It’s important to set difficult goals and work to reach them. But it’s also important to look back occasionally and realize how much you’ve already accomplished. When it comes to race, Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential bid gives our country -- which is famous for striving but not known for introspection -- a perfect opportunity to do just that.
Critics insist the U.S. remains a racist nation. Race-baiters such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton still make nice livings insisting that racism is all around us. The United Nations, an organization that contains a number of prison states, recently decried “stark racial disparities” in the way black prisoners are treated here. Hum. On the whole, I’d rather be a prisoner in the U.S. than a common citizen in Venezuela.
But the fact is that our country has basically put racism behind it. Obama’s the proof.
He’s the first black man with a legitimate chance to be elected president. That doesn’t mean he’s the first black man to run for president. In 1988 Jesse Jackson’s bid fell far short of the Democratic nomination, but he did manage to rile up quite a few people. Jackson’s election “would be the greatest tragedy ever to befall this country,” white supremacist David Duke warned. Duke even launched a counter bid aimed at blocking the Jackson campaign.
Today, though, Duke sounds almost blasé. Michael Crowley of The New Republic tracked him down recently, and Duke said his supporters “don’t see much difference” between Obama and “Hillary Clinton -- or, for that matter, John McCain.”
In January, Obama won the Iowa caucuses. The fact that a black man prevailed in one of the whitest states in the nation shows how far our nation has come in its quest to overcome racism. Still, it would have been reasonable to expect some racist backlash.
The Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala. exists specifically to highlight racism. Yet when the center’s Mark Potok studied the Web after Iowa he realized, “You could find people saying nasty words about Obama, but it wasn’t red-hot at all.” In the past month Potak has changed his tune somewhat. “The tone has begun to heat up,” he told Bloomberg News. But, interestingly, he wasn’t able to add any light to the heat by citing any specific threats.
Well, since it’s his job to highlight specific threats, it stands to reason that, if there were any, he’d be able to cite one. Apparently, in our continental nation of 300 million people, the vaunted SPLC can’t find one crank who’s written a blog post promising to take out Obama because of his race. That’s a positive development.
Let’s recall that, as recently as 1974, baseball player Hank Aaron received numerous, credible death threats as he approached the vaunted career home run record held by Babe Ruth. He was so nervous he kept his sons away from the ballpark. That’s an example of racism within living memory.
It’s difficult to even imagine something like that happening today. Black athletes and Hispanic athletes are considered heroes by many youngsters -- what 10-year-old wouldn’t want to grow up to be Michel Jordan or Alex Rodriguez? We need to look back and recall how far we’ve come.
As the Democratic primary process drags on through the spring and summer in a virtual tie, candidates Clinton and Obama (and their surrogates) are likely to highlight their gender and race, respectively. That makes sense, since each is trying to attract every superdelegate and those are the only traits that divide the candidates.
On policy, they both proclaim Iraq a failure and our economy a shambles. Both believe ordinary Americans can’t be trusted with responsibility and must be nannied by the federal government. Identity politics is about the only idea today’s liberals have left.
But the movement Obama started earlier in this campaign cannot be stopped. “He’s post-civil rights movement,” Walter Jacobs, chairman of the department of African-American and African studies at the University of Minnesota, says.
That’s where our country will soon be as well: post-civil rights movement.
All too often, those who benefit by promoting racism make it sound as if our country is divided into armed camps -- with blacks fighting whites -- when in fact race relations are better than they’ve ever been.
The days of government-enforced segregation are long past. The days of government-enforced affirmative action should soon be, as well, when we finally celebrate our successes and embrace a brighter future.
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