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November 06, 2008


Yes, and yes.

Wonderful eyewitness account, Teju, with your usual insightful asides and provocative doubts. Much food for thought here but it's the 'ten minutes between 11 and 11:10' that are most vivid in my mind's eye. Thank you for all of it.

"The neighborhood, through which I had walked countless times in daytime and at night, was different at first light. There was a light coating of frost on the cars, and the houses had a Georgian aspect, an air of Bloomsbury gentility."
I long for the feeling that you describe here. I know that it is very accessible, but yet so far out of reach.
The admiration that I feel for your writing is indescribable.

"To my own disgust, I thought of the Nuremberg rallies: a thought too far."

No, I don't think so. Mass hysteria operates on a sliding scale. I don't think it's inappropriate to be mindful of the potential extremes, even when one is in the comparatively safe mid-ground territory.

Those chanted Yes We Cans inhabit a continuum that could arguably be said to begin with Hail Mary and end with Hail Victory: the abandonment of individual judgement to collective certainty.

Noting similarities between a crowd of Hitler supporters and a crowd of Obama supporters doesn't entail a comparison between the two men, it's merely an instructive anthropological observation.

I'm possibly slipping into "wilful contrariness" mode again, so let me be more explicit about something I haven't stated overtly so far: I think the world is a better place for Obama's election.

thank you

Terrific writing and photography. Thanks for all the effort you put into this - by far the best thing I've read on the election. I hope it finds the readership it deserves, but I suspect it won't: it's much too long and too full of nuance for the average online reader. I'd submit it to Digg, but I'm not sure you want or need a bunch of people who will read a couple of paragraphs, look at the pictures, and flit away. (Yeah, listen to me. Obviously an anti-American elitist! But I have always hated mobs, whether they're gathering for a lyching or simply to cheer their team.)

Regarding the photoset, I'm reminded once again that New Yorkers are quite possibly the most beautiful people in the world. Your use of the word "hybrid" above struck me as wonderfully apt.

For me, the key insight in this marvelous essay is this:

"Obama's story is the story of immigration in the age of air travel, the kind of Americanism that issues from exchange students and H1B visas and lapsed work permits. This is a form of being American that has been invisible in plain sight. His victory, I would think, should resonate even more strongly with these out-of-place characters who have been toiling in the shadows of the American story: the graduate students with funny accents, the pizza-delivery guys with no papers, Americans, regardless of color, who remember a time when they were not Americans,"

and the two paragraphs that follow it. What you say about the reasons for the right-wing, white "franticness" over Obama's election rings very true, but it hadn't occurred to me at all. And that's the real story, that this election represents not so much the "melting pot" that America has always been portrayed as - a nation of dutifully assimilated whitish immigrants - but a "mosaic," to use Canada's word for its own multi-colored, multi-ethnicity, which is embraced in a much different way. That is much more terrifying to a certain percentage of white Americans than the idea that American blacks will one day walk out of the ghettos and share equally in wealth, education, and opportunity - for I don't think they really believe it. This is something else, and in some ways it is the more likely reality ahead of us, though I fervently hope that Obama's victory will be a catalyst for real change for black Americans, not just a symbol.

I'm honored to host your words and images here, Teju. Thank you so much.

thank-you for putting this down for us to share. I've had a similar internal tour of questions, emotions, attempts at analysis and I think it all comes down to hope. Hope is not a promise, a path or an ideology. It's an abstraction that just feels good. Towards the end of the campaign, Mr.O used a phrase which at first made me wince but I've since come around to it in light of what we've lived through the last 8 years. He said something about having "a righteous wind at our backs". Right trumped wrong on Tuesday. Hate had a bad day, was thrown over for love.
enjoyed the slide show...thanks so much!

This is the quintessential essay of this moment in time. The simple joy that turns complex, the wind at our back that kicks up the dust and dirt. So very good to read. Thank you.

This is absolutely beautiful writing. Isnt it wrong to read it and not that?
The way the it captures ambivalence, and every thing else around it. The sheer power of the 10 minutes when they first learned...
When something speaks to me like this I often feel I have become a better person by just reading it..

The quintessence of blogging, this. It harks back to the recent discussion on these Pages of the relationship between the lost art of essay writing and the emergence of the blog. Here the medium is in the best of hands.

Upon re-reading, I do want to quibble a little with this: "He wasn't really 'the first African-American' to be voted into the office, because he was African-American only in a special, and technical, sense, the same way I was African-American: a black person who held American citizenship." That's true, but I think what many of us found so attractive and mind-boggling to contemplate was the idea of his very African-American family moving into the White House. That's what seemed to most bother the racists, and also to electrify African-American supporters. And of course Michelle Obama's down-to-earth manner, intelligence and outspokenness were a great part of his appeal as a candidate. As with Bill and Hillary, I think there was a widespread perception that we're getting two for the price of one. (Which is not to say I necessarily like the way political candidates these days feel compelled to parade their families around the stage with them - but that's a different issue.)

Thank you, Teju, for your special insights and beautiful writing and photos. Beth's words say it for me.

Gorgeous, gorgeous and true. So many great insights mentioned in the comments. I loved the thread winding through this essay about how your participation changed you, and believe that's a profound truth which applies to millions of Americans this time around.
Thank you.

I had voted not because my doing so could change the outcome, but because voting would change me.

This is more or less why I pray.

Here at my house, we all so desperately wanted him to win, but were afraid to believe it could happen; afraid to allow ourselves to hope that the election wouldn't somehow be stolen from us. Until Jon Stewart announced it at the end of their hour-long election special, and in a rush of exultation we flipped channels to the BBC, and sure enough, he had done it. I've never felt anything like it in my life.

Ethan's been talking about Obama as a "third culture kid" -- between a Kenyan father and a white American mother, time in Hawaii and Indonesia, he's a bridge figure in every conceivable sense. I think that's a large part of why I find him so compelling, both on a personal level (many of my favorite people are bridge figures :-) and on a national one.

Anyway. He's not the messiah, but he'll be a damn sight better for us than any other leader I've ever known.

Read this in its entirety yesterday afternoon at work (which I rarely take the time to do). Thanks for this account - wonderful to read. I seem unable to articulate my thoughts and feelings about this election well, so I won't!

Quite unsurpassed and unsurpassable, and deserves to be read much further than it probably will. Certainly the best thing, among much that's been good, I've read at this time.

I feel as though I've experienced something unique through unique eyes and senses, 'a purification of emotions through vicarious experience' indeed.

(I liked the little ironic detail of Crazy Kev on the street corner asking for change...)

My sincere thanks to all who read this, or linked to it, or commented on it. I could write an addendum, just as long as the original piece, stuffing in all the bits I left out. The day was so full of incident and thoughts that it could be stretched out to novella length.

But let me add this one thing: I like Obama a great deal. He's a soulful person, and I would love to be invited to his White House, or invite him over to my apartment, and laugh with him. I wish him well with all my heart.

Thanks to Beth for letting me crash her blog, once again. There are always such wonderful readers here.

Teju, boss, this is some essay. As usual, you paint a perfect line telling the large story by showing your thinking as the day unfolded. Thanks for writing.

Your take on the racial breakdown is on point. In particular, and as others have noted in the comments, Obama's ascendancy is about air-travel immigrants. Dig it. One other large meme played out in this election. The end of the Baby Boom generation, their time in power, and the end to their curdled narcissism. Now fade away.

The 4th was a marvelous cultural moment, now we shall see if has the work in him.

Thanks for this, TC. Beautifully written per usual, intense and nuanced as always and heart-stoppingly historic. And i'm glad you had those ten minutes of frenzied happiness. I woke up the next morning thinking i'd see partying in the streets, but it was business (in my case, brunch) as usual.

Isn't it like a good woman to have the best, last word.

This was so much fun to read. Give you joy of your evening, maybe my favorite "where were you when" day or evening I've had.

excellent essay, great to read these insights, being on the other side of the world as I am. Your thoughts about hybridism are really interesting

Holy Cannoli. A day after my post, Obama is spotted going to his first press conference carrying...Derek Walcott's Collected Poems!

Is Mr President staying up late at night reading the Cassandra Pages?

Unreal, Teju. And that would explain why the volume was "new looking."

If Mr. P-E starts blogging, I'll link to him.

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.