November 05, 2008


by Debra Dean Murphy
It’s hard to be cynical today.

It may be easier tomorrow, next week, or next month—it almost certainly will be. But today is a day for head-shaking wonder at what transpired on Nov. 4.

Even though it wasn’t a surprise, the election of Barack Obama is epic for all the reasons the pundits have waxed eloquent about during the last twenty-four hours, and the margin of his victory is ample evidence that Senator McCain didn’t lose the election: Senator Obama won it, and decisively.

It is moving to see the faces of African-Americans (and indeed of Africans a world away) whose renewed hope is real and whose joy seems uncontainable. Overnight, literally, millions have dared to believe that progress in racial equality and reconciliation has taken one giant step forward.

It was inevitable that Obama’s election would usher in sentimental slogans about how “all things are possible now.” (I know I’m bordering on cynicism here; bear with me). In the euphoria of the moment I don't begrudge the impulse. A black man winning in Virginia and North Carolina? (at least unofficially right now in the case of the latter). The impossible has become possible!

But I do worry that the euphoria could lead to some sloppy thinking. Obama's ascendency to the presidency should not be seen primarily as a sign that everyone can achieve their dreams. Tuesday's remarkable outcome should not, finally, be reduced to a children's lesson about always getting what you want.

If we believe that the election of Barack Obama means something significant for race relations in America, then the dream is not one of individual achievement. Instead, it is about our collective imagination--the ability to envision what constitutes a life of flourishing for all and to be about the business of making it a reality.

And yet we have to concede, as Stanley Hauerwas did recently that "racism ain't gonna go away." The difficulty will be to negotiate the challenges of racism in the aftermath of an event that has profoundly shifted many of the "givens" in the debate about race in America. There are reasons to believe that we won't be up to the challenge.

But no cynicism today. Now is not the time to worry about how far we have to go, but to marvel at how far we've come.

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