If you are, say, an evangelical Christian who believes that Barack Obama is going to turn America into a godless land of homosexuality and abortion… If you are still wondering whether he is a secret racist waiting to unveil a slew of anti-white legislation… Or even if you just simply preferred the John McCain/Sarah Palin ticket… I wish you had been here in France with me last night.
You would have witnessed something that is hard for me to explain in words. But if you had seen it, you might have gotten just a little taste of why the election of Obama just might be something good for your country after all.
Had you been here, in my Paris apartment, when I woke up at 5 a.m. to learn that Obama had won, you would have seen my shell of self-protecting pessimism slowly fade.
I had prepared myself for the possible defeat by telling myself and any French or African friend who would ask that “I’ll believe it when I see it.” “You don’t know my country like I do,” I’d say when they would remind me of the polls.
But as I watched the pundits on CNN talk about the significance of the victory, I just sat numb. No smiles. No reaction, really. I was just trying to wake up, literally, and realize that this was not a dream.
You would have seen me nod in approval at John McCain’s concession speech and then grumble, “Where was this John McCain during the campaign?” But I would have calmly told you that I thought he had been very honorable.
And then, when they cut to Grant Park in Chicago, you would have seen me sit up in anticipation. If we had been involved in small talk, it would have stopped at this point.
You would have seen my eyes start to tear up as the crowd cheered its president-elect.
And then, you would have heard a strange sound escape from me. I didn’t even recognize it as an attempted sob, not having experienced such a phenomenon in years.
More tears, and then fighting them off for some reason. And then you would have really seen something. As he began to speak, I watched the faces of white and black supporters together, cheering in joy. Then, at the sight of a young black man with a single tear steaming down his face, I lost it.
I had no idea what this sound was or where it was coming from. You would have seen me literally look around to see if it was coming from someone else. But no, the sobbing was coming from me. You would have seen me marvel as I looked in the mirror and saw my disfigured face like I have never seen it.
And you would have heard me whisper, “God, thank you for letting me see this.”
This sobbing would go on for 15 minutes. And, if you knew anything about me and my usual emotional control, you would have understood that something significant was taking place.
I would have told you that the only other time I had cried like this was after a good friend of mine, a white man named Mark who lives in inner-city Chicago, cried in repentance after watching a video about some aspect of racism against blacks.
Mark’s tears had represented the first time I had ever seen a white person feel and accept responsibility for what had happened in the past. And it did something in me. The next day, I was all alone watching another program about racism that previously would have caused me to simply shake my head and then move on with my day. But on this day, it cut to my soul.
The tears flowed. The sobs built up inside me until that protective dam — constructed during years of survival training against self-pity, shame, self-hate, etc. — gave way. The strange sounds blurted out of me and then streamed in a wonderful release that surprised me in its pleasure.
That day, maybe eight years ago, something changed in me. My friend’s demonstration of repentance had helped me take the first step in a healing process against the effects of growing up black in America.
If you had been here last night, you would have seen step two.
As I sat there sobbing, I recognized the feeling. I was in Paris instead of inner-city Chicago, but the feeling was exactly the same.
Back in Chicago, Mark’s tears had demonstrated repentance and declared that what had happened in the past shouldn’t have happened, that my ancestors really should have had the same value as his, that I indeed had the same value as him.
On this night, America’s vote for Obama was declaring the same messages to my soul. And as you look around Paris and Chicago and Kenya … you would see a lot of other people who seem to be feeling something similar.
“We won, we won,” you would have heard a black French girl scream at an election celebration here in Paris. “With this, maybe France will realize that we are worth something, too.”
If you had been here, I think you would have seen it. You would have felt it. You would have seen through my filter a bit, and it might have actually made sense to you.
You might have sensed in me and others the opening to a door of soul healing, of repentance and forgiveness, of reconciliation. Godly ideas, no?
If you had been here, even if today you are still uneasy about what evils Obama might bring to America, you might also sense that, for a lot of people, this election might be bringing something awfully good.