Why Black Comics Must Get Barack

Fade back to 1983. Reaganomics has black America in a stranglehold, unemployment is running rampant, and my sisters and I have snuck into the basement after lights out to watch Eddie Murphy, clad in a skintight red leather outfit, tell dirty jokes. Eddie says he saw Jesse Jackson working out at the gym now that he’s running for president. He says he saw him running laps on the track.

“Why you working out?” Eddie asks Jesse.

“I gotta be in shape,” Jesse replies. “Because when I give my first speech, it will be like this.” And then Eddie darts across stage, a blur of red leather ducking and dodging, weaving and bobbing so that the sniper rifle can’t get a read on him.

Speed up a bit to 2000. Dave Chappelle is at the Lincoln Theatre in D.C., and I am in the balcony with a friend who smuggled in beers in her purse. Dave says he doesn’t want to be the first black president. Maybe the second or the third, but definitely not the first. Well, on second thought, he could be the first, but he would have a Mexican vice president for insurance.

Black president: both joke and punch line. Black president: an oxymoron like jumbo shrimp. For a long time, comedians have riffed on what having a black president would actually mean as if that would ever happen. That if it did, there would be cookouts on the White House lawn, which would have no grass, a broken-down car sitting on bricks and an old weight set in the driveway.

It was always a fantasy, about as realistic as the Loch Ness Monster, mythical in proportion and scope. The futility of the idea was a reflection of the weight of the past and pessimism about the future. Imagine a black president and fill in the rest with stereotypes and tragedy, because there is a grain of truth in both.

The jokes didn’t land on any one person, so there was no harm. That they never would was the ultimate punch line.

We have become accustomed to using humor to push through the burdens of blackness, says Darryl Littleton, author of Black Comedians on Black Comedy: How African-Americans Taught Us to Laugh. Even in bondage, humor helped lighten the load of slavery. “Slaves that didn’t have the commonality of language would use pantomime to make fun of the slave owners,” Littleton said.

Humor has always been a painfully real thing for black America. It’s been a balm both to the hurtful reality of our place in America and the insufferable parts of our past. Jokes about being followed in a department store or being pulled over by the police, or not being able to hail a cab are funny because they connect the past and present struggle.

So what kind of reception should President-elect Barack Obama expect from the comedy world? Should we be on watch for tasteless racial innuendo? Or do we need to guard against being hypersensitive?

Comedian Katt Williams says black comedians won’t hold back.

Littleton agreed. “We comics unleash,” he says. “There won’t be too many things left unsaid. If he messes up, we won’t leave any meat on the bone. Truthfully, for comics, it would have been better if [John] McCain won. The worst choice is always better for us.”

The New Yorker Thelma and Lousie’d its magazine cover off the edge of comedic satire when it depicted Obama and his wife, Michelle, as Osama-loving-terrorist-fist-bumping Muslims. And Carlos Mencia, in a bit about as funny as a wet sock, dresses himself as the president in black face and afro and talks in that grating black dialect made famous by whites. Mencia’s stereotypical notion of blackness was framed by perceptions about how whites see blacks. But even the idea of a collectively clueless white mass seems quaint now that tens of millions of them voted for a man named Barack Hussein Obama.

Carlos Mencia’s routine crosses over the funny line in the same way as The New Yorker magazine cover because it isn’t edgy political humor or even a well thought-out skit. It is simply taking trash bags full of ignorance and generalizations and dumping them onto Obama because of his race.

For the comics themselves, Obama poses a conundrum. “He’s not stupid, he’s not angry, he’s not fat. Who would want a jerk like that in office?” Bill Maher joked on “Larry King Live” after the election. “We need to get over our nervousness about making a joke about a black person. Obama isn’t black, he is the president. And when we make fun of him, we aren’t making fun of all black people in the same way when we make fun of George W. Bush, it isn’t like we are talking about all mentally challenged people. But he has got to give us something to joke about.”

One place that comedians can look back on for guidance into the future of comedy is the late, great Richard Pryor. In 1977, on the short-lived “Richard Pryor Show,” he does a skit in which he walks out as the first black president and fields questions from the press.

President Pryor explains that the 5 percent unemployment rate only reflects that of whites and that the minority unemployment rate has always been around 45 percent. He thinks that the increase in the space program funding will help send blacks to space, “white people have been going to space and spacing out on us. ”

He declares that Huey Newton will be in contention for director of the FBI since he knows the ins and outs. That there will always be black players in the National Football League and that if he can help it, there will be black coaches and owners, too. The skit ends with a white reporter asking President Pryor about his mother being a maid. “After your tenure, will yo mama do my house?” The bit ends with Pryor rushing from the podium and charging for the man.

The skit has everything in it that comedy can be: brash-abrasive-cultivated nuance that illuminates the struggles of being both black and president.

For the next four years, America will learn to adjust to a new punch line.

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Why White Comics Don’t Get Barack

A black president. Now that’s funny!

So why are so many political satirists crying about how unamusing the Obama presidency will be? The standard reasoning is that, unlike Bush, McCain, Palin, the Clintons or even Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama is “too perfect” and does not provide material for good jokes. But the inability of “Saturday Night Live” to produce one hilarious sketch on the Obamas has little to do with the quality of comedic material Michelle or Barack offer. It has more to do with the fact that mainstream American comedy has been, for far too long, racially segregated and has relied on two formulas in dealing with black people: one is racial stereotyping and the second is black invisibility.

Both the right and the left used stereotypes in their attempts to satirize African Americans during this past election season. Most egregious was a mailing by the Chaffey Community of Republican Women’s Group, which included faux “food stamps” with the image of Obama surrounded by images of watermelons and fried chicken. This sort of imagery dates back to D.W. Griffith’s racist 1915 film Birth of a Nation in which newly elected black senators run the federal government into the ground and litter the floors of the Capitol with chicken bones. The members of the Chaffey Community group defended their actions by saying it was simply satire.

The satire defense was also deployed by the liberal New Yorker magazine when it donned Barry Blitt’s cover of the Afro-sporting, gun-toting Michelle Obama and the turban-wearing Barack Obama back in July. In both cases, the racial stereotyping was so obvious that it produced loud public outcries.

For obvious reasons, the invisibility problem generates less outrage, but it is equally dangerous.

Each week, as I watched actor Fred Armisen imitate Barack Obama on SNL, I tried to figure out why I did not laugh. Armisen has Obama’s cadence and facial expressions down pat, but as Kelefa Sanneh noted in the New Yorker, there is no “back story” to this character. Likewise, when Maya Rudolph temporarily returned to play Michelle Obama, the skit between Michelle and Barack Obama was successful, not because it has anything to do with the personalities or personas of Michelle and Barack, but because anyone singing “Solid as Barack” to the Ashford and Simpson tune, “Solid as a Rock” is funny.

It’s not just that SNL does not give a back story to the Obamas or that a non-African-American actor plays Barack Obama; it is that these skits miss the complexities, contradictions and the interior features of African-Americans lives. On SNL and other mainstream political comedy shows like “Real Time” and to a lesser extent “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report,” the cast and writing staffs lack diversity, and it shows in the racial parochialism of the humor itself.

Perhaps Bill Maher was right when he said that Barack Obama leads to bad comedy because he is “too perfect” as a presidential candidate and that “liberals” and “comedians” (both of whom in Maher’s calculations all appear to be white) are “afraid of laughing at anything with a black person in it.” But, I think it goes deeper than that.

For such comics to consider Barack or Michelle funny, one of two things now has to happen: Either the Obamas must begin to feed into prevailing racial stereotypes (and therefore be seen as unfit for the presidency), or mainstream satirists will have to learn the cultural nuances of black America.

This would include not simply making fun of how white CNN pundits developed a media crush on Obama, but lampooning, as one YouTube skit shows, how Obama preps his swagger before each debate. SNL focuses on Obama’s intellect and verbal pauses but does not satirize his performance of the “cool” black man. Understanding both his swagger and cool requires an understanding of black bourgeois respectability, not just in opposition to caricatures of working-class blacks but as a source of potential contradictions and comedy.

There is a great debate about whether CNN’s “D.L. Hughley Breaks the News” and David Allen Grier’s variety show “Chocolate News” on Comedy Central are funny or offensive. The verdict is still out. I can’t help but wonder what kind of cathartic laughter Dave Chappelle would have been able to provide for us this year.

Imagine what he would have done with Jeremiah Wright or Barack’s unannounced visits to the home of white undecided voters in Ohio. It’s not that Barack and Michelle aren’t funny; it’s just that those who have been able to thrive in a predominantly white comedic universe will now have to hire more writers and actors (and hopefully producers and directors) who know how to work with the material that Barack and Michelle will serve up. If they are going to stay on top of their games over the next four years, white comedians and comic writers will have to acknowledge black interior lives and class and ethnic diversity. Then we’ll all have something to laugh about.

Salamishah Tillet is an assistant professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania and co-founder of the non-profit organization, A Long Walk Home, Inc., which uses art therapy and the visual and performing arts to document and to end violence against underserved women and children.

5 Obama Hair Don’ts

Our 44th president can change many things in the next four years–his hair isn’t one of them. The high-top fade worked for Kid, and we love Charles Barkley’s shiny chrome dome. We even have a soft spot for James Brown’s process. But sadly, none of these beloved styles can make the cut in the White House.

A Thank You Note to White Voters

While dodging those pigs I said would fly before a black man got elected president, I got to thinking about just who black folks had to thank for Barack Obama’s historic achievement.

Obama and his brilliant staff are, of course, at the top of the list for mounting what was arguably the best presidential campaign in American political history.

And then there was our army of black voters who turned out in huge numbers and voted almost unanimously for our man.

But amid all our justified hooping and hollering, there’s one group that I fear will not get its fair share of the credit for its essential contribution to this sweeping victory, a group we’re more accustomed to blaming for all our woes than thanking for our progress.
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I am talking, of course, about white folks.

Yes, white folks, the ones we thought would lie to pollsters about supporting Obama then pull the lever for his white opponent.

Not the majority of white folks, who voted for John McCain, but the millions upon millions of other white people, open minded and decent enough to give the brother a chance.

They deserve a big hand.

Of the 64 million votes Obama collected, the largest tally in history, by far the largest share were cast by white voters.

He racked up 43 percent of the white vote, equaling Bill Clinton’s performance and easily surpassing Al Gore and John Kerry.

Without those white folks, Obama would have lost the election.

Obama knew that all along. He knew that there are not enough black and minority voters to win an election unless a substantial number of whites join in. That’s why he downplayed racial issues throughout the campaign, focusing instead on a message of change that appealed to voters of every variety.

But his strategy would not have succeeded unless enough white voters were willing to look beyond his color and hear his message.

They were, and they did.

When I predicted in mid-September that the days when Republicans could win elections by stirring up white resentments were finally gone, some blacks thought I was being hopelessly nave.

But as I wrote then, this is no longer the America that John McCain, Jesse Jackson and I grew up in. Coded racist appeals have lost much of their potency, especially among the young and the well-educated.

I don’t want to go overboard about this because most white voters still backed the Republicans. Some of them fell for McCain and Sarah Palin’s okey-doke because prejudice and reactionary thinking continue to play powerful roles in our politics, and they are not going away.

But that bad news should not diminish our gratitude for the white folks who had the courage and insight to cross the color line and join Obama’s cause.

They helped him to recreate the sort of multiracial coalition that Martin Luther King Jr. led to the greatest triumphs of the civil rights movement.

Because of them, Obama was swept into the White House in what some regard as the greatest moment in black history since the Emancipation.

Because of them, Obama may have a chance to shape a political realignment as dramatic as the Reagan revolution, though moving in the opposite political direction.

So thank you, white folks!

We couldn’t have done it without you.

Now, could you lend us a hand with these flying pigs?

Free Our Minds

I thought a lot on Election Day about limitations, how we as Americans agreed both explicitly and implicitly, from the nation’s founding, that a black man would never become president. Masters certainly knew it. And from the wretched status to which they were consigned, the slaves no doubt could scarcely imagine it.

Yet, in a political campaign that began with most African Americans pooh-poohing the possibility that whites would vote for a black man and with large numbers of whites suddenly ready to do just that, Barack Obama tapped into the perfect historic moment of cross-racial yearning.

It has left me feeling bittersweet at what came before, for I have been forced to admit a truth to myself about racism and its limiting impact. I realized, quite sadly, that I had dutifully voted every four years for a parade of white male presidential candidates while scarcely lamenting the fact that this office remained the hardest, highest, most coveted barrier against the full and unfettered participation of non-whites in our political system.

Because I never believed that white voters would elevate a person of color to the presidency in my lifetime, I had in effect accepted the “whites-only” rule of the presidency. I’m embarrassed to say: What a triumph of racism!
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So I think it is only fitting to “unpack” this idea of limitations, to dissect this thing that will, of course, still plague us but that now will lack its old power.

Let’s face it. Racial limitations have defined our psyches as Americans. For African Americans especially, we have always had to consider the limits of our personal and collective ambitions; to think about just how far we could and could not expect to excel in a nation where racism has been so historically present. Without such calculation, it would have been impossible just to survive.

The slave had to know the physical limits of the plantation and had to know how to circumscribe his behavior to avoid the lash. After slavery, we had to be damned certain to understand the limits of our so-called freedom, especially when Reconstruction turned to ethnic cleansing and Jim Crow was let loose on the land.

Later, in the modern era, we had to know when voting would be deadlythe ultimate limitation. And we had to know how hard to push, to fight, to secure our rights, to test the limits of America’s promise. We risked the blows that took too many lives, until, at last, we won full rights in the 1960s. We were protected by the Constitution. And we could votefor whomever we chose, black or white.

And yet, we always knew that the ultimate prize of our political system was off-limits. Not by law, not by decree, but by long-held custom. Shirley Chisholm ran. Jesse Jackson ran. But white America (and back then such a monolithic group was far more real than today) wasn’t having it. Racism was its limitation.

Before Barack Obama, everyone I know did not expect to see a president of color in our lifetime. We had grown accustomed to the racial limitations of these United States. We could attend college, get good jobs, send our kids to private schools, purchase large homes, write high literature, become sports superstars, Hollywood icons and CEOs. But president? Get real.

Obama has proved us wrong.

Perhaps he had not been jaded in the way that so many other African Americans have been because of our experience with limitations. Obama grew up differently. Yes, he knew of racist barriers, and, yes, he experienced racism in his life, we learn from his memoir, Dreams of My Father.

But although he embraces African-American identity and culture, he is a biracial person whose black Kenyan father was absent and who was raised by his white American mother and grandparents. He would not have absorbed the parental racial angst like so many of the rest of us, hearing our parents’ message, whether subtle or overt, about what white folks wouldn’t let us do.

And he is not a descendant of slavesat least not here in America, though one can’t discount the possibility that Obama’s Kenyan ancestors were raided perhaps by Arab or other slave traders who once pillaged that region of Africa. If such a history exists and Obama, who grew up with little contact with the Kenyan side of his family, is aware of it, he has not publicly discussed it.

Because of this different kind of background, he would not know that deep well of unspoken African-American pain passed down since slavery days, from generation to generation. Such cultural knowledge is both a strength, and, at times, a source of self-limitation that only compounds the corrosive effect of the limits imposed on us by white society.

And one of the most heartbreaking effects of self-limitation is its atrophying impact on young African Americans. Why try, if I’m only going to face racism? Why venture beyond my cultural comfort zone if they (the big white they) don’t want me there?

What Obama’s candidacy and victory prove is that they, too, have changed; they, too, have broken through some barriers. Like the elderly white man wearing the huge Obama button who recently approached me in the parking lot of the local grocery store. Tapping his big button, he asked: “You gonna vote for my guy?” I said, “For sure!” And as we chatted a bit about the campaign, he touched my arm and said: “You know, I was raised in Arkansas and everything was segregated. I am so proud to be able to vote for an African American.” I felt proud, too, to be able to experience such a moment. To witness a barrier falling, a limitation being let go.

My Election Day bitter sweetness has passed. I now marvel at all the cross-racial jubilation washing over the nation and the new dialogues about race and country that Obama’s victory has sparked. In an e-mail evoking the spirit of South Africa’s first democratic election, a friend in Johannesburg wrote, “Yesterday we woke up yet again (the last time being April, 1994, for me) to a new world filled with promise.”

Quietly, privately, through years of defensive bluster and agitation about race, I have longed for a time like thisa new American dawning. I am holding on tight to this precious, precious moment.

Upholding Our End

The landslide election of Barack Obama represents something extraordinarybut not just because our president-elect has brown skin.

What is equally extraordinary is the rainbow-colored, mass movement that consolidated itself to catapult him into the White House.

Even as we celebrate the phenomenon that is Obama, let us not lose sight of an even bigger phenomenonthat of the American people, waking up and taking history into their own hands.

I will confess: This perspective can be hard to maintain. Sometimes a surfer is so brilliant, skilled and mesmerizing that one fails to even see the giant current that propels him. And yet as thrilling as the best surfers are, they ride massive, thundering waves that are even more awe-inspiring.

In Obama’s case, the beautiful “wave” that he is riding isus! The media see the massive crowds he draws and simply calls us “Obama supporters.” We are. But we are also much more than that.

We are a massive “pro-democracy movement” that rose up to terminate the corrupt, authoritarian rule of George W. Bush’s GOP. And Barack Obama himself would be the first to admit that our “people’s movement” to rescue America did not start with his campaign.

And it must not end with his election.

Our movement was born in the dark and difficult days after 9/11, when national leaders twisted our sobs of grief into a cry for war. Some of us opposed the war drive from the beginning, but we were too few and our voices too faint to make a difference.

But we were the seed that blossomed into full flower as a global, anti-war movement, when the United States threatened Iraq with invasion. When we failed to block the invasion, that movement poured itself into the 2004 presidential election opposing Bush. We came within 100,000 votes in Ohio of unseating a wartime presidentwithout a sophisticated Web site and with very little money.

After enduring the horrors and hardships of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, our movement in 2006 finally ended one-party, authoritarian rulegiving the Congress back to the Democrats for the first time in 14 years.

Obama looked out and saw the transformative power of this broad, deep, determined and hopeful people’s movement. He saw us struggling to restore the country’s democratic principles, bring our troops home and revive the nation’s standing in the world. He was insightful enough to see in our dynamism and momentum the basis for an audacious run for the highest office in the land. And he plunged in. The rest is history.

Viewed in this light, our movement’s liberation of the White House is only the final act in a seven-year process of restoring the rule of law to the United States. We shouldn’t only be proud of Obama. We should also be proud of ourselves.

Barack Obama did something more important and profound than make history: He gave an awakening American people the chance to make historyand we rose to the challenge.

Let’s keep rising.

Just as the president-elect must now “transition” from being a first-term senator to the leader of the whole country, our movement must transition. Our challenge now is to move from eight years of opposition to eight years of proposition. We must shift from protest to governance. And it’s is a tough challenge.

But it is one we can meetif we stay engaged, stay informed, stay involved and keep pushing for change. We can’t stop nownot with wars still waging, the economy still imploding, schools still failing and greenhouse gases still accumulating in the atmosphere. We will continue to need Obama. And Obama will continue to need usnow more than ever.

We can’t go back to pre-crisis mode any more than he can. We would be outraged if he celebrated at the inauguration, thanked everyone and then just went back to his old pre-election life. We would all start screaming and say, “Hold on now! You have a lot of work you need to do before you get to sit back down. The election is the beginning, not the end, of our work of fixing this country!”

Well, we should say the same thing to each other and to ourselves.

The fact that our pro-democracy movement predated and made possible Obama’s victory in no way diminishes the achievements, genius or promise of the once-in-a-lifetime leader. He has not even taken officebut already, he is a living legend, a defining American icon. He is destined to stand in the company of Dr. Martin Luther King and the Kennedy brothers, if not George Washington and Nelson Mandela. He is the only living person whose name is certain to be on the lips of school children 200 years from now.

But if we think back to the civil rights era, the movement could not have succeeded as spectacularly without Dr. King’s particular gifts and contributions. And King could not have succeeded without the millions of unnamed civil rights workers and supporters who collectively broke the back of Jim Crow segregation. Dr. King and the movement needed each other and propelled each other to greatness.

It is my deepest hope and most fervent prayer that Barack Obama and the American people will, too, propel each other to greatness. Let’s make sure that we, the people, uphold our end of the bargain.

What We Did

Now that Barack Obama has claimed the presidency, it’s natural to wonder how and with whom he will govern. To pull America out of the multiple and mounting crises that it now confronts, he needs the House and Senate to be a well-oiled legislative machine. The fresh wave of Democratic candidates that surged into Congress this election is a good first sign that change is coming to Washington.

In January, Democrats will begin the 111th Congress with more members than any party has held in 14 years. And in many cases it was unprecedented minority turnout that bequeathed President-elect Barack Obama a Congress that will have his back.

Suffice it to say, history brought company. Black turnout on Tuesday was seismic; roughly 17 millionand countingAfrican Americans voters elevated their share of the electorate from 11 percent in 2004 to 13 percent this cycle. (All non-white voters made up 26 percent of the electorate, another record.) Obama won 96 percent of the black vote, banking almost the entire 17 million into his vote total of nearly 64 million votesitself the highest ever in American presidential politics.

In the days before the election, a Florida GOP county chairman, worried about the energized black electorate, circulated a nasty e-mail to Republicans about “the threat” of “carloads of black Obama supporters coming from the inner city to cast their votes.”

It was that enthusiasm that made the difference. Florida, where more than half a million black registered voters stayed home in 2004, went to Obama handily on the strength of the increase in black participation22 percent of early voters were black, though they comprise only 13 percent of the state’s voters. Similar turnout gains were reported in Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia.

But blacks didn’t run up the popular vote total just for Obama. North Carolina, where relatively unknown state legislator Kay Hagan ousted incumbent Republican Elizabeth Dole by a healthy 8-point margin, is the biggest testament to the impact of increased black organizing and participation. Much of Hagan’s support came from new voters and black votersabout a quarter of the state’s populationvoting Democratic straight down the ticket. The massive black registration and get-out-the-vote push from Team Obamabegun prior to an impressive primary win in early May and strengthened throughout the summerproved enough to overcome the state’s natural conservatism and seize the seat once held by Jesse Helms. It paid dividends in other ways: Two years ago, congressional candidate Larry Kissell lost to five-term Republican Robin Hayes by 329 votes in the 8th district; this year the uptick in Democratic voting gave Kissell a 10-point victory over Hayes.

Other races, particularly in southern states, followed the same trend. In Louisiana, Mary Landrieu had been called the “most vulnerable” Senate Democrat up for re-election. Yet as Democratic turnout projections became clearer (early voting, dominated by black voters, was at 169 percent of the 2004 total), she began to pull away. And though Democrats Donald Cazayoux, Bruce Lunsford and Ronnie Musgrove all lost, black Democratic votes gave each of them a fighting chance in heavily red states (Louisiana, Kentucky and Mississippi, respectively). Black turnout in Cincinnati helped flip the seat of longtime conservative congressman Steve Chabot, part of the GOP class of 1994, to Democrat Steve Driehaus. In Mississippi, freshman congressman Travis Childers held onto the seat he won in a special election in Mayone of the early harbingers of the Democratic landslide of Tuesday night.

Another state to keep an eye on is Georgia, where Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss continues to fend off a strong Democratic challenge. Even though Chambliss is ahead of his Democratic opponent, Jim Martin, he won less than 50 percent of the vote and by Georgia law must face a runoff on Dec. 2 if those numbers hold. Paper ballots were still being counted. This would be the same Chambliss who, just days before the election, fretted to a white crowd that “the other folks are voting.” He presumably meant black residents of Georgiaand he was absolutely right. Black participation dwarfed 2004 turnout numbers. By the Saturday before Election Day, some 31 percent of registered voters had already cast ballotswith black voters making up a majority of these votes. This was enough to put Martin within striking distance of the incumbent Chambliss.

The coattail effect cuts both ways. In Virginia, popular former governor and Senate candidate Mark Warner was able to help Obama further up the ballot in regions where he attracted moderate, predominantly white voters to the Democratic side. This, coupled with solid black turnout, especially around Richmond and in the Washington, D.C., exurbs, helped give Obama a clear 5-point margin of victory in a state that had not been carried by a Democratic presidential nominee since 1964. Democrats also picked up two GOP House seats in military-heavy Virginia Beach and in the rapidly diversifying Fairfax County in northern Virginia.

In the West, minority participation also played a large role in delivering much-coveted Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada into the Obama column. Nearly 66 percent of Latinos supported Obama, cutting into John McCain’s share of that vote compared with George W. Bush’s; in 2004, Bush took two of every five Latino votes. Down ballot, this means that such long-serving conservatives as Rep. Marilyn Musgrave in Colorado and Rep. Jon Porter in Nevada are out. In New Mexico, all three of the state’s congressional seats are suddenly blue.

The Democratic surge was clearly not limited to just black voters. In Montana, Vermont and Nebraska, where there are virtually no black voters, Democrats made an average gain of about 8 points over their 2004 performance. And it’s unclear whether black turnout will remain as potent an electoral force past Obama’s historic run. But in 2008, the impact of a 2 percent national increase in representation was significant and decisive.

What about the future? First, Tuesday’s results mean that redistricting after the 2010 Census will benefit Democrats. Second, Obama’s victory could shake the presumption that black politicians such as Artur Davis and Harold Ford Jr., rumored to be contemplating runs in Alabama and Tennessee, cannot win statewide races in the South.

Most importantly, by helping to cement the progressive congressional shift that began in 2006, especially in the Senate, minority voters may have improved the chances that Washington will actually get something done this time around.