The 2008 Presidential race has brought to front and center something that many thought would never be an issue: the race of the President. We've come a long way in the last fifty years, but we still have a long way to go. As enlightened as we think we are, many of us still harbor some latent prejudices, and they cloud our judgment. With the Presidential election upon us, we may soon see where we are in this continuum.
The last three generations have seen a tremendous shift in our society. For those of us in the middle, "Baby-boomers," mostly, the greatest shift occurred as we were growing into adulthood during the tumultuous 50s, 60s and 70s. Our parents and their forebears grew up more isolated, and our children (and now their children, a fourth generation) have been more exposed to the blending that has been taking place in our melting pot of a nation. Our society is becoming more homogeneous, not in terms of class and social status, but in terms of the cultures and ethnicities of its citizens. However, some cultural and ethnic differences remain, and they still tend to divide us.
One thing that continues to divide America, and indeed the world, is the very notion of preserving ethnicity. While it is important to remember our roots and keep our cultural heritages alive, we must not continue to isolate ourselves in our ethnic silos. Celebrating various cultural heritages can be enriching and entertaining for everyone.
For the enlightened among us, it's no longer adequate to think in terms of tolerance – we need to do better. We must learn to accept and respect our ethnic and cultural differences, and understand that each of us sees things uniquely, viewed through the prism of our individual experiences and what we are taught.
Born in the 50s, I came of age as the civil rights movement changed the course of our great country. I witnessed the acts of civil disobedience that exploded into lawlessness and chaos, from Rosa Parks' refusal to ride in the back of the bus, to Martin Luther King's assassination, to the riots that followed, to the civil unrest that continued through the Vietnam War era. The civil rights movement was a social revolution of sorts, and we came out the other side of it with a different perspective. We began to realize that in this country we thought so advanced, with opportunity so equal, things weren't as advanced or equal as we had believed. As the next generation began to germinate, though, this different perspective became genetically encoded as this group grew to be less discerning of differences.
There are many differences that are worth preserving: right and wrong, child and adult, Democrat and Republican... But at our core as human beings, we're all people. Race, like religion, sex, and age, should not be a determinant in elections, business, education, or rights of any kind. None of us gets to choose our parentage or the circumstances of our birth, so we've got to make the best of who and what we are. Of course, as a white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant, middle-aged male, that's easy for me to say.
During the primaries and the Presidential election campaign, a lot has been said about Barack Obama becoming the first black president, and Senator Obama doesn't dispute it. He refers to himself, rightfully so, as African-American. I've never cared for that politically correct term, but if anyone is African-American, it's Barack Obama – son of a black African man and a white American woman. In his own words, he's "an American with the blood of Africa coursing through his veins." But if we have to label him, why can't we just see him as the first Hawaiian president? After all, he was born in Honolulu!
This election demonstrates that we're moving in the right direction. In an era when people of all races, religions, sexes and orientations are finding doors opening, the fact that Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin have reached where they are is testimony. But for those of us who remember how things were before the social revolution, continuing to think and talk about the differences between peoples only reinforces a latent prejudice within us. Senator McCain's campaign has sought to catalyze a reaction with intimations that Senator Obama is somehow different. Instead, we need to focus on what we have in common, how we are the same, and how we are all in this together.
Having come to this enlightened realization, I recently found myself needing to identify my race on an application, among the choices: "White, African-American, Latino, Asian or Other;" I thought about it for a moment, chose "Other," and wrote in next to it, "Human." When I vote in this year's Presidential election, I'll take one step further, and cast my vote for the man who embodies the greatest hope for our future and the future of humanity.