I am late writing this blog, you can blame it on all the traveling that I have been doing lately, much to the annoyance of my wife and kids. But, I figure this is truly a historic moment and thus it is worth capturing my thoughts, if, for no other purpose, to serve as a future self-reflection of the event.
Here it is, in short. I think that electing the first African-American changes the language and dynamic of the US. We now have no ceiling as to what a minority can be. You truly can say that the sky is the limit. Yeah, that was true before, but come on, really. Who out there truly beleived that the US would elect an African-American president? I wanted it to be true, but doubted it until the speech at Grant park started.
Let me tell you a personal story of how I see this moment. My dad was in the ROTC (Army) in the late 50s. He served his required time, 2 years I think, and the left the service. He was stationed in Virginia at least part of the time. I now know what the US was like at that time. Think about it, 1958 or there abouts. The civil rights movement had not started yet. The marches from Selma to Montgomery were years away. So, as you can imagine, a young Puertorrican with skin color that was clearly not white, spent all his time with other black officers. He drank water from the "other" fountain, walked on the "other" side of the street, etc. He had the fortune to leave all that behind and go back to a society (Puerto Rico) that was a little more integrated than the US, but nevertheless he never forgot that experience.
It is no surprise that he took great efforts to make us, his kids, color-blind when it comes to treating other human beings. I remember when we were playing tennis in the mid 70s (badly I might add) and someone made a good play, he would call that person "Arthur Ashe." I had posters of Lou Alcindor (later Kareem Adbul Jabbar) that he had given me. And I remember him joking when we watched TV police series in the 70s and there was a black person in the show, he would always joke, sarcastically, "watch, that guy will get killed in the first 5 minutes of the show." Invariably that was the case, as the leading roles in the 70s in TV (and movies) went to white actors. Seeing a black person was an automatic cue of the fate that the character.
With the jokes, posters, references, we grew up appreciating and accepting all people for what they were. Even after all of this upbringing, I found myself still doubting that a black man could get elected president of the US. I honestly did not think it could happen. I can't imagine how other kids grow up, or grew up with some of these barriers in their minds. Barriers that are imposed implicitly by the media reminding us that African-Americans go to jail, Latinos need to be deported, and gays/lesbians should go back to the closet. It clearly makes you think, if you are a member of those groups, that you don't belong. That you have to be on the side of the road being a spectator of what is mainstream US life.
But then it happened. And the conversation and dialogue changed almost immediately. News media (reputable ones, that is) were talking about inclusion, diversity, and the "new face of america" (which they meant US, but that's ok, lets break one barrier at a time). They were talking about how the younger generation is more color-blind than the baby boomers. Us minorities only heard this type of language when it was next to the "melting pot" which invariable meant for us to melt into the rest. We had to lose our language. We can keep some of our ethnicity, but only enough to amuse the majority.
But no more. I think the language in this country has changed. We now have a elected a black man as president of the US. We can use him a an example to kids. I hope that now it is "hip" to be successful and smart as an African-American. I have heard from professors that work in African-American kids and they express frustration about this perception that the kids have about themselves. They show certain fear of being "smart". They actually play it down when they are with friends. No more. What better example of being "smart" than having a president that shares your ethnic background.
In this one single event, the language and dynamic of this country has changed. And for the better I think. I hope we see the problems not as "us vs them" but instead as challenges that can't be solved without "them." In his speech, he was very inclusive, mentioning the importance of this event for all, not just for African-Americans. He acknowledged all the different groups that make this country, and asked us all to work together. I think we will look back at this moment and think this is when "the rest of us became part of the US".
Posted on 11/16/2008