On the night of his victory, Barack Obama talked about Ann Nixon Cooper, a black woman who, at the age of 106, had voted for him. But when Obama told her story, he presented her not just as someone who’d been born a generation after slavery and had seen segregation, but as a woman who’d seen the women’s-suffrage movement, the dawn of aviation and the automobile, the Depression and the Dust Bowl, and Pearl Harbor. He presented Nixon Cooper as an African American who was not doubly conscious, just conscious. That is the third road that black America is walking. It’s not coincidental that two black people from the South Side are leading us on that road. If you’re looking for the heralds of a “post-racial” America, if that adjective is ever to be more than a stupid, unlettered flourish, then look to those, like Michelle Obama, with a sense of security in who they are—those, black or white, who hold blackness as more than the losing end of racism.
The third road. Black people have always attempted to walk the third road–Zora Neale Hurston comes immediately to mind–but we haven’t always been allowed to express the fullness of our identity. I’m curious to see how the Obamas change not what we can actually accomplish as a people but what Black Americans and the nation as a whole now think we can accomplish.