For the 56th time in the history of our Republic, the United States of America held a peaceful election Tuesday for the office of president of the United States. For the 56th time in the history of our union, the defeated candidate demonstrated impeccable patriotism by conceding the race rather than continuing to seek power. And for the first time in our history, we decided to hand power to a man with dark skin.
It’s such an obvious historic landmark that I’m sure we’re all getting sick of hearing about it this past week. President-elect Barack Obama is the first American whose heritage visibly includes non-European ancestors to be elected to that office. To many of our generation, the issue might seem moot; we were born decades after “I Have A Dream” and grew up on messages of multiculturalism and equality. Interracial relationships were, for many of us, a non-issue, and most of us have friends we love dearly who have different heritages.
But the landmark is worth celebrating. Irrelevant of whether you are a Democrat or a Republican or a liberal or a conservative, this landmark is worth celebrating because there are still some Americans who cannot accept the idea of a black president. There are still, sadly, some people who believe that their fellow Americans are threats to them and their loved ones because of the color of their skin. There are still some Americans who are frightened by the idea of someone with a foreign-sounding name and dark skin governing our nation. And there are still some Americans who hate their fellow citizens solely because they are the descendants of Africans. These purveyors of fear and hatred have been defeated.
The landmark is worth celebrating. It is worth celebrating because, in electing Barack Obama, we have demonstrated to the world our professed beliefs in human rights are not fair-weather commitments. It is worth celebrating because the entire world will look at us differently now, astonished that a man born to what they had perhaps believed to be our “servant class” has now become the most powerful man on the face of the planet. It is worth celebrating because our commitment to equality can no longer be seen by our neighbors, allies and enemies as a collection of empty, hypocritical words, but a genuine affirmation of Jefferson’s famous words from the Declaration of Independence. The world can see we believe in human rights and equality.
The landmark is worth celebrating, most of all, because with this victory, the United States has firmly placed racial determinism in its past. We cannot ignore the fact racism continues to exist and racist power structures are still a part of our lives – but no more can we claim our institutions are without hope of reform, and no more can we claim the greatest opportunities in the world will never be given to all of America’s children. We’ll need to keep constant vigil for the emergence of racism and ethnocentrism as always, certainly. But we can also look at our collective faces in the mirror and see a country that has genuinely committed itself to the principle that all are created equal. We can, perhaps, begin to forgive ourselves and our ancestors for the original sin of slavery, and recognize even those slaveholders amongst our founders helped start the civil rights movement that has now culminated in the election of Barack Obama when they wrote the words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident … ” The United States can truly claim that it is a multicultural society.
The landmark is worth celebrating. No longer does “American” mean white. No longer will “black” mean working-class. The floodgates are fully open now, and the waves of human liberty will now wash away the sins of racism. It hasn’t happened yet. But it’s inevitable now. And it is necessary if we are going to survive the challenges facing us in the 21st Century. As King once said, “Many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.”
That is my belief. That is my hope. Maybe it’s na’ve. Maybe it’s cliché. Maybe it’s improbable. Maybe the dream will die and turn to dust. No one knows what the future will bring. But as President-elect Obama once said, “In the unlikely story of America, there has never been anything false about hope.”
Zach Wiita is a senior political science and theater studies major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected]