Chills. That has been my persistent state of being since Tuesday night. Mind-numbing, spine-tingling, electrifying chills. My president is Barack Obama. My president is black.
People talk of a decades ago, when nobody believed a black man could ever make it to the White House, but my memory recalls a time in our more recent history, as little as a year ago, when doubt and skepticism still burned as strong as ever. “Is America ready for a black president?” they asked.
Today I realize that question is irrelevant; Barack Obama’s blackness was never the issue. Not because he chose to downplay his skin color or the origin of his name, but because he is a figure so transcendental and inspiring that he could ascend to the top of a country with such a bitter racial past as ours on the back of the broad, multicultural coalition that came out in droves on Tuesday. It is because unlike any other presidential candidate of color in our past, he was seen not just as a champion of black Americans, but as a champion of Americans, period.
I’m beyond thrilled to see debates over ethnicity take a backseat to issues of actual substance during this election cycle. But I am just as proud to say, “Damn, it feels good to see a black man as president of the United States of America.” There will be those who argue it doesn’t matter, that we diminish this victory when we add those labels and take a step away from colorblind America. To them I say: It does matter. It makes all the difference.
I’m not talented enough to articulate the full nature of the pride I felt looking at Barack, Michelle and their two gorgeous daughters, Malia and Sasha, greeting the nation as our First Family. That glorious image of a beautiful black family is not an advertisement during Black History Month, or a page out of Essence or Ebony. It is the new face of the country that once had their ancestors in chains. That image is life-changing. That image will define our generation.
During dinner a few weekends ago, my friend’s father commented that the sense of the collegiate black community is radically different today from how it was when he was young. Back then, when you saw another person of color, there was always at least the customary head nod exchanged, something to acknowledge you were in the struggle together. Today, he lamented, we do nothing.
But on Tuesday I experienced that sense of solidarity. As I walked past a black student on the way to lunch, he smiled at me and said, “Go Obama.” I replied “Yes, we did.” In Commons, a member of the staff stopped and asked me how I felt about yesterday. “Best day of my life,” I told her. “Mine too,” she replied. “We did it.”
When was the last time you felt compelled enough to reach out to complete strangers and share in their hope, passion and undying optimism, their belief in a new future? The moment I heard my mother, a naturalized citizen and a staunch Republican, screaming, “We got Ohio, we finally won Ohio!” I knew Tuesday was special. She had cast her vote for change, and all day she was bombarded by calls from our relatives in Nigeria cheering and chanting, “Yes, we can! Yes, we can!”
President-elect Obama understood his global reach Tuesday night when he proclaimed, “To all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of the world, our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand.” He has inspired a generation of youths from all backgrounds once accused of political apathy to once again become civically engaged. No more “waiting for the world to change.” This is it.
And though I still dream of the day, perhaps in the next generation, when an article like this will have no place in the American discourse, today this victory is ours. A piece of it belongs to all of us, regardless of whether we voted for him. Our president is Barack Obama. Our president is black.
Kene Anoliefo is a junior in Calhoun College.