This is the fifth report in a series of conversations with voters in York, Pa., about race and its role in the 2008 presidential election. Steve Inskeep and Michele Norris first spoke with 13 voters — a mix of white, black and brown — in September. Two more voters joined the group in October. They spoke with the voters again after Barack Obama's election as the first black president.
When NPR last spoke to a diverse group of voters in York, Pa., a key swing state, in October, many expressed concern about the potential for turmoil in the wake of the presidential election — no matter who won.
But now, following Barack Obama's election as the nation's 44th president, and its first African-American one, there's a palpable sense of release among the group — no matter how people voted.
Michael Smith, 40, who is African-American, describes his outlook succinctly: "America is beautiful," he says with a smile.
Smith counsels black teenagers in York. And now he's telling them: No more excuses. Yet Smith says he's feeling a little self-conscious around white people these days.
"I think they're watching us, as, how are we going to handle it?" he says. "You know, we have to stand up and be counted, and represent, in a sense, to show America that it wasn't a mistake."
The day after the election, Smith put on a suit. "Boy I looked it like something. I feel like the president."
Searching For Acceptance
For Margie Orr, 63, an African-American who works for a civil rights group, the election brought a sense of acceptance — and a renewed sense of patriotism. In October, she told NPR that while she loves her country, she couldn't quite see herself hanging a flag outside her door.
But on election night, at a victory party where she says there were more white guests than black ones, she had a revelatory moment: "That night just made you feel like there is nothing wrong with the United States."
The moment was short lived.
Soon after, Orr and other York voters picked up the newspaper to find several upsetting letters to the editor. In one letter, the author chastised Obama for describing himself, in his victory speech, as a black man. Obama's father was a black man from Kenya, his mother, a white woman from Kansas.
"Where does he come off saying he's a black man?" The letter asked. "Is he that confused on color, or does he want to discredit his mother's color as a white person?"
That provocative letter started the voters in the group wondering what was really on its author's mind. Maribel Burgos, 46, who's Hispanic, thinks the letter writer, presumably white, was seeking what Orr had finally found: a sense of inclusion.
"They want [Obama] to now acknowledge the white part of him, so that they're now included in his administration, too," Burgos says.
Inclusion For McCain Supporters
What about those in the group who had supported Republican John McCain? Did they feel excluded from the celebrations of the past few days?
"No. I actually don't," says Sarah Yacoviello, 31, who voted for McCain.
Still, Yacoviello, who is anti-abortion, says she is not without qualms about Obama's victory. "I feel there's a social justice that's been done here with electing a black president. But I also feel the social injustice of abortion." Obama supports abortion rights.
One of the more surprising reactions came from another McCain supporter, Leah Moreland, 76.
In October, Moreland had expressed fears that chaos might follow an Obama victory; earlier, she had worried that he was secretly a Muslim, and she even implied he was a terrorist plant.
Now, Moreland offered praise for Obama's performance in his first press conference as president-elect. Her favorite part? When Obama, discussing his promise to his young daughters to get them a dog, described himself as a "mutt," too. With a tiny flick of humor, Obama had touched on centuries of American struggles over racial identity.
"Did anybody else hear him call himself a mutt?" Moreland asked the rest of the group. "I really chuckled at that. I just thought it was humorous, and I really enjoyed it."