As Barack Obama stood on the stage at Grant Park in Chicago on election night, my euphoria yielded to a strange unease in the pit of my stomach and all good feeling drained away. I soon realized what caused this sensation as I consciously registered the reflected image in the bulletproof glass that imperceptibly framed Obama’s face. Even as his mouth formed words that announced a new founding and the vindication of old foundations, the ghostly image conjured a recurrent, traumatic history of unfulfilled promises, unredeemed struggles and unaccounted losses, the many thousands gone. Perhaps any victor that night would have been so protected. Nevertheless, that black existence and aspirations toward inclusion and equality in the U.S. readily associate with a history of legal and extra-legal violence deployed to produce and preserve racial distance and disparity is hardly surprising. However unseemly, the strongest prospective parallels between Obama and King drawn during the Democratic primary and Presidential campaign implicated the threat of premature death. In turn, Obama’s ostensible fulfillment of King’s dream arguably has less to do with substantive political connections between the two men than with the racial form and symbolism of one life and its associated promise repairing the violently truncated closure of another before its time.Read the rest of Still the two Americas.
Nikhil Pal Singh
Nikhil Pal Singh is Associate Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis and History at New York University. He is the author of Black is a Country: Race and the Unfinished Struggle for Democracy (Harvard, 2004) and the editor of Climin' Jacob's Ladder: The Black Freedom Movement Writings of Jack O'Dell (University of California, forthcoming).