Obama Victory a Major Step Forward, But Work Remains

I got home early Wednesday morning and am trying to decompress from an evening spent at NBC News, helping monitor the Internet coverage of election night 2008.

There's going to be (there already has!) a lot written about this historic election night and the meaning of Barack Hussein Obama's victory.

But I wanted to add a small note that ties together some of what I am thinking about right now. It has a Facebook connection, too -- about a certain dollar bill I found last month on the Columbia campus.

While doing the NBC stuff Tuesday night, I got calls from four TV networks in India asking me to comment about the results and the history-making nature of this.

I was struck by how a couple of the other guests on the shows there were talking about America "living up to the principles of its founders" by proving all men are created equal (ignoring, of course, the fact that many of those founding fathers owned slaves.)

I also learned the word that is used on Hindi TV to denote Obama's blackness: "ashweth" ("shweth" is white and "ashweth" is black) When I was in India, I never had reason to hear or use that term.

Another theme: Obama's victory shows how divisions have been overcome in the US and that African-Americans have "arrived."

I cautioned them that while this was, indeed, historic (I first came to this country at the age of nine and could never have imagined that a black man would become president in my lifetime), the problems affecting blacks and other minorities wouldn't disappear just because a man of color is in the White House.

I was thinking about that as I walked out of NBC's 30 Rockefeller Plaza building onto the streets of NYC, where throngs of people of all colors were cheering and celebrating. The loudest cheers seemed to be coming from black folks, many of them just yelling for joy into the air.

As I entered the subway on W. 50th Street and headed to the platform, there was a black woman (who appeared to be in her 40s, standing at the turnstile, asking for money for a ride home.)

And while everyone around her was cheering, she was barely smiling -- all she wanted was to go home. It occurred to me that Obama's symbolic victory is, in all likelihood, going to mean no improvement in her life -- just an example of how much work there is to be done to help the underclass (or all colors) in this country.

I pulled out of my wallet that dollar bill I had found on Oct. 10, had written about on Facebook (asking for suggestions for what I should do with it) and had carefully tucked away. I handed it over to the woman and joined the happy crowd on the platform.

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