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Though the ballots had been counted and the downtown revelers had all gone home, Everett Whitfield was still politicking early Wednesday morning. "I happen to believe that there are two Americas. Mr. Obama can tell me to forget the past, but then he goes to Israel where the Jews' mantra is 'Never forget, always remember your past,' and he'll tell them they're right." A lifelong liberal, aging with aged teeth, Whitfield addressed a miscellaneous breakfast crowd at a McDonald's on Stony Island Avenue, admittedly looking very much like a man "waiting for someone to put a microphone in front of my face." Although he voted for Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney—"the first time in a long time I've voted with my conscience"—Whitfield proved a fair barometer of the attitude among some African-American Obama supporters in this South Shore neighborhood.
The jubilation of Grant Park was largely missing, and the little hope for change that existed was largely deferred to future generations. One police officer said she'd just "like to see him be fair, because we don't get that. It may not affect me right away, but I have a daughter, maybe it will trickle down and affect her." Another man, David, was even less optimistic, the wariness audible in his voice: "I don’t expect no more or no less [from a black president]. I don't expect to get a better job or anything. I'm just an American, like everyone else."
Much of the caution was related to fears of an assassination attempt—something clearly weighing on the minds of many. "The man's got a hell of a job to do," remarked one man standing on a busy street corner. "I'm not too optimistic. It’s not that he's black, we just need a person to do the job, and when anyone's been able to do the job, he's gotten assassinated. Look at the Kennedys. We have so much hate among one another we can't even function as a nation."
The wary tone in this overwhelmingly Democratic neighborhood, just blocks from Obama's home, is a telling indicator of the challenge that lies ahead. Isaiah, waiting at a bus stop wearing an Obama T-shirt, was blunt. "Do I expect a change? No, not too much. I don't expect too much." The president-elect knows very well that these men and women—desirous of change, but careful not to expect too much—represent his biggest challenge, as well as his greatest reward if he can manage to win them over. He knows as well as they do that much work remains to be done before "someday we might" becomes "Yes we can."
Whitfield, who didn't vote for Obama, summarized one prevailing sentiment nicely: "Racism is America's most wicked curse, and it's still alive and well. I just don't know what to expect from Mr. Obama."