Wednesday, January 21, 2009

If Only They Had Seen This

Talking Points Memo has been posting readers' take on the inauguration of President Obama. This one hit me hardest.

From TPM Reader MJ ...

As an African-American, there is, of course, a sense of pride, but its certainly one tempered by a sense of loss.
I still remember the stories from 2004, when the Red Sox won the World Series, and of the first things they did was go to Cemeteries and lay Red Sox hats and gear over the graves of loved ones. It was a way of saying "even though you are not here, you are a part of this" and "we want you to be a part of this.

That's an almost silly demystification of the incredibly complex feelings that most African-Americans are going through right now. Black people will not be laying Obama hats on gravesites. And note that I said going through, as if to suggest a sense of survival or endurance.

There is joy, no doubt. You're seeing it on the TV right now. Inevitably thoughts turn to those not here, about the African-Americans who actually walked the walk, the ones who marched, the ones who suffered under not just the lash of Jim Crow, but the lash of actual slavery, even if their faces and the names remain lost to us in time. Those are the people who inevitably deserve this moment the most, to see that their sacrifice, their pain, produced the America we were told about, but never quite could believe in.

The distance between that America, and the America we actually live in dissolved in a flash, and most African-Americans, myself included, are still not certain what that means. That's why one of the first things that so many people did was call relatives, call family, just call other black people. We went out to find meaning in each other, in each other's loss. We did this because there were so many people we couldn't call, couldn't talk to.

"So and so would have loved to have seen this..."

"Could you imagine if so and so had been alive to see this??"

But the joy is real. The sense of pride and pain that are so much a part of this day is why the joy is so palatable. We are celebrating for so many others. It's why if you watch CNN right now, you see people in the crowd already dancing in the streets (Martha Reeves and the Vandellas).

In the end, though, this is an American moment, no matter you came to it, even if you didn't vote for its existence. I wish there was something pithy or poetic I could say that could wrap this up in fine style, but the enormity of the task that lay before us saps both words and strength. I'll let the final word be the President Elect's.