Obama and the Promises of Racial Equality
The words “history,” “change,” and “hope” have made their rounds in virtually every media outlet around the world in an attempt to describe President Obama. We feel good as a country knowing that we have made a huge step forward. It takes a lot for a nation to elect someone from a group that it has for so long despised and abused. His election should not be taken lightly in that regard yet it should not be taken as a signal that we are now a completely equal society. I have loved his campaign, his election, and his swearing in because of the conversations that have been sparked.
So I’ll say right off the bat that I have several problems with the idea of a color blind nation. The main one being that the notion is insulting. There is nothing wrong with the color of my skin and the identity attached to it. It is not a burden or something to overcome. Additionally the task of creating such a society is frequently thrust upon people of color. Obama has made no such promises of closing the racial gap that places black Americans at or near the bottom of every measure of social progress yet somehow we expect him to. How many white presidents have had such a lofty task?
Yet for better or worse, the black American experience is now front-and-center of the American experience. Which issues will come to light? Will discussions of critical issues stop being labeled as “airing dirty laundry” and finally be seen as necessary for progress? Every time I hear the phrase “dirty laundry” I have to remind people that perfection is not and should never be a requisite for fair treatment under the law and that policies should never be crafted under the guise that a group has no agency.
With that said, we need to realize that change is about the process not just the product. It is not about creating a color blind society; it is about acknowledging the fact that problems exist and committing ourselves to addressing them. What I think many black leaders fought for and continue to fight for is the recognition that the issues facing black Americans are real, urgent, and unequivocally American, not sideline issues and not simply examples of cultural failure.
So as we begin the Obama administration, I hope we continue these conversations and ecnourage new ones.