Suzanne Fields

I voted, therefore I am. That's a fair updating of Descartes after a total immersion in politics over an endless presidential campaign. The campaign flattened and fragmented us into categories of gender, race and class. Candidates and their surrogates appealed to the limited ways most of us see ourselves. But at the end of the ordeal the fact of the victory of Barack Obama, if not necessarily his politics or what he might do with his mandate, redeems the pain.

The dividing of the electorate by category, whether first to set Hillary Clinton apart for her femininity or Barack Obama for his pale brown skin, was insulting, as though a vote should be determined by female features or skin color. Many blacks voted for Barack Obama in racial solidarity -- who can blame them? (Many women voted for sexual solidarity, too.) Blacks are pleased and proud to see a black man elected to the highest seat in a land where only a generation ago he couldn't have voted in several of the states that Tuesday night gave him their electoral votes. Many whites voted for him simply because he was black and they like what that says about themselves.

But Barack Obama was not a candidate to avenge black grievance; it was not color that produced his landslide in the oft-maligned Electoral College. The Rev. Jesse Jackson, an authentic candidate of grievance, never drew such allegiance or affection. This candidate persuaded a majority of Americans that his eloquence suggested that together we could overcome the stereotype that separates white from black.

With his Ivy League education and cultured voice, he reflects both the heritage of his black father and the culture of his white mother. One observer puts it bluntly, "He reads white." His promise to ease partisan rancor will be harder to make good. We haven't yet heard how and where he's willing to compromise with the diminished Republican conservative minority.

The law after the Civil War branded any person with a provable ounce of black blood as "colored" -- the so-called "one drop rule." Identity was built on this prejudice and used to keep blacks from entering the white mainstream. Even with a half-white heritage he could not escape the orbit of angry blacks who could neither forget nor forgive the slights of those days now swiftly receding into the embrace of the past. This explains how Obama, with his insights and eloquence, could never over two decades in the pews summon the will to confront the Rev. Jeremiah Wright for his racist pulpit rants against white America.


Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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