Hope and I are yoga pals, but we talk about everything before and after classes. Several months ago, when the Democrats began their primary battles, I told her I was supporting Obama.
She looked at me skeptically. “I’m supporting Hillary,” she said. “This country isn’t ready to elect a black man president.”
Like many of Hope’s pronouncements, this was like a sharp slap to the face. She has that kind of force to her. I should also mention that Hope is black and that some part of me wanted her to appreciate that I was so enlightened I was supporting a black man. Not because he was black, but because he was the best candidate.
If I wanted her approval, though, I didn’t get it. “You’re wasting your vote,” she said.
The months passed. After Hope finally stopped bellyaching about Hillary’s loss, she became an ardent Obama supporter and we stopped arguing in yoga.
Then, November 4 and Obama’s victory. Maybe, as many have said, it took a confluence of events, a perfect storm, for America to elect a black man president. A shattered economy, a failed Republican presidency, a lingering, unjustified foreign war, and a brilliant, charismatic candidate who ran a superb campaign. Oh, and let’s not forget, Sarah Palin and John McCain. Maybe it took all that for this country to overlook race and vote for a candidate with a strange name and exotic background.
I’m not sure it matters that Obama’s election required a perfect storm. When you break barriers as immense as this, does it matter how you got there? I think the forward momentum and the surmounting of age-old prejudices are what are important, are what will shape us for years to come and change us forever — and not how we somehow, accidentally or coincidentally, managed to get there.
In the meantime, we ended up at our house last night, with Hope, who’s a professional singer, belting out “O Happy Day!” while the rest of us tried to sing backup to her soaring, happy voice.
“Remember what you said months ago — that this country wasn’t ready to elect a black man?” I asked Hope later. “You were wrong.”
“I was wrong,” she said. “I’m so glad I was wrong.”
“Isn’t it wonderful,” one of our other friends said, “when this country gets something right?”
Yeah, it’s damned wonderful. O Happy Day.
(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)