In 1990, a few weeks after I moved to Boston, I was sitting at an outdoor table in Harvard Square. At the next table, a Black man was giving his twenty-something son, who had apparently recently graduated from Law School, advice. He was apparently going down a list of the cities his son had offers in. "You don't want to stay here. Boston's still stuck in the seventies on race. Philly's even worse...." He went on, speaking of some cities with more caution, others more positively. Then "The best place for a young Black man in the Country today has to be Seattle. Why, they just elected a Black mayor. A city that's eighty percent White! Can you imagine?"² I was very proud of my home town as I listened to that, and very homesick.
Eighteen years later, it's been a long time since I heard anyone shout out an ethnic or racial slur on the street (which I did, to my shock, when I first moved here). Two years ago, Massachusetts elected a Black governor, in a campaign in which as best I could tell, race was not an element at all. (My perspective may be skewed: Since I don't watch TV news and don't read the local newspapers, what I knew of the campaign came from Public Radio and the web. I didn't even know Deval Patrick was Black til a week or so before the General Election. If you'd asked me, I'd have assumed, from his name, that he was Boston Irish.) And now, if the polls are right, the entire country is ready to catch up with Seattle and cast their ballots without regard to race. Maybe this time it really is morning in America.
¹ The only contested elections on my ballot were President and U.S. Senator; for the Democratic candidate to fail to carry both is just about inconceivable. I haven't seen polling on the ballot issues, but I assume, perhaps incorrectly, that Prop. 1, a grossly irresponsible slasn-and-burn antitax measure, will go down in flames. I would also like to thank that Prop. 2, decriminalizing marijauna, will easily carry the day — at least until the results are in, I'm going to let myself believe that people have finally started to notice that prohibition is as much a failed social policy now as it was in the 1920s.
² Seattle was actually roughly 10% Black when Norm Rice was elected mayor.