Having stayed up most of the night to watch the U.S. election returns, I am feeling rather dazed today -- but in a good way. I feel equal parts jubilation and amazement, my head aches, and my throat hurts from constantly being on the verge of tears. Anything seems to set me off: Obama's acceptance speech, McCain's concession speech, the simple and hopeful words of an elderly African woman who was speaking on Radio 4 this morning.
For weeks now, I have felt an anxiety something like a constant lowgrade fever and stomach ache combined. Having suffered indignant disbelief in 2000, and bitter disappointment in 2004, I have hardly dared hope too much for a more positive outcome in 2008. The Bush Years have tested my patriotism, and made me very uncomfortable, at times, to be an American abroad. Despite knowing the isolationist, non-passport holding tendencies of many Americans, I have still railed at the seemingly oblivious lack of regard for the opinions of the rest of the world. Every time President Bush has boasted of bringing democracy to another benighted corner of the globe, it has set my teeth on edge.
There is a certain kind of American that I have trouble understanding. Why is a totally self-made black man -- surely the epitome of the American Dream -- criticized for being elitist? How can a rich white man, who has benefited from nepotism and cronyism his entire life, be considered "just folks" and the true representative of Joe Six-Pack? And why, speaking of beer, does wanting to share a brew with the man count as a solid qualification for the most important job in the world? Shouldn't demonstrated intelligence, eloquence, coolness under pressure, and a law degree count for a bit more?
No matter how comfortable I feel in England, I know that Americans will always be family . . . precisely because they can make me so crazy.
They can also make me so proud.
Most people think that Barack Obama, at age 47, is a young man to be President. Yet he was born into an America which wouldn't even pass the Civil Rights Act until he was three years old. He was already 14, a young teenager, when a court order demanded that the Houston Independent School District comply with desegregation.
A few years ago I was teaching in an inner-city Houston school, and I was amazed to discover that most of my black students seemed to think -- de facto -- that all white teachers were racist. Our city was flooded by Hurricane Katrina refugees that year, and the consensus opinion was outrage, but hardly surprise. Indeed, the neglect of the U.S. Government just seemed to confirm what many of these young Americans had suspected all along. They knew so little, really; but somehow they had already learned cynicism.
I have no idea what preconceived notions and deep-held beliefs have been overturned by the reality that America can -- and has -- elected a mixed-race man with an exotic name to be President. Truly, I am dazed by hope for what this could mean for all of us.