Remembering 10 Years Since We Baracked The Vote
Sunday marked the 10th anniversary of Barack Obama's election as the first black US president. Ten years! What an epic night. People were celebrating in the streets like the original ending of Return of the Jedi. Black folks were crying ... good tears, not the "does anyone know the nearest stop for the Underground Railroad?" tears from 2016. We had achieved something unprecedented. So many states, including Florida or Georgia, had never even had a black governor (not yet) but the US had a black commander-in-chief. It was a milestone Americans of all races could appreciate, because it meant that racism was officially over. A former coworker had already insisted this happened in 2003 when Halle Berry won an Oscar (so "Spike Lee can just shut up!") but this was less irrational.
I tend to only use the term "post-racial America" ironically, but the notion was
promoted in all earnestness back in 2008 when Obama looked to do the impossible. The beautiful dream was that the country was becoming more diverse and more tolerant. The less attractive reality was we were only becoming more diverse.
When Obama crushed war hero John McCain, black voters made up 13 percent of the electorate. White voters were 74 percent -- a staggering 15 percent drop since Ronald Reagan's 1980 victory over Jimmy Carter. Roughly the same percentage of white people voted for McCain as they did Reagan.
There was so much collective back-slapping, most of us happily ignored this fact and its implications. I recall a white high school classmate posting on Facebook that Obama wasn't actually the first "black" president but the first "biracial" president. His mother was white, after all, and his white grandparents raised him. Yeah, there was a brief period when even conservatives wanted a piece of the Barack.
Obama was able to run a color-blind campaign in 2008 (unlike Hillary Clinton in 2016 who confronted racism and a racist opponent head-on). George W. Bush had wrecked the economy, and even white folks in Mike Pence's home state of
Indiana was willing to put the black guy in charge if he could turn things around, which he did. But Republicans soon realized that Obama would prove easy to demonize and obstruct: Although Bill Clinton had mostly tied with Bush and Dole for the white vote, Obama had overwhelmingly lost it. All that was necessary was to wait for his misstep, the opening where they could convince white America to stop seeing Obama as a pre-rape Bill Cosby/pre-murder O.J. celebrity but instead as a black man, as someone who wasn't on their side. This occurred when Obama dared defend a personal friend who was unjustly arrested for breaking into his own home (at least he wasn't shot).
"Gates-Gate" was in hindsight like the "bigger than Jesus" moment that ended Beatlemania. Soon we got Tea Party rallies, and a Tea Party Congress. And morons including one who'd later become president started to question whether Obama was even born in the United States. I rejected Clinton in 2008 early on because I shamefully thought she had too much "baggage." I naively thought that the Right couldn't repeat the same hit job on the mild-mannered Obama. How wrong I was.
The white Left tired of Obama after a couple years --- sort of like what happened to Michael Jackson after "Thriller." Obama was just another "warmonger" because they'd forgotten he was elected president of America not Care Bear Land. He was a "corporate stooge" because he only helped millions gain access to affordable health care. If he'd only just wished away Republicans and Joe Lieberman, we could've all had the Canadian hook up. And I wouldn't have had to pay for my bionic arm out of pocket like a sucker.
But black folks showed up for Obama in 2012. C'mon, we're the ones who bought Michael's "Invincible" album the day of release. You had to know we'd be there for our boy Barack. The Romney campaign sure didn't. They modified their internal polls to reflect the black voter turnout of pre-Civil War America. They couldn't conceive of old black ladies on walkers enduring ridiculous long lines to keep Obama out of the One-Termers Club with Jimmy Carter.
Romney did carry 59 percent of the white vote to Obama's 39 percent. That was roughly equal to the performance of George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis, but white voters were 85 percent of the white electorate in 1988 and just 72 percent in 2012. It's as if white people weren't solely selecting the president. That can't be right. It's hardly a surprise that Chief Justice John Roberts would decide just one year later that we don't need really need the Voting Rights Act.
Black voters truly flexed our electoral might in 2012, and ever since, the efforts to suppress our vote are obvious and unrelenting. Regardless, we kept a mall-cruising perv out of the Senate, and tomorrow we might save the country. It's exhausting, often terrifying, work. But we won't let Obama be our last hurrah. You know why? Because on November 4, 2008, we were happy, and maybe the joy lasted as long as Black Panther was in theaters, but they can't take it away from us.
That day has personal resonance with me, because it was one of the last times I spoke with my mother. She watched Obama win but didn't live to see his inauguration. She was excited that night but not shocked. I'd gotten engaged that summer, so I think there was no more shock left in her.
Watch my favorite presidential acceptance speech until Kamala's in a couple years.
And now it is your OPEN THREAD.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."