Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Race Card Out of the Deck

Over fifty years after Brown vs. Board of Education legally ended desegregation, could this election finally put the race issue to rest for all but extremist whites, blacks and hispanics?

Just 24 years ago, when Jesse Jackson ran for the Democratic presidential nomination, it was considered little more than a symbolic gesture by even liberal Democrats. I'll give an example of a common joke in Georgia at the time: Jesse Jackson is praying. “Lord, will there ever be an end to world hunger?” God replies, “Not in your lifetime Jesse.” “Well Lord, will there ever be peace in the middle east?” Again the answer from above comes, “Not in your lifetime, Jesse.” Finally Jesse asks, “Will there ever be a black president of the United States?” God says, “Not in MY lifetime, Jesse.”

Everyone loves Will Smith, and he is the most profitable and consistent movie star of all time. This is surely progress, although white Americans have always been willing to be entertained by minorities. Will Smith however, is invariably the star and hero in his blockbuster films. Reasonable people can disagree about the significance of a black man being the biggest movie star of all time. However, this year a black man defeated Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee. This also involved defeating the Clinton machine, which has controlled the party for 16 years. Moreover, he beat her so decisively, that he was free to ignore Hillary, and nominate an old establishment white guy, as his running mate. This changes everything, at least it should.

Even if Obama somehow self-destructs and McCain wins, hopefully we as a people can stop obsessing over race. A generation of children will grow up having seen a person of color ahead in the race for the ultimate seat of power. They will know that almost as many white Americans will support a minority for president as will typically support a white Democrat. When you subtract blacks and Hispanics from the polls, Obama is still getting about 40% of white voters right now. Almost as many as Clinton got in either election he won. The children of today won't even know a time, when it was unthinkable to have a black president.

There will still be bigots, who instill racism in their kids, but they will be more marginalized than ever. They will hold no more sway in the larger culture, than the people who think the space program is a hoax, or that Alaska could secede. This is all the case if Obama loses. If he wins, as it looks like he will, we should really be able to shut the door on the idea of two, or three Americas. We'll have a black Commander in Chief. This after eight years of Republican rule, that has included TWO African-American Secretaries of State, and a Hispanic Attorney General, whether you like their politics or not.

Will the cliché coined by Rodney King, “Can't we all just get along?” finally be answered with a resounding yes? To be sure there will be people with power and influence, whose very livelihoods, compel them to continue to pit ethnic groups against each other. Let's just hope we will start ignoring them.

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