Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Episode 3: A new hope

Okay, this ISN'T about Star Wars, sorry.  Its just my geeky way of talking about my feelings today, the day after we elected our first Afro-American president.

Listening to the Radio today I heard a lot of back and forthing about  what this means.  (Besides meaning that much of America hates George W Bush and anyone associated with him.)  The focus seemed to be "does this mean America is no longer racist."

Well, would that it did, but that's jumping to the ends of a story that we are still very much at the start of.  I don't think this means racism is dead in America.  I don't even think this means that specifically racial prejudice against Afro-Americans in politics is dead.  But I do think its the start of something.

Today, I find myself thinking a lot about a baseball player named Jackie Robinson.  Branch Rickey, then president of the Brooklyn Dodgers, was a pretty wise man.  When he decided he wanted to integrate his baseball team he went looking not just for a player who was as good as the white players, but one who was significantly better.  And not just better at baseball, a better figure of a man.  He knew that *any* negative perception of the first black player in the major leagues would doom the effort.  Foibles and weaknesses that would be forgiven in any white player would be held up by the opponents of the effort as "obvious signs that black men aren't suited to playing a 'white game.'"

The words "black man" would not have been used at the time, but we all know what word woudl have been and there is no reason or excuse to use it here.  But the man for the job would have to listen to it, day in and day out, and not rise to the bait.  To be better, much better, not just then all his fellow players but then the people who would seek to pull him down.

Not only did he need a man who could survive such a scrutinized and intense fishbowl of a life, but he needed one willing to do so.  That takes a very special kind of commitment.  One I think very few of us could have.  I doubt I could.

He found his man in Jackie Robinson.  And thanks to Robinson's bravery, strength of character, and willingness to self-sacrifice-- today crowds of Americans of all races and background routinely gather into stadiums to cheer loudly for teams composed not just of white and black men, but many other races as well.  It didn't happen over-night.  But jackie Robinson started the process that led there.

When I look at Barak Obama on the podium, I see Jackie Robinson.  And the same rules unfortunately hold for him.  He had to be not just a good politician to get where he is now, but a great one.  In all likelyhood the greatest one I am going to see  in my own lifetime.  But its not over with the election.  The kind of wanton mis-deeds America has forgiven other Presidents for, he won't be. 

He will need to be better then them, better then all the rest of us. When he talks about wanting to unify America it can't be the Bush/Rove idea of unification which came down to "Okay, now everyone unify by doing it MY way." He is going to have to really follow through on his acceptance speech promise to make all of America feel listened to and engaged.  Even people he might inwardly cringe just to be in the same room with.

But if he can do it, then it just might be the beginning of the end of prejudice against Afro-Americans in the American political system.

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