On April 26, 1964 Malcolm X spoke in Cleveland Ohio. The speech, called The Ballot or the Bullet, was basically an ultimatum--blacks would have rights or they would claim them, by violence if necessary. Malcolm said "when I speak, I don’t speak as a Democrat, or a Republican, nor an American. I speak as a victim of America’s so-called democracy. You and I have never seen democracy; all we’ve seen is hypocrisy."
Today, we saw something different, something Malcolm could never have foreseen. A biracial man with a Muslim father and an Arabic/Swahili name, reared by his white grandparents, has ascended to the highest position in American politics. This was not Malcolm's dream. It was not something he saw as possible. Another man saw it, a man Obama paid homage to tonight when he said "we may not get there in one year or in one term, but America I promise you, we as a people will get there." That man knew he would not get here with us, and he was right. But we could not have come here without him. And we still have a ways to go.
The devastation on 9/11 Malcolm would have shrugged his shoulders at. And in the grim aftermath of the attacks, we were supposedly united. But it soon became clear that we would be more divided than we had ever been before. Palin's assertion that there is a real America and a fake America was shocking because it was a frank admission of what the red-blue divide really was, a competition over who could speak as an American. Who Americans really are. After 2000, and even more after 2004, as America divided itself along all too familiar lines, blue state Americans were afflicted with a nagging anxiety: Is this not our country?
Obama's gift is that he understood America's great secret, that Americans have a deep and abiding need to love one another, and that we only lack the courage to do so. The theme of Obama's campaign has been a simple affirmation that we are in fact, one, in ways Malcolm never could have though possible and in ways Martin Luther King only dreamed of.
Red Staters should take heart in the knowledge that this ideal is not exclusive. Obama's victory does not mean this is no longer your country. It is not the country conservatives believed it was, but it is theirs as much as it is ours. This is a nation of whites, blacks, Asians and Latinos, gay and straight, conservatives and liberals, small towns and coastal metropolises. No passion can ever break our bonds of affection, no matter how often it may seem so. McCain was wrong: this isn't a proud moment for African-Americans. This is a proud moment for America.
And maybe, just maybe, in the coming years, we can all learn to live with that. Surely those whose shoulders we stand on would have wanted us to, even if they could never see it coming.
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