THIS WEEK, DON’T BE BLIND TO COLOR
Tonight, we witness history. A black man will, for the first time, accept a major political party’s nomination for President of the United States.
When we all initially learned about Barack, we thought he was wonderful. Republican, Democrat, Independent, it didn’t matter. Everyone was extremely impressed with him. But that was before he began his run for President. Now, we have witnessed talking heads, competing politicians, and political advertisers relentlessly take shots at him. Most recently, we have heard him mocked as, essentially, an uppity man-child who doesn’t know that his place is at the bottom, not the top of the ticket. Kind of like at the back of a bus, if you know what I mean.
Barack Obama was a community organizer for years. He’s been a professor of constitutional law at one of our nation’s top law schools. He was the first President of the Harvard Law Review, an organization that only accepts the very best and brightest. (Trust me – as someone who didn’t make the Law Review at Harvard, those kids were damned smart!)
Barack served for many years as a state legislator, and then for several more years in the United States Senate. He has delivered many incredible political speeches. One such speech was his party’s keynote address at their previous Convention; another was a speech he gave arguing against a then-popular war of choice, which has turned out to be an unmitigated disaster for our nation and our world.
Barack has put together a campaign staff that revolutionized American politics with its ability to organize the grass roots and take advantage of modern communications media. He has inspired young voters, black voters, and intellectual voters like no candidate in recent memory. And, in order to claim his Party’s nomination, he had to defeat one of the most formidable political machines in recent American history.
Barack Obama is now older than Teddy Roosevelt, Bill Clinton, John F. Kennedy and Ulysses Grant were when they were elected President. He surely has earned his place at the top of his Party’s ticket.
During the next several weeks, the haters will tell you that Barack isn’t ready for prime time. They will tell you that his time is in the future, not the present. They will mock him as politics’ answer to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton – a celebrity who’s all style, no substance.
Well, you can judge the man’s substance for yourselves. But on one point, please don’t let the haters convince you. Don’t let them convince you that Barack’s race is no big deal. It’s a plenty big deal.
If there’s one inspiring thing we should take from the campaign of Hillary Clinton, it’s the idea that now, finally, women feel that they are ready to enter the White House as Presidents, not merely first ladies. It’s about time, wouldn’t you say? But other major industrialized western countries have had women leaders. What they haven’t had – what we haven’t had – is a black leader. And we sorely need one.
We need to make a statement to all the young black boys and girls in America that ours is a nation of equality. They’ve heard the words before -- “we hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal” – but they also heard that those words were penned by a slave owner who thought that black folks were, genetically, intellectually inferior to whites … or Native Americans. They or their parents have been forced to attend separate schools, drink from separate fountains, and urinate in separate bathrooms. They’ve been informed that they are welcome as athletes or entertainers … but not as physicists or brain surgeons.
But that was before Barack.
With the nomination of Barack Obama, I feel that “my team” has just won the Conference Championship game and will get to play for the Super Bowl. I say “my team” not because I’m black, which I’m not, but because I have had a visceral concern for the rights of black people for as long as I remember. My parents took me to civil rights rallies, like Resurrection City, back in the 60s when I was still young and impressionable, and that convinced me that my country will never be truly great until it rights the wrongs of racism.
Now’s the time to do just that.
Let’s think back to when we all first learned about Barack – before the haters took over. Let’s think back to how impressed we were with his core. His intellect. His judgment. His bearing.
And now, let’s remember what every sports fan and every athlete will tell you about the Super Bowl: it’s not enough to get there. The point is to win the damn thing. And now, we must all join together and throw our energies – our heart and soul – into doing just that. We must will Barack Obama to the White House, where he belongs.
What is at stake is not merely the chance to move past the sorriest chapters in American history. What is at stake is the opportunity to inspire those Americans who have lost hope and faith simply because of their race. To illustrate this point, I’d like to attach a small scene from The Creed Room. I call it the Metaphor of the Inverted Track.
The speaker, Scott Shaw, is an educated, but angry, black man in his late 20s.
“You can’t talk about justice in the U.S. without starting with the subject of race. Conservatives want to white-wash that word. They say bigotry's gone. A new day has dawned. I say they're not color blind, they're just plain blind!
“You know what the problem is? White folks just don’t understand the sport of track. At least I assume they don't, because I never see a white boy compete in the 100 or 200 meters.
“Since most of you are white, let me help you out with this one. We’re watching as they set up for the 200. If you’ve never seen that race before, it might look kind of funny, because the guy in lane one is standing several feet behind the guy in lane two, who’s standing several feet behind the guy in lane three. You get the picture. They’re all running a short race to get to the same place halfway around the track. What gives? Why the staggered start?
“They stagger it because the guys in the outside lanes have to run around a wider circle. So if we’re going to make the race fair, we’ve gotta do something to make it harder for the folks on the inside. We've got to move them further back from the finish line when we start the race.
“But that’s track. It’s a black man’s sport. Arthur was talking before about a white man’s game – the glorious competition for money, power and status. In Arthur's game, nobody but a white man has ever been elected President or Vice President. That's because the white folks rigged the game. In the white man’s race, folks line up in a staggered position, only the guys on the inside are starting several feet closer to the finish line, not further back. It kind of makes it easy to win when you’re starting on the inside, doesn’t it? When you’re on the outside, you’ve got to run a ways just to get to where the inside guy was starting, and then you’ve got to run a wider circle once you get there.
“In the white man’s race, the positions have names. The inside lanes are called Beverly Hills, Scarsdale, La Jolla. Or Art's Potomac, upstream from George Washington’s beautiful plantation. And the outside lanes, they’re called Watts, Anacostia and Harlem. Oh, and the South Bronx. That'd be Lane 8.
“We’ve talked a bit about Lane 1, remember? We said if you start in that lane and want to become an entrepreneur, maybe, just maybe, you don't need the guts of a burglar. What about Lane 8? In that lane, you get to attend integrated schools, or so they say. But I’ll let you guess how many White Anglo Saxon Protestants attend public schools in the South Bronx.
“What else do we know about Lane 8? You live in a shit hole. To get there from school, you’ve gotta walk past gang bangers and drug addicts. You see hookers too. Everywhere you look, the hos are out, just letting you know there’s still a few ways left to make money. When you get home, Daddy’s long gone. Mommy’s there, barely literate. Maybe even on drugs. She's trying to get you a square meal and hardly worried if you don't have all the books you need to master your social studies project. Computer? What’s a computer?
“If you’re lucky, you survive childhood. But even if you do, they'll say you’re stupid, though it turns out you might actually have become smart, if you hadn’t grown up in Lane 8.”
Barack Obama didn’t grow up in Lane 8. But – unlike John McCain and George W. Bush – he didn’t grow up in Lane 1 either. A child of a single mother, a man who carries with him the pigment that has for so many represented “lack of intellect,” Barack stands before us as a role model for blacks, Latinos, and other people of color. And a reminder to whites that racism must be torn asunder root and branch.
To the haters out there – the Roves and, yes, even the McCains -- who would seek to continue to belittle Barack as you have the last few weeks … remember how gracefully the speakers at Barack’s convention spoke about the Republican candidate. They questioned his policies, but they pulled punch after punch about his personal character. They treated him as a true American hero.
Well, folks, John McCain is an American hero. But so is Barack Obama. There have been many prisoners of war. And God bless them all. But there have been precious few men and women who have taken the civil rights movement as far along as has Barack Obama. When we criticize his character at this juncture in history, we don’t belittle his dignity, we belittle our own. In the name of all that is holy, let’s not allow that to happen.