THE BLOG
11/07/2012 06:07 pm ET Updated Jan 07, 2013

The Psychological and Existential Experience of Seeing a Black President Win Reelection

I'll be honest. On the morning of November 7th, I most definitely walked with my head held a little higher, my chest puffed out, and with a Denzel bop in my step. And everyone who looked like me on the subway and the walk from the subway had the same sparkle in their eyes as well. Psychologically uplifted. Spirit soaring. A rare existential peace.

Pausing to look inward with a little more depth, I find that it is about much more than "the candidate that I voted for winning." There was something very personal about this race (an ironic homonym for our nation) for me as a Black man. Seeing his face with the little check by it on television is like seeing one of my relatives win. It is a different feeling than when other candidates that I have supported won. It means that if he can be president and be reelected, then maybe one of my daughters might do the same thing someday. It changes the way that African Americans navigate their daily possibilities. This of course does not negate the painful reality of racism, daily dehumanization in the media, micro aggressions at work and in school, and all of the trials and struggles that make up the Black experience in America. However it does shine a light of hope at possibility.

In the months and weeks leading up to the election, I, like many Americans I imagine, grew tired of the barrage of attack ads and the cacophony of critical chatter coming from both sides of the political spectrum. Debate is good and can be healthy. Hate and vitriol is toxic. And too often that worst part of partisan politics gets the most attention.

Yet beyond annoyance, I found that there were moments of secondary trauma that I and other brothers whom I've spoken with felt at times. Seeing images of our president being portrayed in ways that mock his ethnic background, seeing the racist barrages of tweets, posts, emails, and websites, witnessing him disrespected in ways that his white presidential counterparts never were nor ever would be, can easily have an effect on the psyche of individuals who look like the man who is being called out of his name. Those signs portraying him as a monkey or a "witch doctor" were making fun of me and my father and my brother too. My sisters and mother for that matter as well. And it hurt. Little by little, one's perspective on their nation can change when they ask themselves "How can I share the same country, state, city as individuals who could be so cruel and act with such disgust?" It's easy to dismiss these as extremists, but when the same sentiments and language begin to show up on talk radio and television one can't help but question their country.

It is, I suppose, similar to the experience felt by some women when they see someone like Elizabeth Warren disrespected and mocked because of her gender. Like Hillary Clinton or Sarah Palin or Michelle Obama called out of their name, objectified, and dismissed. That disrespect can "trickle down" to women all over the country and hurt individuals who are watching on television, reading a website, or listening to a radio show.

This is way beyond disagreeing with someone's policies or world view. I love engaging with friends and family members who respectfully disagree and criticize the president. During his speech on election night, President Obama affirmed this part of the democratic experience saying:

Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated. We have our own opinions. Each of us has deeply held beliefs. And when we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy. That won't change after tonight. And it shouldn't. These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty, and we can never forget that as we speak, people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter.

And yet when arguing turns hateful, racist, sexist, homophobic, or discriminatory based on religion, we all end up losing.

Seeing a congressmen yell out "Liar" to our president in the middle of the state of the union, seeing chain emails that question almost everything about him as a person (not his policies) hurt me personally. And many others. I would feel the same if a Black Republican were treated that way. It has little to do with party affiliation.

And yet, seeing my president -- our president -- walk out on that Chicago stage with his beautiful family to a tremendously diverse crowd helped me to heal. Telling my girls in the morning that "Obama won" and to see them dance gleefully around the room made me lift my head up. And I will never forget that during the first inauguration, my eldest daughter looked at the screen and said, "He looks like me! Maybe I can be president too!"

Yes you can.

And yes we can as a country do better. We'll debate policies forever. That's good. Yet let's never debate the humanity of our interlocutors.

I am proud today. Partially because the candidate whom I think is better for the country and world won. But also because hate did not win.

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