For black Americans, the feeling is something like "Hallelujah and amen!" says Melissa Harris-Lacewell, an associate professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton. Her phone is ringing with friends saying, "I can't believe it happened in my lifetime." As the final two primaries gave him the majority of delegates, Sen. Barack Obama became the first African-American presidential nominee for a major party. Pundits marked Obama's place in history last week, but Obama himself made only the most oblique of references, telling the 17,000 revelers squeezed into a Minneapolis arena that his journey was possible "because you chose to listen not to your doubts or your fears but your greatest hopes and highest aspirations." The matter of race, as it turns out, is still best left unsaid. Obama's victory proves the United States has come a long way. But the bigotry and racial divide seen throughout this primary season have many Americans worried that the nation still has a long way to go.
Improbably, Sen. Hillary Clinton shed her Wellesley College and Yale Law School pedigree to don the mantle of the white working class, which overwhelmingly rejected Obama. And in state after state, black Americans rejected Clinton. By the time the primaries reached West Virginia, where Clinton won by 41 points, 20 percent of white voters were admitting in exit polls that race factored into their vote. In Indiana, Obama's campaign headquarters was vandalized, and one Pennsylvania volunteer could endure only one night at an Obama phone bank because of the racist comments she heard from voters.
As much as the Obama campaign trafficked in hope, the racial undercurrent is enough to make many Americans despair, regardless of political stripe. Still, most Americans are proud to live in a country that gave a self-proclaimed skinny kid with a funny name and few advantages the chance to be president. Whether or not Obama is the best candidate for the job is up to the voters, who have plenty of issues to weigh. It's too bad some voters have decided that race is one of them.