It is Super Bowl Sunday, two days before Super Tuesday, and I am returning from my local hardware store, where I have bought lightbulbs. I live on the Liberal Upper West Side—a neighborhood whose name is preceded by an adjective as inevitably as that of the Powerful House Ways and Means Committee—and as I cross 96th Street at Broadway, I spot a friend festooned with Barack Obama pins and paraphernalia. This friend, a white New Jersey native, knows my political leanings well. “Want some information?” he calls jovially, brandishing a stack of flyers. “Feh!” I shout back.
It is Monday, one day before the big day. In the morning, I find my subway stop at 96th and Broadway crowded with Obama supporters, again white, handing out campaign material. But that evening, as I leave work and enter Grand Central Terminal, the scene is more varied. Two black men, each wearing a suit and tie and looking every inch the Midtown stockbroker, are encouraging commuters to vote for John McCain. Inside, I make my way to the downstairs departure-area-cum-food-court, and as I eat my multiethnic soup—chicken gumbo from a kosher delicatessen—I watch as campaigners camp out at tracks where trains are about to depart. One of them is Asian and a Ron Paul supporter.
I finish my soup and meet a friend at Lincoln Center to hear Lorin Maazel conduct Beethoven, Barber, and Dvorak. As we enter, a dark-skinned security guard stops us and investigates my friend’s bag, just to make sure that she isn’t planning to blow up the New York Philharmonic. The guard’s name is engraved on his badge; it is, of course, Mohammed.
The concert over, we return to 96th and Broadway, where two screaming young women are holding a shoving match on the sidewalk. Both seem white, though I am concentrating not on their race but on getting out of their way. My friend isn’t so lucky; one of the combatants lurches into her as we’re preparing to cross the street. Only one passerby is brave enough to get between them and break up their fight before they injure more civilians. He is black.
Tuesday arrives, and I proceed to my polling place, where the gentleman at the door directs me to the voting machine for the wrong district. Consequently I find myself first at one station, then at another, and at each of them, I am no longer surprised to find, the Republican judge monitoring the station is black.
Much has been made this year of Barack Obama, supposedly a postracial candidate. Of course this is nonsense: if not for his race, Obama—inexperienced and unqualified—would be no candidate at all. But even as we fixate on race in politics, we are moving steadily beyond it elsewhere, and nowhere is this more apparent than Gotham, whose sidewalks today are carpeted with the red, white, and blue not of political bunting but of the Super Bowl champion New York Giants. Tyrone, the black man on my subway who collects (or claims to collect) money to support his homeless outreach program, is decked in those colors; so is the crowd of grinning white fans at Grand Central, presumably heading for the victory parade downtown; so is the elderly Asian man wandering down 42nd Street. On what you might expect to be a day of political division, the city seems united and happy; and here, if not in New England, it is not a bad day to be a patriot.