Blacks Debate Civil Rights Risk in Obama’s Rise: Even if Elected President, It Won't Be Enough
As a long-time activist (AKA hell-raiser) for equal rights, I, too, worry about this question. As a woman, I know that even Secretary of State Condi Rice's job doesn't totally negate all the lingering sexism around.
Just as I know her accomplishments, and those of Obama and many other blacks (including black astronauts, included in some of my best NASA friends) don't totally eradicate racism.
As a minority (Native American) myself who walks a bi-cultural line, often migrating between worlds (I'm a traditional), I know what racism is like. I know what it looks like, sounds like, smells like, and feels like.
Just as I know what sexism is. Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to serve in the U.S. congress, and the first real, viable black candidate for president, is someone who I knew and admired deeply. Her courage and accomplishments should be a beacon to all--but her accomplishments have been shoveled under by the Barack Obama camp, who should be waving them about.
Why aren't they? Male ego. In no way does Obama or his camp wish to acknowledge the prior accomplishments--let alone the prior presidential campaign--of this tough little woman.
He's got to be the first black to run for president, doncha know.
Chisholm had this to say about racism and sexism: "Of my two "handicaps" being female put more obstacles in my path than being black."
Even here on NP I've seen sexism, although supposedly disguised, leave its mark. I know what that looks like, sounds like, smells like and feels like, too. I know that the subtle version, amidst "oh no, we're not sexist" claims, is harder to root out and fight than the overt version I, and others of my generation, battled years ago.
Frankly, I prefer the overt version--at least it's more honest and you can confront it and educate.
I know that sexism still exists. I know that racism still exists. And here's my take on it: with agencies, laws, and policies--which we didn't have when I busted barriers to achieve in formerly "male only" environments-- we've done as much as we can legally. With those steps, and the new generational attitudes that simply don't care about color of skin, I think we've got as level a playing field as we will ever have, dealing with humans.
Note that I didn't say "as level as we should have." Why? Because we are all human, and I've come to acknowledge that neither racism nor sexim will ever be rooted out. You can't educate everyone; you can't reach every heart.
But you can legislate and make laws and rules to block the application of racism and sexism. When I began my career, there were no agencies, nor laws, to help women. Each of us who broke glass ceilings -- with our heads, which required blood and often scars--did so on our own. And bandaged ourselves up. The women's movement took time to get rolling, and in the meantime, most of we foot soldiers just fought the good fight on our own.
Today it's different. And today, young people, and even older people, simply aren't concerned whether or not their friend is the same "race" they are. And I count that attitude as among the achievements of my generation, and the ones who came before.
Getting to where we are today hasn't been easy. I honor Rosa Parks, who wouldn't give her bus seat up, a life-risking sit-down. I honor so many who have gone before and actually taken the physical hits, as well as the economic and psychological/emotional hits, to move Obama, as the net result, to where he is.
And so I'm worried-when will enough be enough? I think that the playing of the race card with Obama was an insult to every person who ever labored, in their own way, to eradicate racism--and whose work got him first to the Senate, and then into the race.
I think that electing a president because of race, to "prove" something, as so many Obamites have said, is a suicide policy. With the race card thrown in our faces all the time, the bottom line is this: back lash. The pendulum swinging the other way.
I'm sure that those promoting Obama on the basis of race didn't think ahead to that. Or, if they did, they didn't care that upcoming blacks might suffer from the back lash of too much race card playing by the Obama camp and followers.
I worry that the "it's not enough" refrain will continue, and that, given Obama's attitude that his is a single, solitary accomplishment (he's made sure to distance himself from Chisholm, and others), the upcoming issues will be about "it's not enough." If that's true, then the back lash for equal rights will be enormous, and terribly damaging.
It's not that we should stop fighting, in our daily lives, in ways little as well as big, for equal rights. We should do that--I still do, and I take the hits now and then. But when, despite all the advances, a large group emerges to say "it's not enough," what is set up is the obvious: "so what will be enough?"
And that one question will engender anger, I'm afraid. And a more than a few steps back from the equal rights we've worked to hard to achieve.
On some days, I wish we could have a program that would zap every single head that held sexist or racist thoughts and "cure" them of those thoughts. That would include those who are racist toward whites, too.
But we don't. And frankly, the thought of that, while temporarily evoking a smile at the thought of no more racism or sexism, kinda gives me a chill. Because, after all, we are humans, not robots, and we must work out our own destinies.
And I hope that the in the future, the "it's not enough" crowd doesn't empower the lurking racists/sexists to say "no matter what, it will never be enough for your group, so let's stop trying." It's not that the lingering -ists will say that--it's that they will subver the platform that the great middle body of citizens inhabit.
And that platform, rocked, can rock our worlds. So we need to approach the "it's not enough" viewpoint with extreme caution. Racism, I've learned, will never be wiped out, nor sexism. We just must deal with them--and as a society, America has dealt with those flaws as best we can, in terms of laws, policies, and new cultural expectations.
Why don't we all just agree to go forward? Instead of looking for divisions to spotlight, instead decide: "in this new century, we've overcome our past as best we can at this time, and we all pledge to continue on that path--together."
On the night that Senator Barack Obama accepts the Democratic nomination for president, Roderick J. Harrison plans to pop open a bottle of Champagne and sit riveted before the television with his wife and 12-year-old son.
Mr. Harrison, a demographer who is black, says he expects to feel chills when Mr. Obama becomes the first black presidential candidate to lead a major party ticket. But as the Democratic convention gets under way, Mr. Harrison’s anticipation is tempered by uneasiness as he wonders: Will Mr. Obama’s success further the notion that the long struggle for racial equality has finally been won?