Sunday, September 07, 2008

Our Moment in History

(I originally wrote this on 8/31/08 and meant to post it immediately thereafter. It's less timely now, but still worth posting.)

This week we were witness to an historical event and we must remember this moment. When Barack Obama accepted the nomination of the Democratic Party for President, he became the first person of African descent to be a major party nominee. I am pleased with his nomination for many reasons that having nothing to do with this historical fact, but this fact may tell us something about where we've come as a country. It was not all that long ago that blacks didn't even have the right to vote in this country. And by itself that was a long way to travel from the time before the Civil War when they had no rights at all.

Of course, it cannot be said that he nominee's race is not an issue. In the primary, as it will be in the general election, many voted, if not primarily at least in part, on race. There are still those who believe that black man should know his place or think that his race means that his politics are suspect. This thinking is abhorrent, but it does not please either when I hear of people voting for him simply because he is black. (Funny how hard it is to right that word.)

While I suspect the eagerness of some to see a man succeed despite the societal hindrances of his race, I want certain things out of my President that have not a thing to do with his or her race.

Serendipitously, I'm currently reading Edward P. Jones's All Aunt Hagar's Children, a brilliant collection of short stories by an African American author. Here, the race only matters because the race maters for many of his characters, despite my ability to forget their race or the author's. And as much as the press has been exercised in discussions of race and the biographies of the Obamas, I've been especially tuned to the struggles particular to their race. I was stunned to hear commentators seeming to learn for the first time about a family's move from the south to attempt a new life in the industrial north. Apparently, they've never read any African American literature. Makes me wonder how they would react to reading Invisible Man. And what stereotypes would they form after reading it?

Despite Thursday night's event taking place here in Denver, I like most people watched on TV as Obama accepted the nomination and delivered a speech on America's Promise with great pride. I was not only proud that the candidate who I supported during the primaries was actually going to be the party's nominee, I was also proud of my country. Now, I want him to win and such a win will say a great deal about where we are as a country. Winning the nomination, though, out of a field of candidates whose views are not altogether disparate tells me much about where we are today. And I'm pleased and prideful to be a witness to this moment in history.

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