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"Other Than That Mrs. Lincoln, How Did You Enjoy the Play? - by Joseph C. Phillips"
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If, as the essayist wrote, ‘irony gives birth to a deeper and less friendly understanding’, then here is a real mother for ya.
In the days following the election of Barack Obama as our nation’s 44th president, my email in box was filled with notes proclaiming "another bold step for black mankind" and asking for my reaction. “Are you not moved?” asked one. “As a Black man with Black sons can you appreciate the historic moment?" queried another.
Our nation was built upon a set of principles, the fruit of which only some enjoyed. A few weeks ago a Black man was elected president of this very same nation. All Americans should feel proud. We have signaled to the world that something about America works, that our ideals are of great worth, that there is something about these ideals that are (dare I say it?) worth “conserving.”
The irony of course is that none of the questioners were really asking if I appreciated the “historical moment.” What they really wanted to know was: "I know you Black conservatives are a bunch of – insert ugly epithet -- with no sense of race pride, but can't you -- even now -- feel proud as a Black man?"
Of course I have always been proud; proud to be an American and proud of my heritage. I am a conservative precisely because I love my country and believe strongly in the principles of its founding. I do not discount our nation’s founding because of the original sin of slavery; I have always celebrated this nations founding. I do not wish to toss away the Declaration of Independence because of white racism; I want to make he principles found in the document real.
It was fascinating to read people describe a sense of finally being able to “unpack their bags,” finally feeling at home. Black conservatives have always felt at home – always believed in the goodness of America and have always been derided with sneering and name calling as a result. That these same newly proud folk would now ask if I recognize the historical moment is great irony indeed. The events of last week are a confirmation of the veracity of the founding; they are a testament to the truth that conservatives have been preaching about America for years. THAT is the historic moment. The issue of race pride completely misses the point.
It also misses the opportunity to truly move to a post racial America.
I disagree with the politics of Barack Obama. To suggest that because we share the same skin color I should be teary-eyed as he takes office is to make the election about racial validation rather than ideas. I feel the same disappointment in this Democratic win as I would have had John Kerry won election four years ago. THAT to me seems the true spirit of a post racial America. The ability of one man to listen to another man and say I disagree with your ideas and for THAT reason cannot give you my vote is the true Promised Land. Truly how much progress can we claim if men are motivated to vote for a candidate because that candidate shares his ethnicity but not his ideology or is condemned as an -- add ugly pejorative -- when/if he does not? How loud can we really cheer if race continues to trump those principles and values one holds dear?
It is thrilling to recognize that I am at the tail end of the not-in-my-lifetime generation. I am proud that America did what this nation has always done specifically that which no other nation on earth has managed to accomplish. This election proved the truth of American exceptionalism. The great and sad irony is that the victors still don’t believe it.
Joseph C. Phillips is the author of “He Talk Like A White Boy” available wherever books are sold.