Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Are we no longer racist?

Let me apologize up front for this post. I don't want to rain on the parade. Obama's election is the most amazing thing I've witnessed and it is hard to overstate what happened in this country yesterday. Let me correct that. What happened didn't just happen last night, it's been happening for decades. Last night was just the finishing touch.

Now for the rain. It's worth investigating whether last night really was the end of racism in this country, as some seem to suggest. David Shuster and Chris Matthews were just on my TV talking about the racial barrier being shattered. The New York Times reported that the election swept "away the last racial barrier in American politics with ease." But I'm not convinced.

The first thing I woke up to this morning -- the Chicago Tribune -- had a different take. On its front page was a sobering thought: "The Obama presidency may be a sign that a country that all too recently tolerated segregation has moved irrevocably forward, or it may mean only that the nation is so hungry for change that it set racial struggles aside."

The racism in this country is too deep to be swallowed with one election. Dr. King's dream was not realized last night. This discussion is not over. 

It's a time to celebrate for sure. It's a time to cry in joy, no doubt. It's a time to reflect on where the country has been and how much we have accomplished. But it is also a time to realize that there is a lot more to do. 

It's hard to imagine a Democrat of any color would have lost this year's election. Not even John Kerry could lose after eight years of George Bush. In other words, this election was more about removing Republicans from office than burying our racist past. 

Before we start saying that last night was final proof that Jefferson's "all men are created equal" crede has finally become a reality, consider this: On the same day we elected our first black president, one of our most progressive states voted to ban gay marriage in the state's constitution. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Stories from today

I've been struggling with how to write about this day, so let me direct you to a couple things I have found over the Internet or from friends. Here's a picture, via Andrew Sullivan, of a polling line in Washington, DC.

And here's a story posted on Talking Points memo. The story is about a father voting with his son. I don't have children, but I remember going to the polls with my parents and pulling the lever. Be sure to read to the bottom:

I have a confession to make.

I did not vote for Barack Obama today.

I've openly supported Obama since March.  But I didn't vote for him today.

I wanted to vote for Ronald Woods.  He was my algebra teacher at Clark Junior High in East St. Louis, IL.  He died 15 years ago when his truck skidded head-first into a utility pole.  He spent many a day teaching us many things besides the Pythagorean Theorem.  He taught us about Medgar Evers, Ralph Abernathy, John Lewis and many other civil rights figures who get lost in the shadow cast by Martin Luther King, Jr.

But I didn't vote for Mr. Woods.

I wanted to vote for Willie Mae Cross.  She owned and operated Crossroads Preparatory Academy for almost 30 years, educating and empowering thousands of kids before her death in 2003.  I was her first student.  She gave me my first job, teaching chess and math concepts to kids in grades K-4 in her summer program.  She was always there for advice, cheer and consolation.  Ms. Cross, in her own way, taught me more about walking in faith than anyone else I ever knew.

But I didn't vote for Ms. Cross.

I wanted to vote for Arthur Mells Jackson, Sr. and Jr.  Jackson Senior was a Latin professor.  He has a gifted school named for him in my hometown.  Jackson Junior was the pre-eminent physician in my hometown for over 30 years.  He has a heliport named for him at a hospital in my hometown.  They were my great-grandfather and great-uncle, respectively.

But I didn't vote for Prof. Jackson or Dr. Jackson.

I wanted to vote for A.B. Palmer.  She was a leading civil rights figure in Shreveport, Louisiana, where my mother grew up and where I still have dozens of family members.  She was a strong-willed woman who earned the grudging respect of the town's leaders because she never, ever backed down from anyone and always gave better than she got.  She lived to the ripe old age of 99, and has a community center named for her in Shreveport.

But I didn't vote for Mrs. Palmer.

I wanted to vote for these people, who did not live to see a day where a Black man would appear on their ballots on a crisp November morning.

In the end, though, I realized that I could not vote for them any more than I could vote for Obama himself. 

So who did I vote for?

No one.

I didn't vote.  Not for President, anyway. 

Oh, I went to the voting booth.  I signed, was given my stub, and was walked over to a voting machine.  I cast votes for statewide races and a state referendum on water and sewer improvements.

I stood there, and I thought about all of these people, who influenced my life so greatly.  But I didn't vote for who would be the 44th President of the United States.

When my ballot was complete, except for the top line, I finally decided who I was going to vote for - and then decided to let him vote for me.  I reached down, picked him up, and told him to find Obama's name on the screen and touch it.

And so it came to pass that Alexander Reed, age 5, read the voting screen, found the right candidate, touched his name, and actually cast a vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

Oh, the vote will be recorded as mine.  But I didn't cast it. 

Then again, the person who actually pressed the Obama box and the red "vote" button was the person I was really voting for all along. 

It made the months of donating, phonebanking, canvassing, door hanger distributing, sign posting, blogging, arguing and persuading so much sweeter. 

So, no, I didn't vote for Barack Obama.  I voted for a boy who now has every reason to believe he, too, can grow up to be anything he wants...even President.