In 2004, I was firmly, completely convinced that after the close election in 2000, and the disaster of the previous four years, there was no way that our country would ever re-elect George W. Bush. On the day after that election, I was as upset, depressed, and angry as I’d ever been in my life. After that happened, I decided that the USA was, essentially, a lost cause. I felt fundamentally alienated from my country, a country that would legitimately elect George W. Bush after not-even-really electing him once, and seeing him bungle his job badly. I felt as if my hopes had died on that day.
Today, I found out that they were only mostly dead. Today I feel so proud to be part of a country that would defy the world’s story about it, defy my own story about it, and elect Barack Obama as its president by a stunning electoral margin. Today I look forward to having a president I really, genuinely like. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that way.
I keep thinking of a passage in I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, in which Angelou, her family, and almost her entire town of Stamps, Arkansas was gathered around the radio in her Grandmother’s general store, listening to Joe Louis fight Primo Carnera in 1935. As Louis would get in a good jab, the crowd would cheer. When Louis looks as if he’s about to go down, Angelou writes, “My race groaned. It was our people falling. It was another lynching, yet another Black man hanging on a tree.” And when Louis finally triumphs, and is declared the champion of the world:
Champion of the world. A Black boy. Some Black mother’s son. He was the strongest man in the world. People drank Coca-Colas like ambrosia and ate candy bars like Christmas. Some of the men went behind the Store and poured white lightning in their soft-drink bottles, and a few of the bigger boys followed them. Those who were not chased away came back blowing their breath in front of themselves like proud smokers.
It would take an hour or more before the people would leave the Store and head for home. Those who lived too far had made arrangements to stay in town. It wouldn’t do for a Black man and his family to be caught on a lonely country road on a night when Joe Louis had proved that we were the strongest people in the world.”
I love us for what we did tonight. It feels really good to love us again.
I too am happy and proud that the country of my birth elected its first black president. And chose a message of hope over a message of fear.