Thursday, August 28, 2008

A new day for the races: campaigns and otherwise

So it is now official, Barack Obama has accepted the nomination to be the Democratic Party's representative in the November elections. There is no denying it now: Barack Obama has made history.

Democratic candidate Shirley Chisholm won 28 delegate votes in 1972. Civil rights activist and Democratic candidate Jesse Jackson received 450 delegate votes in 1984, and 1200 in 1988. Republican Alan Keys has run more than one primary campaign to represent his party in the presidential elections. This is the first time that an African American/Black person has won the right to represent a major political party in general elections.

I am proud of the momentous accomplishment and exhilarated at the prospects. As a registered democrat, I am happy to have a strong contender for the White House. As an American citizen, I am relieved to have a candidate that speaks to my concerns and my hopes for my family's future. But that pride and exhilaration come from the fact that I am black. There is no denying that either. The dialogue on race has become deafening since speculation began that Senator Obama might run for president. Is America ready for a black president? Can we look past race to see the issues? Are African-Americans supporting him because he's black or will self-deprecation and doubt prevent Black America from voting for him?

I think the discussions are great. Whenever there is sharing and pooling in the marketplace of ideas we are all better for it. I also think that the senator himself has provided undeniable answers to some of those questions.

As I listened to residents of a small town in Middle America being interviewed on a National Public Radio show, I came to the painful realization that all of America is not ready for a black president. There is unfortunately a large swath of small-minded ignoramuses across this country who just can't vote for a negro. However, as the ever-growing crowds who gather at Obama events prove, that is not the case for most Americans. I am thankful that President-in-waiting Obama chose not to make race an issue in his campaign. He has made his appeal to all America and his supporters cut across race lines. There has been no battle call directed at African-Americans; but rather, a message of hope directed at all Americans. The result was the flag-waving throng of supporters who packed Invesco Field to the rafters to hear Senator Obama's acceptance speech on Thursday night. America is ready for a new way of doing business in Washington and the person delivering the message of hope in 2008 just happens to be a black man. America is ok with that.

Poll after poll has shown that the things Americans most care about are the economy, gas prices and the War in Iraq. Blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians. We care about the rising number of foreclosures that is threatening to lay fallow the American dream for families across the country. Increasingly Americans are becoming concerned about the economic and environmental impact of our dependence on foreign oil. And as the number of casualties go up in Iraq in a seemingly futile war, we want to see an end to the U.S. occupation. The candidate who has the best plan for addressing those concerns is the candidate who will win. Americans are looking beyond race, to the issues -- in no small part because they are so important this year. This also because Senator Obama has stayed on the issues. He has not sought refuge behind the race card, but has convinced the world of his viability based on his solid plan, expertise, experience, strength of character, insight and vision.

While the African-American community does typically celebrate black 'firsts' with pride and relish, the worry that a vote for a black presidential candidate would be a wasted vote made voting for Barack Obama in the primaries far from certain for many. Now that he has won the party's nomination, that is no longer a concern. I am certain that some African-Americans will vote for Obama solely because he is black. I am equally certain that many more democrats will vote for him solely because he is a democrat. Is anyone having a problem with that? I know the Obama camp is not. If all of Black America is going to turn out the polls (Well, we can hope.) to vote for a candidate because he is black, then I for one am grateful that the candidate would have earned my vote even if he was white.

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