And so it came to pass — the US has a black president. Here’s how the pundits are deconstructing that change to America’s idea of itself.

In our lifetime. [W]e have never seen anything like this. Nothing could have prepared any of us for the eruption (and, yes, that is the word) of spontaneous celebration that manifested itself in black homes, gathering places and the streets of our communities when Sen. Barack Obama was declared President-elect Obama. From Harlem to Harvard, from Maine to Hawaii—and even Alaska—from “the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire … [to] Stone Mountain of Georgia,” as Dr. King put it, each of us will always remember this moment, as will our children, whom we woke up to watch history being made. – Henry Louis Gates Jnr, The Root

Obama’s post-racial promise. Does his victory mean that America is now officially beyond racism? Does it finally complete the work of the civil rights movement so that racism is at last dismissible as an explanation of black difficulty? Can the good Revs. Jackson and Sharpton now safely retire to the seashore? Will the Obama victory dispel the twin stigmas that have tormented black and white Americans for so long — that blacks are inherently inferior and whites inherently racist? Doesn’t a black in the Oval Office put the lie to both black inferiority and white racism? Doesn’t it imply a “post-racial” America? And shouldn’t those of us — white and black — who did not vote for Mr. Obama take pride in what his victory says about our culture even as we mourn our political loss? – Shelby Steele, Los Angeles Times

Colin Powell praises Obama as president. An emotional former US secretary of state Colin Powell said Wednesday the presidential election victory of Barack Obama would go a long way toward repairing his country’s painful racial divides. “It’s a historic day for the United States of America. President-elect Obama is a president for all America,” Powell told journalists during a visit to Hong Kong, where he was invited to address a business school awards ceremony. “The American people are responding with great emotion, and with great pride in our system, that we have seen this latest step in reconciliation with respect to our race relations,” he said. “We have not completely reconciled within my society, within my country. But what Mr Obama represents is the best of America.” — AFP

Obama escapes Bradley effect. In North Carolina, for example, exit polls showed [Obama] received the support of 37 per cent of white voters, a 10-point gain on the Democratic score of 2004. Harvard University political scientist Dan Hopkins said such an increase is significant even if it is still a minority of white North Carolinians because Democrats haven’t won the majority of southern whites since 1964. “It’s taken two wars and almost a depression to get people to overlook the skin colour and go for the qualified candidate,” said Charles Henry, the political scientist who first documented the Bradley effect. “Obviously it’s a major milestone but I’m not ready to put to bed the notion that race is dead in American politics.” — Tu Thanh Ha, Globe and Mail

Will a black president heal the racial divide? According to recent reports, some white Democrats said they couldn’t vote for Obama because he was black. And yes, a few blacks may have voted for him solely because he was black. But most blacks have not been blinded by race. Though proud of his blackness, those who did vote for him were far more thoughtful in making the decision and based their vote on promises that he now must keep. To think that this election was a shoo-in for him among blacks because of our affinity for our own people is disingenuous at best and at worst insults our intelligence. And it ignores the fact that many other blacks have run for President and walked away without winning a primary, much less the presidency. Neither Shirley Chisholm, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Alan Keyes nor any other black candidate amassed black support the way Obama did. — T. D. Jakes, Time

America grows up. Half a century after “separate but equal” was shot down by the Supreme Court, the American people have shown that equality for all is not just a slogan. Barack Obama wasn’t supposed to be able to win in the “rust belt.” He cleaned up from Ohio to Pennsylvania. He wasn’t supposed to win with white voters. He did better with white voters than any Democratic candidate in recent history. He wasn’t supposed to win the Latino vote. He was supposed to have trouble with Jewish voters. He carried both groups with ease. He wasn’t supposed to win in the southern “red” states. He won Virginia and Florida and, as I write this, he stands to perhaps win more. — Bruce Tenenbaum, Huffington Post

From King to Obama, via Chicago. After all the racial pain this country has inflicted upon itself, Tuesday shows us we can heal. A black man becomes president in a nation that once held slaves, and speaks to a city that loves him, the same city where Dr. King was struck to the ground. The distance between then and now can’t be measured in years or miles. But it can be measured by the heart. The heart of America. The heart of Chicago. — John Kass, Chicago Tribune

From slavery to Obama. As we absorb the significance of this election, bleary-eyed from staying up late to witness history in the making, we are not naive. We know that one election, monumental as it is, has not transported us into a post-racial America, lovely as that might be. But we do find ourselves, in the phrase of culture critic Stanley Crouch, in a “post-simplistic” America. All the old ways of thinking about race are called into question Perhaps, we dare to believe, Obama was describing as much an emerging reality as an ideal when he so famously said four years ago: “There’s not a black America and a white America and a Latino America and an Asian America; there’s the United States of America.” — Chicago Sun-Times

White Americans play a major role in electing a black president. Racial antagonism still exists. But with Obama’s victory, voters showed that such feelings no longer hovered over American politics as they had for decades. Most symbolic of that achievement was Obama’s victory in Virginia, home to the capital of the Confederacy, where the candidate ended his 21-month campaign with a massive rally in Manassas, near the site of one of the epic battles of the Civil War. Breaking with recent assumptions, Obama showed that a single candidate can appeal to black voters without losing whites, and to white voters without losing blacks. — Peter Walsten, Los Angeles Times

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey