renee-michelle-harris_web.jpgThe text messages started the next day. One read: “All white people must report to the cotton fields tomorrow at 6 a.m. sharp for orientation.” Another said something to the effect that because they didn’t give us forty acres and a mule, we took the White House.

Neither message amused me. Actually, they irritated me tremendously.

The senders (who shall remain nameless) obviously don’t get it. What happened on Nov. 4, 2008 is not about blacks dispensing payback to whites. What happened is so much bigger than any of us – but it’s ours, all of ours. And as awesome as Obama’s election is for blacks, it doesn’t afford us the right to gloat or ridicule or even to blame.

Does it mean that we forget slavery, Jim Crow, the bombings and the lynchings? No way! Frankly, it’s because those atrocities happened that this is so sweet. That’s why Jesse, Oprah and millions of others cried tears of gratitude. Yes, we still have a long way to go, but America is growing beyond its shameful past.

Here’s what we must remember. Just as it took courage for white folk to play a role in helping to dismantle this country’s despicable treatment of blacks, it took courage for them to play a role in electing the country’s first black man. And for that I am filled with an emotion that resembles gratitude – but it goes so much deeper.  

Barack Obama’s election is the culmination – and the beginning – of a changed energy in this country. That my fellow Americans surrendered to their faith – and not fear; that they connected with
Obama’s soul instead of being dissuaded by his skin color; that they see in him an opportunity for this country to rise to its true greatness, is worthy of our sincere appreciation, not silly jokes.

I’m no prude. I enjoy a good joke as much as the next person, but this is no joking matter. As thrilling and joyful as this momentous occasion is, this is serious business that should be inspiring bigger, better, bolder thoughts.

To continue to revel in what may be considered harmless racial banter is now beneath us. And it is harmful because to do so means we’re missing the bigger picture. A seismic shift has occurred. We are eyewitnesses to a divine unfolding of enormous magnitude that offers us a chance to take hold of a mighty, powerful force and use it to transform our lives.

We should be standing taller, speaking proudly, and planning fiercely. Now is when the real work begins and each one of us must do our part – something that will take tremendous courage.

We’ve been given the tools to begin dissolving a potent, psychological disconnect borne of this country’s repeated rejection of us. You know the feeling. Despite knowing that our ancestors helped build this country; despite believing in her principles and ideals and increasingly, our access to the American Dream, being black in this country often felt like being a visitor in your own home. This land is our land, too, but we’ve been reluctant to fully embrace it as our own.

I feel differently today.

Our minds and hearts have been stretched to a new capacity – and we must guard with all our might any desire to have them return to their original, limited size.

With his March 18 speech on race relations, his brilliant, all-inclusive campaign and certainly with his selection as the 44th president of these United States, Barack Obama has gifted us an opportunity to be bigger and better and bolder than we were before. We owe it to him, to ourselves and yes, to our white brothers and sisters, to seize the moment.

Renee Michelle Harris is the associate editor of the South Florida Times.