Having voted in this past election while a resident of Los Angeles, and while living among many African American neighbors, today felt a bit strange to watch the inaugural events in a very different kind of community and context. I am sure the day was significant for many around here, but apart from my Facebook updates and one friend who brought by some free Krispy Kreme doughnuts that were being passed out today, I just didn’t feel that same sense of energy and import to the days events.
I was grateful for Maurice Broaddus’ reflections posted on his blog, attempting to describe for someone the scope of significance held in what took place today. He writes:
They looked like people taking their first breath and really enjoying it. I didn’t see the haggard, submissive expression. I saw enthusiastic joy, free from restraint. If you saw it, if you heard it, there’s no way that a human being couldn’t be touched by it. How many people last night and this morning took their first real breath?
A friend of mine recently commented that sheâ€™s â€œjust a white girl from a small townâ€ but she just doesnâ€™t get the near-messianic expectation surrounding Barack Obama being black and elected. Not why people broke down and cried, not why folks danced in the streets, or stayed up so late. Or why my cell phone blew up election night as every black person in my directory called or got called, all sharing a similar refrain. It boiled down to four words â€œnot in my lifetimeâ€…
No, President Barack Obama wonâ€™t redeem white people from the sin of racism (or whatever else some folks might imagine the import of his election might mean). But he represents a beacon of hope and the promise of change. His election might portend a true shift in our culture and how we see and treat one another. That is the root of the expectation: the hope of a better tomorrow in light of our many tragic yesterdays. Something many of us never thought weâ€™d see in our lifetimes.
On election day, we lived in a community that cried and danced and shouted in the streets. I missed that today. I wept this past weekend watching a random video Scot McKnight posted of the Obamas going to church on Sunday at a historic black congregation in Washington, D.C. I was overcome by emotion as I saw them shaking hands with fellow parishioners as they made their way out of the sanctuary, for some reason feeling this very great and real and earthy context for the significance of Obama’s election.
We heard enough about “the Black church” during some tense weeks of the campaign, and we often quote the line about Sundays being the most segregated hour in America, but somehow seeing the Obama family there, surrounded by an all-black congregation, seeing them pass through parishoners hoping for a hand shake, something about that grounded the magnitude of his election beyond Facebook frenzy and cool Obama posters and into wooden pews and fancy hats and a choir of children’s voices. And it just felt so very intense and real. And I was overcome by awe at what I too had dared to hope to ever see in my lifetime.