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What's with All the Happiness?

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The day after the election, Jon Stewart said New York pedestrians were making eye contact and smiling-- smiling! What's going on here?
     True, the Nov. 11 NY Times said that in the Appalachian Kallikak Belt, more white voters went for McCain than they had for Bush; but elsewhere in the Republic an awful lot of wonder bread folks felt a joy verging on euphoria--a deep emotional recognition of what an African American family in the White House signifies for all of us. I'm one of those joyful white guys.
     As a citizen who lacks any special importance, I apologize in advance for putting myself forward; but in discussing white joy at black achievement, I have credentials second to none. I'm a straight male white Anglo-Saxon protestant (well, okay, Scots-Irish agnostic), born and bred in the Northeast, educated at prep school and Harvard, married these 43 years, with two kids who still speak to me often and cheerfully. You don't hardly get less disabled and more establishment than I am, or more distant from the heartbreaking barriers and daily degradations suffered by African Americans to this day. There's no way a black president can improve my lot (well, in fact I qualify for his proposed tax cut, but that's not because he's black) so why am I so disproportionately happy?
     Maybe because the so-called "white guilt"- that I've always dismissed as a facile cliche is in fact a reality. Like the deep, unacknowledged nuclear angst that underlay the "-fifties" and "-sixties," a quiet, pervasive social shame slowly developed as Dr. King and the great Movement forced us to look clearly at 400 years of reality.
     But wait a minute: I didn't enslave anybody; I didn't discriminate; I hung out with black kids in the 4th grade (that would be, ahem, in 1947). I didn't do it. I'm not responsible, right? Why should I feel this hypothetical white guilt and why do I feel such a weight lifted by this election?
     Perhaps it's because I have a strong emotional feeling about my citizenship in our nation. In loving my country, I can't embrace only the opportunities in its present and the possibilities for its future. I must also accept the legacy of the past and the obligations implied by it.
The widespread acknowledgment that an African American was not only fit to be president but also the better choice in this election did not discharge all my obligations to our dismal history of racism, but the ever-quotable Churchill fits well here:
     "Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."-
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A career writer and media maven, Jim Stinson is the author of four mystery novels and a college textbook, Video: Digital Communication and Production. His newest novel, Tassy Morgan's Bluff, will be out from Penguin Books in June 2011. He lives with (more...)

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What's with All the Happiness?


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Jim, you are only one of a great many of us who ar... by Richmond Shreve on Thursday, Nov 13, 2008 at 10:39:13 AM
I respect your post and applaud your honesty. Howe... by Sophia Bergmann on Thursday, Nov 13, 2008 at 2:22:06 PM
This commentary will be so honest but, I fear true... by Marta Steele on Thursday, Nov 13, 2008 at 3:39:25 PM
Hey Jim, thanks for posting so simply and eloquent... by Susan Saphire on Friday, Nov 14, 2008 at 2:12:45 AM
I tend to agree, regarding the almost innate sense... by alex stinson on Friday, Nov 14, 2008 at 12:27:08 PM