Dexter Rogers

Dexter Rogers

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Obama should use his presence to diffuse racism


President Elect Barack Obama has been busy from his offices in Chicago assembling his cabinet, meeting with former foes (Hillary Clinton and John McCain), and mapping out his strategy to get America back on track before he takes office January 20, 2009. Obama asserts his preeminent concern is to get the economy back in good standing-that’s a tall order but considering how he orchestrated his campaign perhaps he will deliver the change he’s often professed.

One of the things I marveled at during Obama’s historical run is how he diffused racism enough to win the election. I believe the reasons why this event is historic should serve as the catalysts to engage in dialogue to finally get that elephant out of the room. The elephant I’m referring to is racism.

Obama’s ascendance demonstrates he has the capacity and the means to make a difference along racial grounds. How big a priority is this to Obama? That remains to be seen.

Given the historical development of this country few thought Obama would ascended so quickly. Obama was able to neutralize race and not allow it to derail his campaign. He even managed to paint Indiana blue for the first time since 1964 along the way.

During the South Carolina primary Bill Clinton tried to invoke race by suggesting Obama was living a “fairytale.” Despite Clinton’s comments Obama marched on.

When mainstream media utilized snippets of his former pastor and friend Reverend Jeremiah Wright to thwart his campaign Obama was forced to denounce his friend and his teachings. Yet Obama still marched on.

When F.O.X.’s Bill O’Reilly suggested getting a “lynch mob” out for Michelle Obama for suggesting, "for the first time in my adult life I am proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback,” the President Elect didn’t utter a word. He just marched on.

Without question if Obama would have consistently engaged in race-based topics he wouldn’t have won the election. By deflecting the attention away from race and focusing on winning ‘the race’ Obama cleverly drew more attention to his campaign theme of “change.”

Ignoring the elephant in the room was fine to win the election but will that strategy heal the historical wounds of racism?

When certain African Americans engage with the white rich and powerful they sometimes become entrenched in that world. Over time having such relationships causes one to further distance themselves from the struggles that exist in the lower rungs of society.

On an individual level Obama’s journey will induce people to dream and aspire to greater heights. But I don’t believe Obama securing a job will diffuse racism on a universal basis unless he’s committed.

What we witnessed November 4th is what life should have been if such savage inequality didn't exist in the past. Obama’s glory for the first time gave some credence that "all men are created equal." Temporarily people in America witnessed what harmony is all about.

Typically when African American pioneers enter into a domain historically dominated by whites a huge influx of participation is expected but doesn’t happen instantaneously.

I’ll use sports to illustrate my point.

When Jackie Robinson broke the barrier in Major League Baseball in 1947 African American participation for decades was fleeting. The highest percentage was in 1983 when it was 23 percent-now African American participation is 8.2 percent and rapidly dropping.

When a 21 year old Tiger Woods won the Masters in 1997 many expected an influx of young African American talent but it hasn’t happened yet. Without question Woods is the greatest golfer of all-time and he’s the only notable African American on P.G.A. tour.

Arthur Ashe broke racial barriers in tennis when he won the U.S. Open in 1968 yet forty years later few African Americans reside at the top of the game. James Blake is a top ten player and Donald Young is on the horizon but that’s where it stops.

Venus and Serena Williams are dominating women’s tennis yet few African American women are on the radar otherwise.

Bottom line, at some point we must address the elephant in the room. Race will continue to be a factor in this country unless the subject is critically addressed.

Obama did a good job of neutralizing race to win the election but I don’t think it’s the way to go for long-term societal growth. Before we are to properly live in the present we must recognize Americas checkered past in a constructive fashion.

I know all lasting change takes time. But I believe there’s no time like the present. Change is what Obama professed. I just hope he delivers it.

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