Sunday, November 16, 2008

Black Power for Real

I’ve been trying to wrap my head around what it must feel like to be an African-American contemplating the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States. I think I would be almost giddy. I know at least one friend from church who said she was up partying all night after the election. You might think that I would be dismayed to find Obama supporters of any color at my conservative Southern Baptist church, but I think I understand. Even some black conservatives, knowing that Obama’s politics are well to the left of their own, could not resist the allure of voting for the first black President. I can imagine how they probably felt: How could I live with myself if I let this opportunity pass? How long would I have to wait for a major party to nominate an African-American again? It might not happen again in my lifetime!

As much as I disagree with his politics, Obama’s election is a true testament to the greatness of our democracy. As many have noted, fifty years ago Barack Obama couldn’t even have sat at Woolworth’s lunch counter. I was born in 1956, so I barely remember segregation. I certainly wasn’t conscious of it at the time. Looking back, however, I have a vivid memory of visiting the courthouse downtown and seeing the separate water fountains and bathrooms labeled Colored. It seemed strange but I didn’t understand what it meant. How different my memories would be if I were black!

Just because we have reached this milestone does not mean that racism is a thing of the past. Its power is broken, but it still persists to cause trouble for those whose skin is not the color of the majority. This, too, I have tried to wrap my head around. I think we can be very proud of the progress we have made. But if you are white, think about this. Even if 95% of all white people are not even slightly racist, that would still leave 5% who are. That’s more than enough to be a problem. Sometimes it will be an overt act or comment that reminds you of the prejudice you face. Other times nothing is said, but you wonder what they might be thinking. Such experiences cannot help but affect your frame of mind and must require strength of character to overcome.

The best thing about having an African-American President is the message it sends to young people of every color: You, too, can grow up to be President. Anything is possible in this great country of ours. Every young generation needs hope. This country was founded and built on hope – hope for a better future for ourselves and our children. The engine of our progress is a firm conviction that if you work hard and make the right choices you can succeed. Upward mobility is in our DNA. Belief in the possibility of advancement is how we have avoided the destructive class conflicts of other countries. We believe that All Men Are Created Equal. There it is, right on the first page of the document that began this great nation. We have not always lived up to that ideal, but in every generation we draw closer to it. And that’s something we all can celebrate.

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