“Barack Obama’s road to the White House has led Americans from all walks of life to embrace a new hope for national unity,” Edelman continued, “and this transformational election offers the promise of moving the country in a new direction. … The election was a reminder that the United States is still a place of bold ideas and a beacon of hope. It says to every child of color …you belong too, you do have a future.”Similar sentiments resounded across the country as black leaders expressed pride and hope when we learned that Obama would be our 44th president. Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr., said her father would be proud. “This means that the work my father and my mother sacrificed for was not in vain. A new day is born in America.” Washington, D.C.’s Congressional delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton reflected on the political meaning of the Obama win. “He’s changed the electoral map,” she said.
According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), African American women voted in larger numbers than ever before and helped put Obama over the top, especially in battleground states. In North Carolina, for example, an estimated 100 percent of them voted for Obama. Latina women were also an important voting block, making a crucial difference in formerly Republican states like New Mexico.
The response to Obama’s victory among women of color bears noting as the glow of the election continues. To Shanique Lee, a high school senior in Ithaca, NY, Obama’s victory was “a very big deal” that symbolized a “step toward equality. It’s about more than just race,” she said. “It’s important for all people when it comes to issues like minority rights. It’s about unity.”
Koritha Mitchell, assistant professor of English at Ohio State University, agrees. “Literally stunned” by election results, she sees Obama as someone capable of moving the country beyond “what one might call ‘black issues.’” Mitchell believes the president-elect “is completely devoted to the dream of a post-race society.” She recognizes that it won’t be easy to move beyond institutionalized racism, which she says, “has not magically disappeared with his election.”
Mitchell is also excited by the prospect of Michelle Obama as First Lady and sees having a black woman in that position as important to the feminist movement. “I was constantly frustrated by white feminists’ suggestion that black women’s support of Barack Obama represented some kind of blind spot in terms of feminism. It seemed to me that they couldn’t see what it would mean to have as First Lady a strong woman like Michelle Obama who, among other things, is a lawyer like Hillary Clinton. For [white women] not to consider this as part of black women’s enthusiasm for Obama’s candidacy shows their limited [understanding] of what it means for ‘women’ to make progress.”
For Jamaican American Yvonne Stennett, a New York City community organizer, “going into the voting booth was a truly emotional moment.” She says she “pulled the lever for myself but also for my mother, for Martin Luther King, for Sojourner Truth, for Gandhi. I pulled it with hope of change that could really happen.”
Diana Abath, a career development specialist in Brattleboro, Vermont, woke up the day after the election crying. “Change is going to come!” she told her white husband. “I had a sense of pride, not about race only, it transcended that. Here was a black person bringing together these multitudes of people from these different cultures.”
Shannon Sport is a human resources consultant in Richmond, Virginia. She says she too “cried like a baby” when Obama won. “I was moved because of stories my parents had told me about what they went through having lived in a very confederate atmosphere in the sixties and seventies. There were restaurants they couldn’t go into and they were afraid to stop by the side of the road. Now I am proud to be black.”
Many women speak of a spiritual dimension to the election outcome. Yvonne Stennett says she was “spiritually overwhelmed.” She thinks the election presents a challenge to everyone “to become more godlike, to lift the spiritual in all of us in this call to transcend racism and hatred.” Koritha Mitchell agrees. “The clear spiritual element is the God-confidence that Obama exudes. His calm, collected demeanor, his discipline and consistency suggest that the hand of God is on his life.”
Some also see Barack Obama’s safety in God’s hands as whispers about the threats against him continue to circulate. Shanique Lee was shocked by blatant racist remarks uttered at her school following the election. Shannon Sport admits she is worried. Diana Abath says simply, “We blacks pray for his safety. Prayer circles surround him.”
Many women believe that now Americans must accept personal responsibility to move the agenda forward. “This is about what we can do so that we don’t fail,” says Yvonne Stennett. “We must be accountable for our own actions, complimenting what Barack Obama brings to the table.” Adds Koritha Mitchell, “What’s most important is that he got so many people engaged in the process. That is the beginning of an important shift. Obama reminds us that achieving change requires commitment. And people will do it.”As Marian Wright Edelman put it, “President-elect Obama cannot do the job alone. Now the real hard work begins. It’s a new day in America. It is time for all of us to step forward.”