This is a pretty great day to be living in a heavily black neighborhood. Obviously, a lot of people are excited about this election. But being here is a lot like what I imagine my relatives experienced being in West Roxbury in 1960. There's a holiday festivity to the area that I doubt I'd be seeing even on my own beloved Upper West Side.
Whether or not you are for Obama, the candidate, I think you have to admit that there is one pretty exciting thing happening today: we will never again live in an America where a black man can't be elected president. It's a great day for all of us--the thought really does thrill me every time I think it, even though I know I'm going to hate an awful lot of his policymaking. But it's especially great for those who were, in earlier days, barred from that sort of achievement.
In the 1920s, Al Smith ran for president and lost, because America couldn't have an Irish Catholic president. Irish Americans made a lot of strides away from "No Irish Need Apply" and 19th century images depicting us as drunken apes. But Kennedy's election was The Moment; that's when we knew we'd won. No, anti-Irish and anti-Catholic prejudice didn't suddenly disappear one fall day in 1960, but we, and they, knew that the holdouts were ceasing to matter. And in the early 1990s, when a doddering customer at a hotel I worked at changed my name to "Millie" because I reminded her of her childhood maid, and told her friends that (I swear I'm not making this up) "the Irish don't care about their names like we do" it was a hilarious anachronism, rather than a slap in the face.
Black history in America has had a lot more Big Moments than the Irish did. But this is a shining one. That's a beautiful silver lining even if you think a liberal Democrat in office is a pretty gloomy cloud.