Monday, November 10, 2008

What difference does the election of Barack Obama mean for race reconciliation in America?

NOW WE CAN TALK ABOUT RACE. The one thing it wasn't politically correct to talk about during the Presidential campaign -- race -- is what everyone is now talking about. What was minimized in the news media and by the campaigns (for the most part) is now maximized. Before the election, Barack Obama's racial background was emphatically de-emphasized. Since the election, it is jubilantly celebrated. A barrier once thought insurmountable was overwhelmed. Americans are in awe. The world is in awe.

COULD WE DO IT? Weren't many of us holding our collective breath on election day? Weren't we a bit afraid of watching the returns? Would the "Bradley Effect" be repeated? Would whites actually vote the same way they were telling pollsters they were intending? Were enough of us able to vote our conscience and hopes over our prejudices and fears--regardless of whether we voted for John McCain or Barack Obama? Someone asked me today if was a happy with the outcome. More like relieved. I celebrate that collectively Americans exercised a conscience that bends toward common sense and grace--at least every now and then.

A BIT OF ALL OF US. It is fitting, it seems to me, to celebrate the election of a President who light-heartedly referred to himself as a "mutt" in his first press conference. Son of a black Kenyan father and white Kansan mother and raised partly by Midwestern grandparents in both international and homeland communities, Obama is a living expression of the oft-touted American melting pot. He is African American, but not just African American. He is a bit of all of us--whatever our backgrounds. So, this breakthrough is not just for African Americans, but for all of us.

ENJOY THE JUBILATION. Still, I don't think I as a white American can begin to feel what black Americans are feeling right now. Whatever appreciation and wonder I feel at the election of a minority to be President of the United States must pale in comparison to what African American citizens are experiencing in the wake of November 4th. So I say to all white Americans, some of whom are already expressing weary words at the extended jubilation of blacks: stand down. If you can't share in the deep significance and collective joy of this extended moment, please at least just try to watch for awhile. Perhaps in watching--in listening, in observing, in taking it in, in contemplating--it may dawn on you what is occurring; it may yet touch your soul and soften your heart and bring a smile. I pray it does--sooner than later. Perhaps we may yet be able fully to "rejoice with those who rejoice" and celebrate together.

LOOKING AHEAD ON RACE. The election of Barack Obama does not max the issues of race in America. Not by far. But it does signal, it seems to me, an incredible invitation and opportunity to see differently, relate healingly, and live more cooperatively. An African American President does not erase injustices and inequalities that persist 40 years after the Civil Rights Movement's apex. The struggle continues. In fact, the years ahead may produce some of the most raw expressions of prejudice Americans have yet to see. However, the years ahead may just was well produce some of the most powerful breakthroughs in racial justice, race reconciliation, and a politics of cooperation we have ever experienced. I expect both but plan personally to participate in the latter.

I welcome your comments and/or questions in the spirit of dialog. Share yours by clicking on "comments" just below. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

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