Barack Obama: Joy in the Arc of History

What Barack Obama's victory means to Dr. Julianne Malveaux, President of Bennett College.

In Her Words

Joy in the Arc of History

A BettyConfidential.com exclusive

-Dr. Julianne Malveaux

Barack victory I have been Black for more than half a century. To be accurate and precise, I have been colored, Negro, Black, Afro-American and African American and sometimes words that won’t be repeated, for 55 years. I’ve seen a lot. Led a life rich and layered enough to develop a wry inner cynic. For all my excitement about Barack Obama’s candidacy, I was afraid to believe in the possibility. Of course I chanted, “yes, we can”, but I’ve been Black a long time.

Because of my cynicism, I figured “they’d” steal it. Florida for sure. Ohio maybe. And if they didn’t outright steal it, I figured the “Bradley effect” would take Pennsylvania. Despite what everyone else saw as McCain’s tanking campaign, I thought the old soldier had a chance. When asked to predict, I called it a squeaker, with only 20 electoral votes separating the candidates. I woke up Tuesday morning holding my breath.

I have never been so gleefully wrong. Two days after the victory, I’m still grinning. I was glued to the television Tuesday night, and I woke up Wednesday morning filled with joy and ecstasy.

Every morning I do this out loud dialogue with God. Here are the words, “Good Morning, God, it’s Julianne Malveaux. Loving you today. Good to be alive today. Getting ready to pray today.” The dialogue continues. On November 5, 2008, for the very first time in my adult life, I amended the opening words. “Good morning, God. It’s Julianne Malveaux. Loving you today. Good to be alive in the United States of America today.” It is the first time I have mentioned the United States at the top of my prayer dialogue.

I know that President-elect Obama does not have magic dust. I know that he cannot, by clicking his heels three times, fix the financial crisis, close the racial economic gap, clean up the environment, stop sexism. At the same time, for the first time, I know that his victory makes me want to try harder, work harder, be a better citizen. I have witnessed history in my lifetime and it makes me want to believe.

John McCain also helped me believe. His grace and sense of history in his amazing concession speech revealed a side of him that has been missing from the campaign trail these past two years. When he invoked the Booker T. Washington dinner with Theodore Roosevelt, he gave voice to a history that has been too frequently ignored in conversations about affirmative action. The history of African Americans in these United States is richer than our slave history, It is a history that hangs between hope and despair, a history of broken promises and crippled dreams, a history of following the rules only to watch them change, of believing in America only to watch it lie, of fighting for the very right to fight to defend our country. Of watching many genuflect to the lie of a level playing field.

Barack Obama didn’t face a level playing field as a candidate and he won anyway. He and his team did the hard work of putting a victory team together, state by state, precinct by precinct, text message by text message. It could have gone the other way, but it went his way because of hard work, great timing, a sinking economy, and a superior game plan.

The inner cynic is still there. Just 48 hours out, aspects of the Obama victory are beginning to look like politics and presidential leadership as usual. But I’ve given the cynic a sabbatical, at least for a few days. When I saw the tears running down the cheeks of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, when I heard an 80-year-old woman tell me why she decided to vote for the first time, when I watched the grins stretch across the face of my students, I decided to give Sister Cynic a rest, at least for a moment.

The analyst is on hold and the joy has taken over. The President of the United States of America is African American, progressive, and phenomenal. Two little black girls will preside over the White House Easter Egg Roll. A brilliant and elegant African American woman is the first lady of our United States of America. And for many, there is a joy that transcends partisan victory. This joy is pure appreciation of, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, “the arc of history.”

Dr. Julianne Malveaux is President of Bennett College for Women and one of BettyConfidential.com’s esteemed advisory board members. Recognized for her progressive and insightful observations, she is also an economist, author and commentator, and has been described by Dr. Cornel West as “the most iconoclastic public intellectual in the country.”

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