One of my favorite classes in college was “American Rhetoric” (or something like that – I can’t remember back that far!). It fell under the Speech Communications department (which was my minor), and for one semester, we studied American History through the speeches that were given and letters that were written during specific historic moments. Think Gettysburg Address, Pearl Harbor, “I Have a Dream,” Reagan’s speech after the Challenger explosion, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” I’m fascinated by American history, and I loved analyzing the words and phrases that explained these moments.
Last night, after watching President-elect Barack Obama’s victory speech, I cleared the tightness in my throat, wiped my eyes, and turned to Michael.
“That speech will be in the textbooks.”
I was stunned and speechless. Political differences and opinions aside, no one can deny the magnitude of that moment and how brilliantly it was communicated.
I’m not sure why I didn’t realize it before, but as the camera panned the crowds and showed us the beautiful dark faces with huge smiles and tears streaming down their cheeks standing together with white faces smiling just as big, I realized just how historic this moment was and caught a glimpse of what this must mean for them – and for all of us. The fact that I didn’t think about the significance before this moment – oddly enough – is what defines this moment. We weren’t just electing the first African-American president. We voted for him because we believed he was the best candidate with the best ideas. He was elected not for “the color of (his) skin, but for the content of (his) character.”
For me, as a white, 30-something suburban mom, this fact alone is huge. I fully realize that my non-realization was partially due to my white suburban isolationism – I’m not that naive – but I have great hope in knowing my generation and the generation behind us has at last – in part – reached the point that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. foresaw as he stood “on the mountaintop.” We stand together as Americans, regardless of our heritage or the color of our skin. That is the kind of America that I want for my kids, and I absolutely love the fact that they hardly notice or point out skin color.
That’s not to say that there is not work left to be done. My cousin, Natalie, reminded me that “racism is not suddenly ‘behind us’; nor are the deep class divides and myriads of other social injustices–or the unfolding economic & environmental disaster–over just because we elected Obama. BUT that doesn’t mean it’s not a start!”
Political opinions aside, this is a new day for our country. It is a new beginning. My grandchildren will read about this day and study it and analyze it … and we all shared the huge honor and privilege of being a part of it.
Embedded video from CNN Video