Monday a friend of mine had a conversation in which she said something to the effect of â€œIâ€™m so glad Obama is going to be sworn in tomorrow, and the fact that he is a black man is just the icing on the cake.â€ To which one of her acquaintances responded with vitriol and accused her, in essence, of racism (I donâ€™t use the term â€œreverse racismâ€ to me racism and bigotry is racism and bigotry, no matter which way it is flowing) and hypocrisy.
She and I discussed the matter a little bit and while I agreed that the other individual was way out of line and mistaken, I also had a caution for her. The issue, of course, is that a statement that implies it is significant that a black person can accomplish something can also serve to reinforce the belief and stereotype that it is remarkable or amazing for a black person to do what white people have been doing for the past 200+ years.
While it is historic that we have the first African-American president, it is not historic because Obama has elevated himself to some great level. It is not historic because a black man has transcended the limitation of his race. Rather, it is historic because the general public has finally accepted the long standing, yet heretofore unacknowledged, fact that the best person for the job might not always be a white guy.
In his speech today, Obama indirectly alluded to this very fact when he did not talk about his personal accomplishment, but rather that of the country. A country, which just a few short decades ago would not have served him coffee in many of its restaurants, but on November 4th of this year, elected him as its President.
Today was a landmark day for minorities, the message resonates loud and clear: the glass ceiling can be broken; the barriers of ignorance, prejudice and bigotry can be overcome.Â The competent, can in fact, aspire to the heights to which they are qualified. No longer held back by the fictitious binds of perception, they are free to be everything they are capable of being.
Today was also a landmark day for the majority, no longer are we required to carry the burden of living in a society dominated by ignorance and intolerance. Certainly bigotry still exists, however, the number of open minds in our society has reached the critical mass required to make a difference.
Today the personification of that difference, that evolution, that change took the Presidential oath of office in Washington DC. The manifestation of the intersection of two opposing but interconnected journeys (the â€œblackâ€ quest for recognition and the â€œwhiteâ€ journey toward tolerance) is Barack Obama, a man Iâ€™m proud to call my President.