The Meaning of the Moment

I'll admit I've been a bit frustrated listening to some of the national journalists covering now-President Barack Obama these past few weeks. They seemed to sound more like cheerleaders or star-struck teenagers than objective journalists. They've been particularly giddy discussing the White House chef, Obama's favorite workout gear or the latest paraphernalia bearing his image. It was all getting to be a bit too much for me - too much fluff, not enough substance; a lot of complimenting, not enough objective examination.


Don't get me wrong - I understand the historical significance of this particular inauguration. We, the people, elected the country's first African-American President. A nation marred by an emotional, often violent, struggle over civil rights grew up.


Perhaps it's because I didn't view Obama's campaign as a matter of race that I didn't truly reflect on the situation until Tuesday morning, when I saw the images of the National Mall packed with thousands of people wanting to witness the event firsthand. I was particularly struck by the elderly black people in attendance. I cannot possibly understand what they have experienced in their lifetime. I cannot know what it's like to be told, "You can't sit here;" "You can't drink from this water fountain;" "You can't use this restroom" simply because of the color of one's skin. Or being spit at or shouted at or shoved for the same reason.


Tuesday, I thought of Brown v. Board Plaintiff Zelma Henderson telling me how she watched the news coverage of race riots in Detroit and wondered what she had done. I also thought of the daughter of fellow plaintiff Vivian Scales, RuthAnn, telling me how she longed for a day when there would no longer be "the first black" this or that - just the "first person" to achieve something. To Zelma, I would say, she paved the way for Barack Obama. And to RuthAnn, I would say Barack Obama is not our black President - he is our President.


So, for Tuesday, I joined the cheerleading and savored the moment. Wednesday, it will be back to covering the challenges our country faces. How about you - what struck you as you watched Tuesday? I'd love to hear your impressions.



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