Opening-night jitters

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  August 28, 2008

And there is still one more emotion — a big one — being held in check in Denver right now. That is black pride.

Not the old, angry black pride of a generation ago. Just joyful, wondrous pride — which extends also, although less intensely, to the many non-black delegates who have fought for civil rights.

Remember, a Democratic National Convention does not represent a racial cross-slice of America; it is always disproportionately black. And this year, with Obama, it is even more so than usual.

This is a very large gathering of thousands of black people at a signal historical moment of racial achievement, and yet the expression of that is thus far surprisingly muted. They have not dared to rejoice in what they are participating in — because they know that they are not supposed to make him “the black candidate.” They know that the selling point, rightly, is that the Obamas are not a black couple but an American couple. One black delegate, after speaking emotionally about her thoughts watching Michelle Obama Monday night, conceded that she had refrained from letting any of that show in the convention hall — that, as she put it, she was a lot quieter than she would have been watching it at home with family and friends.

(On the way out of the convention center Monday night, almost every black hand was clutching at least one “Michelle” sign — white letters running vertically down a slim blue background on both sides of a stick, with a small American flag attached on top — for posterity, but nobody was waving them, or chanting or cheering.)

I have had similar conversations now with many black delegates — not to mention both black and white individuals who came to Denver without credentials, without tickets, just to be here, hoping maybe to find a way to be part of it.

As of this writing — midday Tuesday — there is little indication of how Obama and his strategists intend to release that extraordinary pride and joy, if at all. Perhaps it needs to be restrained. Perhaps it needs to be let out carefully, cautiously, over the week. Perhaps it will simply burst out on Thursday of its own accord.

The Phoenix’s complete daily coverage of the Democratic National Convention can be found at thePhoenix.com/election2008.

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