Yep, hearing that Obama had definitely won the day on Election Tuesday, I teared up. Couldn’t help myself. Really. I saw the magic number, 270 electoral votes, had been reached, and the waterworks just sprang.
The vote appeared momentous, not just because on some level it can be taken to symbolize a triumph over centuries of bigotry and injustice in this nation, but also because it promises to reconcile America with the world.
Everybody’s tearing up.
YouTube will soon have to offer tissues for every deeply moved celebrity or wannabe celebrity posting footage of going verklempt when or shortly after he or she first heard the happy news.
The extra-sensitive may even take their show on the road—finding moments in any conversation during the next few days to recall the moment they heard the announcement and go misty-eyed all over again—or, failing in that, simply and reverently affirm that they, too, like Colin Powell, wept—or very nearly almost wept—when they heard that Obama will be our next President.
These are moving times—and the prevailing gauge to validate our choices, our votes, our sincerity, is our feelings. America has elected somebody named Barack Obama as President, somebody a shade or two darker than the previous 43 US Presidents, somebody who can pronounce the word “nuclear” correctly.
A friend who stayed up late that night to watch Obama’s acceptance speech complained, but ever so reticently, that she was disappointed at how “cold” the President Elect appeared. He must have been very tired after months (years!) of campaigning, she offered by way of explanation. Still, she said, he had looked a lot more “kindly” before he won. Perhaps it was dawning on him what a load of shit he was inheriting from the previous administrations.
I’m reading today of gay activists who are tearing up, too. Tears tinged with a hint of hurt and betrayal, even anger, mixed with their pride in a new America capable of rising above the issues of race. Gay activists who worked hard to elect Obama but found their own causes, same-sex marriage and adoption rights, slapped down in four states—and by the same good people, black and white churchgoers, who voted against bigotry to elect Barack Obama.
Dan Savage wrote in his blog on Wednesday:
“African American voters in California voted overwhelmingly for Prop 8, writing anti-gay discrimination into California's constitution and banning same-sex marriage in that state. Seventy percent of African American voters approved Prop 8, according to exit polls, compared to 53% of Latino voters, 49% of white voters, 49% of Asian voters.
“I'm not sure what to do with this. I'm thrilled that we've just elected our first African-American president. I wept last night. I wept reading the papers this morning. But I can't help but feeling hurt that the love and support aren't mutual.
“I do know this, though: I'm done pretending that the handful of racist gay white men out there—and they're out there, and I think they're scum—are a bigger problem for African Americans, gay and straight, than the huge numbers of homophobic African Americans are for gay Americans, whatever their color.” (1)
The issue, of course, is not so much race as it is fear, ignorance, and hatefulness, which know no racial boundaries, but often find sanctuary among the righteously monotheistic. And, of course, black homophobia poses the biggest problem for black gay men and lesbians.
My previously mentioned friend tried to reason with me over my own disappointment over the failure of Obama supporters to care about the civil rights of homosexual men and women, saying that justice needed to arrive first for the blacks, the women, the Hispanics, etc., before it could trickle down to the queers (not her word choice, of course)—out of respect to the chronology of historical injustices.
But I disagree. In 1624, just five years after the first slave ship arrived at Jamestown, Virginia, the first American sodomite, Richard Cornish, was executed, also in Jamestown (2). And nearly a 100 years earlier, in 1530, further south in Panama, Balboa fed 41 native-American sodomites to his dogs, “a fine action of an honorable and Catholic Spaniard,” so wrote a contemporary, Antonio de la Colancha (3). Even if we take a number according to history, as we stand in line waiting for social and political justice, gay rights should be at the forefront of the struggle for civil rights for all.
So while I too feel swept away by my emotions this week—not least of all because we are still stuck with 76 more days of George W. Bush—it’s imperative that we regain our clear and unclouded eyes to face the issues the country yet faces—wars, a tanked economy, crumbling infrastructure, greed, cynicism, and, yes, bigotry against homosexuals.
Obama’s election is not, after all, a happy Hollywood ending—it is the beginning of something, something that I hope will contain moments of glory and triumph, while inevitably burdened by a great deal of cultural warfare, moral equivocation, and, dare I say it, politics as usual.
(1) Savage, Dan. “Black Homophobia.” Slog 5 Nov. 2008. http://slog.thestranger.com
(2) Goodheart, Adam. “The Ghosts of Jamestown.” New York Times 3 July 2003.
(3) Qtd. in Williams, Walter L. The Spirit and the Flesh: Sexual Diversity in American Indian Culture. Boston: Beacon, 1992. Pg. 137.