A couple days ago I was at work putting together a couple items for our “star watch” celebrity column when a statement from Will Smith struck me: he said he’d told his daughter she could grow up to be president, but now he actually believes it.
Here’s a guy, Hollywood Movie Star and successful beyond most of our wildest dreams, revealing something I suspect a lot of black people are thinking today: America, finally, feels like our country now.
As a white guy I could never presume to know what it’s like to be black in the United States of America, but I suspect it’s been like this: everything we have, The Man can take away. The man dragged us here in chains and kept us there for 300 years. Fought a war that supposedly set us “free” but treated us like dirt for another 100 years. It’s their country, we just live in it.
A single Ivy League-educated half-white paid-up member of the nation’s intellectual and financial elite will not fundamentally change America’s race equation. But Barack Obama’s inauguration will say one thing: we don’t have to be the way we’ve always been.
It’s probably dangerous to read too much into what’s happening today: to be the first black president of the United States, you have to be Barack Obama, a guy curiously unaffected by impossible odds against him. Think of what he was up against 18 months ago. Beyond being a member of a racial minority with foreign first and last names and a notorious dictator’s middle name, he had almost no track record in politics. He wasn’t from an established political family. He was a complete outsider.
A guy like him finding a way to become president forces us to widen our ideas about what is possible and impossible.
Obama had no chance, and yet here we are today. Cynicism seems pretty empty in the face of that.