I am astounded. Our country just elected Barack Obama!! This is the first election in which I’ve been able to vote where I can say, “Yes. That is my president.” I called swing state volunteers. I brought up the tough issues with Mom. I gave my sister that extra nudge to register to vote. I feel like this was very much my election.
But I sit here thinking how much this is even more so your election. You grew up in Chicago, amid racial tension I can only imagine — the grandson of an Irish immigrant family made you the member of a population pitted against the adjacent local black population, due to both of your being situated in low-income families with minimal access. It took me a long time to understand your discomfort with racial issues, especially since you gave me the benefit of living in an area where everyone was going okay.
I remember, at the beginning of my college career, interviewing you about growing up. You told me how much you wanted to get out of Chicago, because everyone was so angry, and your only experience of whites and blacks relating was of it as violent and impossible. I was impressed, though, at how you narrated to me that as you grew older you came to understand that this tension was a product of poverty and class, of the recent immigrant population with which you identified being pitted against a similarly disenfranchised population. I realized what a difficult understanding this must have been for you to come to; beyond that, I was filled with a new understanding of what it meant that you did not pass the racial tension you experienced on to your daughters.
So today, I can’t help but think of you as I watch tens of thousands of people gather in Chicago, where you grew up, to cheer in our first black president. You told me yourself that you never would have believed the possibility of this moment when you were my age — a multiplicity of races gathered in a public space to celebrate a black president, in the very city where you witnessed first-hand so much conflict. How things have changed.
I am so glad I got to share this night with you. To call you, excitedly, because the person we wanted had been elected. And, for the first time in history, he is not white. I’m excited because it’s Barack, I’m excited because of the symbolism of this moment. Maybe more than that, I’m excited because this is a sign of what can happen when people try. Desegregation happened in your generation because young people who believed in basic rights — people like me — refused to allow discrimination and hatred continue. Look where that got us. I have to say, I believe more than ever: Yes We Can.
There is so much more work to be done, and although this is one significant step, there are so many forms of inequality — racial and otherwise — that we must continue to work against. Thank you though, Dad, for raising me with not just the belief but the knowledge that inequality is unforgivable, and that I can be a part in moving towards a more equal and just society. I really believe today — for the first time in quite a while — that America can be a place in which I can once again put my faith, and that a better tomorrow is truly within my grasp, one day and one step at a time. It certainly appears that it was for you.
I love you.