Robinson’s eloquent, insightful columns on the 2008 presidential race explored what the election of the first African-American president would mean—for him, for African-Americans, and for the country as a whole.It’s safe to say that I’ve never had such a deeply emotional reaction to a presidential election. I’ve found it hard to describe, though, just what it is that I’m feeling so strongly.
It’s obvious that the power of this moment isn’t something that only African Americans feel. When President Bush spoke about the election yesterday, he mentioned the important message that Americans will send to the world, and to themselves, when the Obama family moves into the White House.
For African Americans, though, this is personal.
I can’t help but experience Obama’s election as a gesture of recognition and acceptance—which is patently absurd, if you think about it. The labor of black people made this great nation possible. Black people planted and tended the tobacco, indigo and cotton on which America’s first great fortunes were built. Black people fought and died in every one of the nation’s wars. Black people fought and died to secure our fundamental rights under the Constitution. We don’t have to ask for anything from anybody.
Yet something changed on Tuesday when Americans—white, black, Latino, Asian—entrusted a black man with the power and responsibility of the presidency. I always meant it when I said the Pledge of Allegiance in school. I always meant it when I sang the national anthem at ball games and shot off fireworks on the Fourth of July. But now there’s more meaning in my expressions of patriotism, because there’s more meaning in the stirring ideals that the pledge and the anthem and the fireworks represent.