I am still embarrassed to admit that I didn’t vote this year. Because I didn’t follow up a fax sent into my elections board in Durham, NC, I didn’t find out until too late that they never received it. North Carolina eventually went for Obama, so what would have been my vote for Obama wasn’t needed. Still, I wish I could count myself as one of those who participated in this historic election.
Despite this, I have been looking forward to this inauguration day more than any other. There seems to be a sense of excitement even over here in Britain. There is the sense that the British know that this is special in regards to Obama’s race, but I think that most of the excitement stems from George W. Bush leaving office.
Like Pam (who has written an excellent reflection here), I struggle to explain the significance of this election. I have tried to use the example of race relations between the British and the Asians, an issue big in particular in my home of Blackburn, but the two don’t make a straight comparison. This history goes all the way back to the slave trade and the founding of the American colonies and continued long after Robert E. Lee surrendered in the American Civil War. I will usually point to my home state’s race relations. I remember watching the confederate flag taken down from the top of the state house and moved to the front of the state capital steps (hardly a better solution). I also tell the story my mother tells of the first morning two African-American girls got on their school bus, and that my dad was the last graduating class from Opelika High School (in Alabama) that was not integrated (in 1967).
Perhaps many African-Americans might say that I don’t even understand the full significance of a white American, and there may be a lot of truth in that. Whilst I have had not ambition to be president, 43 white men showed that I didn’t have the problems that others have to overcome. Still, I will celebrate with them as the calendars I can remember from my childhood listing all the presidents will have a president that looks differently from the ones who went before him.
I hope that one day, we will no longer talk of the ‘significance’ of events like electing an African-American (or woman or any other). As I watch my daughter try to sing to Balamory on Cbeebies, she has no clue what today’s significance is. She will turn two later this week. In 2012 when Obama runs for re-election, she will be the same age as I was when I can remember my first presidential election (1980). Jimmy Carter is the first president I can actually remember. So, there is a good chance that the first president Savannah will remember is Barak Obama. That will only deepen if he wins again, making her 10 when he leaves office. The only president she will ever have known will have been a non-white. For her generation, they may escape the idea of a ‘glass ceiling’ for what any group can acheive. Regardless, I will try to get Savannah to watch as much as possible the inauguration this afternoon, and as she grows up, I will teach her the significance of what she watched (even though she will not remember what she saw).
There is no way I can sum up the signficance of this day. I will end by saying I hope the best for President Barak Obama and that I will pray for you.