Yes we could!
Last night at friends' place in SoHo we watched the returns on all the channels -- even the Cobert-Stuart silliness, but mostly CNN -- with breaks for a delicious supper prepared by our hostess. We cheered vocally or silently as the Obama tally rose, while outside, as soon as he'd hit the winning number of 270 electoral votes, all Hell broke loose. Or Heaven. Or just terrestrial Exuberance. It was after midnight, after McCain's gracious and responsible concession speech and then after Obama's almost calm but elated appearance before millions of noisy fans in Chicago's Grant Park, after elegant Michelle in black and red and those pretty girls, after Joe Biden and his wife and son and little blond grandchildren and his tiny, grinning mother, after Jesse Jackson's tears and scenes of jumping and shouting before the cameras there in Grant Park and in Rockefeller Center and in front of the White House, and after a last glimpse of the subdued and somber faces at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix, we smiled and hugged and said goodnight to our friends, and went out into the unseasonably warm SoHo night and the knots of buoyant revelers. It was like a second Halloween, but with patriotic rather than witchcraft themes. A young women all covered in red and white tinsel pirouetting on the subway stairs, on the subway platform a man of maybe 30 grinning and spinning for cameras to flair his kilt fashioned from the American flag. Those two and most of the others were all white, but with them was a young black woman whose glee was all in her loud voice rather than her costume, and five or six others who joined in the revelry. This crowd seemed to have snowballed, with a core group raising chants -- "Yes we can!" and then, as though just realizing what had happened hours earlier, "YES WE DID!" One girl leaned far forward from her seat into the subway car aisle and fairly screamed, "Now the great thing is you can go to foreign countries and not pretend to be Canadians! It's OK to be American!"
Yeah. That's how we all feel. We now, for the first time in at least 8 years, feel proud of this country. "It's OK to be American!" In fact, we're damned proud that we and our countrymen proved all the forecasts of a racist boycott so wrong. We've elected the best man, and his color just shouldn't matter. Except that it does, in a good way. It does matter that we, all of us, have shown that we can get beyond our racial anxieties, even if we haven't made them go away entirely -- because that will take a lot more work, and a lot more equality of opportunity.
The guy in the flag urged us to join them at Union Square as they ran from the 6 train to continue on the express to the real uptown, to Harlem, to party all night. He and the little group around him were all white, but they knew they'd be welcomed tonight in black America and they wanted to join the fun. We grinned and wished them well.
See also this good essay by Mark Engler, The Day After: Keeping Obama Accountable