moment is so big, so powerful, so significant. And we are so the opposite of all those things.

In his Address yesterday, Obama noted the "other" crisis that our country presently faces. It's not an economic or political crisis, but what he called the "sapping of confidence across our land-- the nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights." Of all the great things about our people that have been truncated, contaminated or eliminated over the past eight years, our individual and collective political imagination is one of the most damaged targets. I feel fortunate to have a job where I can help to restore that imagination. Because we are not yet so small, so powerless, so insignificant that we cannot imagine a way to meet our moment in history. Yes we can.

Our black President took his oath yesterday on the steps of a building that was constructed by black slaves. Great things, seemingly impossible things, are imaginable. But, as President Obama said yesterday, "greatness is never given."

Today, we begin again.

1 comment:

Bryan said...

In November, I had a head change. I decided to drop my cynicism and disappointment with our government for a while. Instead, I've been rejoicing. In my case though, my rejoicing is not because of the outcome of the election. It's because my traditionally racist parents happily voted for a black man. I never dreamed I would see that day.