"Just Let Us Have This Moment"

I’ve been struggling mightily with this. Not only every talking head and newspaper writer in the whole world, but also large numbers of my acquaintances have entered a state of near-delirium over the result of last Tuesday’s election.

Many of them have been saying “Please, just let us have this moment.” This is startling because at some level, they’re acknowledging that the hope, joy and even (God help us) the tears that they’ve invested in what is merely the result of an exercise in transferring political power, are phony and will not last.

Puh-leeze, people! A Nobel-prize winning economist, Paul Krugman, literally wrote last week that there’s something wrong with any person who didn’t weep for joy at this election result.

Let’s take one of Krugman’s colleagues at the New York Times, racialist columnist Bob Herbert. Now Herbert is no one’s idea of a top-flight journalist. And it’s not original for him to have written last week that he was shedding tears of joy over the election, because now that we’ve finally elected a black man to run our government, we’ve proven ourselves worthy of his love.

And he knows that there is a lot of work to do ahead if conditions are to change for the better. Still, “let him have this moment.” It’s very, very difficult to escape the conclusion that what Herbert and many others are saying is: Yes, we know that the specific man we made President isn’t necessarily going to make a lot of things better. (Indeed, he set expectations at a very low level in his first press conference, which on its face presages a small-bore Presidency like Bill Clinton’s second term.)

But America finally elected a black man! Let’s enjoy this moment and shed tears of joy while we can!

It’s taken me days to understand why this bothers me so much. Then I recalled that, barely a week ago, the selfsame Bob Herbert was writing vitriolically about the racism of an America in which nearly half the people (according to the polling at the time) were even considering not voting for the black man.

And in this week’s column, he writes picturesquely about the fidelity that blacks placed in America, even as “the breeze put the stiffened bodies of lynched victims in motion.” Did Bob Herbert stop fearing last Tuesday night that he himself might someday be lynched?

It’s hard for me not to hear that Bob Herbert and many, many others have suddenly decided that America is no longer the irretrievably racist country that so enlivens their fantasies. Does he therefore believe that melanin-challenged people like myself, who were racists to him just before the election, suddenly had an unlikely personal transformation?

Or, more hopefully, does it mean that Herbert and others were wrong about America all along? Does he finally understand that this country really wasn’t as racist as we’ve all been led to believe? That it was wrong to speak of America as racist just before the election?

Do you see the problem with all this? Bob Herbert is one thing. He makes his living in part by telling white people that they’re bigots.

But all kinds of white people reacted the same way as he did, with childish tears of joy. Those people can only be saying one of two things:

Either they believe they themselves are racists, and they were suddenly redeemed by their vote for a black man. This is messianism of a high order. It’s very unsettling, and very creepy.

The other possibility is that they all believed hitherto that every white person in America is a racist except for themselves and their acquaintances. And they’re overjoyed that all the rest of us turned out not to be as racist as they’d all been led to believe.

Sorry. I’ve never been a racist. And I’ve never believed that all that many people in America really are animated by racism and ignorance. If nothing good comes out of this election, perhaps at least we can get past this slander born of the sins of past generations of people, none of whom is still alive today.

“Just let us have this moment.” Why? Because tomorrow you’ll all go back to thinking that half of this country still is ignorant and racist, and the fantasy of unity and tolerance will end?

Here’s a newsflash: America won’t have changed. Part of the reason it’s so hard to work together is because of fear, intolerance and ignorance on the part of people who assume prejudicially that other Americans are racists.

-Francis Cianfrocca