Somebody pinch me. Did I hear correctly? Sen. Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee to run for president of the United States? Yes, even a week later, some of us%uFFFDmyself included%uFFFDare still in somewhat of a state of disbelief about the historic m
A man of color, one of African descent%uFFFDwith relatives on the continent of Africa%uFFFDwill compete for the highest office in the land? It had been foretold that this election year would make history. Either a woman or an African American would lead the Democratic ticket. But now that the suspense is over, many questions have arisen in my mind.
For one, “How will an African American’s ascent to presidential nominee status impact race relations in America?” Certainly, it is a question that pollsters, pundits and journalists are vetting every day, and they probably won’t stop until well after the November election has been decided. That’s right, folks. Prepare yourself for discussion upon discussion about race. Not all of it intelligent, thoughtful rhetoric, for sure.
For Obama, making history comes with a hefty price tag. He has to “represent” on behalf of a demographic that has often been painted with one brush, persecuted for being different and sometimes even feared. I’m talking about African American males. The Chicago Urban League does not endorse political candidates. But I can only hope that the weight of it all will not become too burdensome for the Illinois senator.
At one point during the contentious primary race, Obama remarked that we had entered “silly season” in politics. Can it get any sillier? You bet it can. And it most certainly will. But going forward, we must remember that politics is a world with its own set of rules. Low blows, distortions of fact, the twisting of words and actions, and personal attacks are as indicative of presidential politics as the colors red, white and blue are to our flag.
We must remember that because if we don’t, some of us might view those attacks exclusively through the lens of race. And that would be a mistake. If Obama’s victory is to be truly historic, then as African Americans, we have to raise our level of thinking and embrace the fact that in the world of politics, everything and everyone is fair game, no matter the color of their skin.
As a nation of diverse people, we must resist the urge to reduce the match-up of Obama vs. Arizona Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, as merely Black vs. white. There are those who will play on those sentiments and use race and even religion to heighten people’s fears about what a Black presidency would mean to this country and to our individual households. Don’t bite on it. Obama’s victory is a sign%uFFFDa big, fat glowing neon sign with flashing yellow bulbs%uFFFDof progress for Black America and for all of America.
It ushers in a period of advancement in this country that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. could only speak about in hopeful terms during his lifetime. It has come to fruition. Obama will accept the nomination on the 45th anniversary of Dr. King’s I Have a Dream speech at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. But for me, something even larger has occurred. Often, the people most qualified to run for political office (e.g. Colin Powell) don’t have the appetite for it.
This presidential primary season, voters were treated to a pool of impressive candidates, all of them qualified and willing to go the distance%uFFFDand at least one of them even farther than that%uFFFDto win the nomination. So, embrace this moment in history. But, at the same time, as African Americans, we are going to have to let some of the more contentious parts of our history roll off our backs%uFFFDthat is, if we are to maintain our sanity over the next several months.
This election will test us all as race will no doubt be a recurring theme. My hope is that Obama vs. McCain will make history not just because of race, but that it will write a new prescription for the lenses through which we see one another.
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