12/05/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

My First Racist Letter Arrived Today

It came to my office at the newspaper, as so many of these missives do, with no return address or signature -- the first proof that whoever sent it wasn't convinced enough of their words to put their own name on the line.

"Congrats all niggers of the world" read the first line, the starting point for a hateful, page-long typed diatribe filled with similar slurs and lots of allusions to black folks pimping and selling drugs.

Gotta be honest, I expected this way before now. And it's probably a measure of how scared some racists are that America is on the verge of electing its first black president.

Is this what Catholics endured when John F. Kennedy got elected? Were they subjected to letters about the Pope running the country from Italy? (Probably.) Did they wade through paragraphs of invective about the crimes and disease Catholics brought from Europe as immigrants? (I bet so.) Strange to know that, far as we've come as a nation in some ways, in others we haven't moved that far at all.

In a weird way, I find it heartening that I've only gotten one of these letters so far, in months of writing about a singular candidacy that is poised to change the country, just by virtue of who sits at the top of the ticket.

I stumbled on similar sentiments while checking out talk radio this morning, curious about how the ultra conservatives who dominate the medium would feel about this most special of Election Days. What I heard was area personality Mark Larsen joking about how a line of black voters at a Florida polling site looked "like the take out line at Big Tim's Barbecue" joint.

Is there any time in our history where such a line sounded more out-of-date and backward?

If Barack Obama does win today's election, I suspect his ascent will challenge our perceptions of race in ways we won't expect. Obama won't champion black issues in the way we've expected from more traditional politicians of color, disappointing some. And I suspect some people will see his election as the end -- proof positive that race problems in America are mostly solved -- instead of the beginning of a tough fight to address race and class inequality throughout the land.

So for me, an Obama win will feel like the exciting beginning to a new phase of our journey together. And if McCain wins, I'm going to try hard not to feel like we've taken a giant step backward.

Can't wait to see the letters I'm going to get tomorrow.