How our dealings with race will define us
Published: Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 10, 2012 22:10
Whatever the outcome of the presidential election in November is, the date will mark a significant anniversary of one of the most proud and historical moments in American history. Roughly four years ago, in 2008, the citizens of this nation chose to allow the office of the commander-in-chief to be held by the first African American person since our nation’s founding in 1776.
Tuesday night, I attended a lecture that Dan Rather gave at Eastern Connecticut State University. During that lecture he said that when history is written, hopefully several years down the line, how our generation decides to handle racial equality will be a huge factor in the way that those pages of history are written. He was right. And I think that, as a nation, we have treated the historical nature of Barack Obama being the first African American to hold the office the best way that we possibly could – by mostly ignoring it.
Before I explain myself further, I have to say that my compliments are geared toward the American people and are neither a condemnation nor a defense of the president himself. I say that because, in this volatile time, opinions about the man are being flung left and right and I don’t wish for my point to get clogged up in bi-partisan noise.
As I mentioned, Barack Obama as an African American man has not come up a great deal in the past four years. When he was first elected, I didn’t subscribe to the idea that he won the race simply because Americans wanted to show off their progressive attitude and elect a black man. However, I had concerns that people would be willing to give him a pass on key issues because they wanted their children to be able to read history books about the first African American president being a wild success story. I made the unnecessary proclamation several times in 2008 that it would be history’s job to judge the president on his adequacy as the first black man to be commander-in-chief and that it was our job, as citizens under his administration, to pretend that his race was a non-issue. It is not the job of the people in the present to begin writing history. While Rather was right to remind our generation that the future will be reviewing our performance someday, we can not allow the wish of a successful African American president to be the father of the story.
I say that this was an unnecessary claim because, through what I’m sure has nothing to do with my constant proclamation, the president has not been held to any historical standard as a black man – yet. It would seem that, as a generation, we’re allowing the historians of generations to come to worry about that issue. As well we should.
I admit that it is a weird thing to think about, the fact that Obama’s critics should be praised for not giving him cart blanch over every decision simply because they didn’t want to step on the toes of the first black president in history. Having said that, I would argue that it was a legitimate concern for many following the 2008 election. So while it is a narrow view that I’m using, specifically to draw attention to this particular point of race, I must congratulate Democratic and Republican critics alike, for making the Barack Obama stand on merit as a president and not a historical African American figure and, although I cannot speak for the man, I’m sure that he would too.
I’m proud, as a young American, that the danger of writing off the previous four years as being too historical to touch was no real danger at all. I’m proud that the race for the next four years is in a dead heat that has precious little, if not nothing, to do with the fact that one candidate is a white man and the other a black man. I’m proud that, for everything that our generation seems to be keen to screw up, we’re at least not allowing our view of history to skew, tire or get away from us.