Something dramatic just happened in America’s moral economy

In the last couple of days, I’ve been touched by reading articles and posts by African Americans that have been deeply moved by Barak Obama’s election. As you already know, I was moved for many of the same reasons, but obviously, I can never feel it as deeply as they feel it (nor can the younger generations feel it like the older generations). My challenge to my white friends is to read some of these reflections and try to absorb some of the history and emotion. This is a very teachable moment, and it may help us begin to change the way we think about certain things. (These examples just happen to be from sites I regularly peruse; I’m sure there are many more.)

Eugene Robinson – (Washington post): Morning in America

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. In our Lifetime (the Root): “From toiling as White House slaves to President-elect Barack Obama, we have crossed the ultimate color line.”

Alice Walker – an Open Letter to Obama (The Root)

Edward Gilbreath – What Obama, Tchaikovsky, and Dante Have in Common (Reconciliation Blog)

Todd Burkes – I wish you could have been here. (Follow)

Kevin Merida: A Day of Transformation: America’s History Gives Way to It’s Future (Washington Post)

. . . Presidential elections often reveal something about the nation’s character, its temperament and state of mind. Many who are wondering how it happened that Barack Obama was elected president this season are also wondering what else they may be missing in their cities and towns and neighborhoods. Transformation rarely announces itself with trumpets. It usually happens gradually, over time, and then — clang!— a singular moment chimes the news. From its founding, the United States has seen itself as a special place, an example to other nations, a “city on the hill.” With the election of its first black president, it can now begin to erase one of the stains on that reputation, one that repeatedly shamed us in front of other countries. . .

Ta-Nehisi Coates: The Man of Tomorrow (Washington Post) – sort of a side note.

I also liked this quote about where Obama stands (and differs) with other civil rights leaders – some perspective: “He ran the last leg of a 60-year tag race . . . The wall is down now. Barack must build the bridge for the next generation.” He leapt the tallest barrier. What does it mean for Black America? (Washington Post)

BONUS: Here is a looong New Yorker article that I highly recommend: The Joshua Generation: Race and the Campaign of Barack Obama

As white Americans (especially white evangelicals), we need to come to grips with the reality that something deeply significant just happened in the moral economy of our nation. Let’s put our political reservations aside for a minute and wholeheartedly celebrate what this means within the moral paradoxes of our nation’s history.

Disclaimers: This is only a beginning, and the harsh political realities will emerge soon enough. As far as I recall, none of these writers is saying that Obama is the messiah; this is bigger than any one individual. Also, I do make a distinction between celebrating this moral milestone and Obamamania. Some people (worldwide) might as well be cheering for their favorite sports team; it almost cheapens it for the rest of us.

4 thoughts on “Something dramatic just happened in America’s moral economy

  1. steph says:

    Excellent post Ben. I’ve been surprised by how white Americans (only on the blogs) deny how significant it is to African Americans.

  2. Rombo says:


    Thanks much for the heads up on the New Yorker piece.

    As usual, David Remnick does not disappoint, although, truth told, I look forward to a much more comprehensive portrait of Obama from him once we’re past this in-between election period.

    I always come away from his profile pieces with a particular sense that I know the layers of his subject, like he’s taken me into their heads and under their skin.

    What is even more startling for me is Charlayne Hunter-Gault’s story. I’ve occasionally consumed news packaged by her, in the years she’s been reporting on Africa from South Africa, but I didn’t know her story. It totally blew me away to read that when she was attempting to get into college, she went through her own particular sometimes bitter race-based struggle, and now America has elected its first African-American as president and it puts it in context to think all the things she must be feeling, and it once again hits me how big this is, how big it must be especially for the African Americans who grew up in the fifties and the sixties or before that to see how far America has come in their lifetime because of all the stories each one of them carries inside of them about a different time.

    Again, I say, bravo America.

  3. Ben says:

    Thanks Steph and Lou; I appreciate you both. It’s always encouraging just to know you stopped by.

    Rombo, how did I know you were a fan of the New Yorker. (Maybe you mentioned it in one of your blog entries.)

    The Hunter-Gault story struck me too; there is something about when it is a life we feel like we have had some personal connection to. This is why I try to encourage my white friends to expose themselves to part the black world as much as possible and make some deep lasting friendships (Hopefully, not folks that are already inundated with well-meaning whites wanting to be their friends ;-). The longer you are around, the more you hear, and the more impacted your life is. It is through these kinds of relationships that I learned to spot the racism that is part of daily life for so many people – still very real today.

    On the historical side of things, when I lived in DC, I used to lift weights with a friend in his auto-body shop a few blocks from where I lived. He didn’t seem that much older than me (though it had to be about 20 years), but he used to tell me about going to segregated schools. I had heard a lot of terrible stories first hand (John Perkins, etc.), but for some reason, lifting weights with a friend who had lived through segregation made an indelible impression on me.

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