27 August 2008: To vote agianst Obama because of race is stupid

To vote against Obama because of race is stupid

“I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids — and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me” (Prologue to Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison).

Tomorrow, August 28, 2008, history will be made when Barack Obama accepts the nomination of his party for the presidency. With that act, a big chunk will be chiseled from the wall of bigotry, not only for African Americans and other racial and ethnic minorities, but also for millions of others who have been relegated to secondary status due to their gender, sexual orientation, class, or disability.

While the event will be pregnant with symbolism, it will have, of course, profound political implications for our nation. The Big Question: Is America ready to elect an African American as President.

Shortly after the 2004 election, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) wondered if the gay marriage issue impacted the outcome. “Perhaps we came too far, too fast,” she noted.

Her underlying premise was that people fear what they don’t know, and so it might be wise to proceed cautiously in areas such as gay rights even though the fear is groundless and based on superstition, misinformation, and learned prejudices.

Obama’s campaign, as well as Hillary Clinton’s, has given Americans the opportunity to examine their consciences about their long-held biases and bigotries.

Talking heads opine that this election is about Barack Obama, about whether he can convince the American people he can be trusted as commander-in-chief and lead the nation from the depths George W. Bush has taken the country.

There is some truth to that perspective, but future historians will view this election as being more about the American people than one man.

Considering the state of the nation, the essential question of the campaign ought to be a repetition of Ronald Reagan’s 1980 query, “Are you better off than you were four years—in this case, eight—ago?”

In 2008, the likes of hedge fund managers and oil speculators as well as the upper-class moneyed elite who have benefited from Bush’s tax policies can happily exclaim, “Yes!”

The rest of America, on issues from economics to national security, would say, “No!”

Given that, Obama ought to be trouncing the uber-wealthy John McCain, who is among those better off under Bush’s policies. But at this point, he isn’t.

So, to paraphrase Hamlet, wherein lies the rub? Have we come too far, too fast by nominating an African American even though he is half white, native-born, and a Christian?

The fact that race is a major consideration for some Americans tells us that old thought patterns—bigotries—are hard to die.

On June 12, 1987, President Ronald Reagan stood before the Berlin Wall, which not only politically divided Berlin and Germany but also symbolized the fear and distrust each side felt towards the other in the Cold War. Reagan demanded, “Mr. Gorbachev, Tear down this wall!”

In his speech, Reagan spoke words he attributed to “a young Berliner” that had been spray-painted on the wall: “This wall will fall. Beliefs become reality.” The words were prophetic.

While nominating a black American to be President is a major step for America, electing him to serve would be our nation’s symbolic gesture of tearing down a wall—the wall that has separated us as a people since our founding.

Recently, I was talking with my twelve-year-old grandnephew, who is very excited and convinced about an Obama victory.

When I, being the older, realistic, battle-scarred veteran of the social and political wars, cautioned him about being over-confident since there are those, I reminded him, who will vote against Obama simply because of his black skin, Christopher thought for a moment and said, “That’s stupid.”

Being an English teacher, I usually ask the speaker to be more specific when he/she calls something “stupid” given it being a vague descriptor. In this case, however, I needed no clarification.

Christopher is right and hit the nail on the head: To vote against Barack Obama because of his race is stupid.

Christopher is an optimistic young American, part of the generation that has not needed to move past bigotries, for collectively they have eschewed them.

It’s we older folks who need to move past ours.

America’s future belongs more to our youth. We ancient-of-days types will in short time be part of her past. It would be wonderful to hand off this country to our young citizens in a far better shape than it is right now.

It can be done. After all, beliefs can become reality.

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