Essay | Let Us Not Pat Our Backs So Hard

Previously, on the greatest spectator sport in the world: Barack Obama, as we have all expected for at least a month, has become the presumptive Democratic nominee for President of the United States. When it finally, finally, finally became official, the media could finally let loose all the stories about it being a historic first and world changing event that they've been holding in. Tim Russert exclaimed that he'd like to be a teacher in an inner-city school on that day. People were marveling at being part of history, about the possibility of electing the first black leader in a predominantly white country. Not just a first for the US, but for the entire western world.

That's great. It really is. But it strikes me that the rhetoric going around is starting to get awfully self-congratulatory. People, like Frank Schaeffer at the Huffington Post, are saying things such as, "All over the world our country ... looks immeasurably better because we have grown up enough to embrace a black candidate, our fraught and sordid racial history notwithstanding."

Worse yet, angry lawn protectors like Pat Buchanan have proclaimed that black people should be grateful because all that slavery & oppression has ultimately led to the most prominent black people in the world, as opposed to all that violence going on in the homeland (And white colonialism had nothing to do with that no siree)

There is a general air of, "Damn we're really progressive and great" that is going to be dangerous in the long run to even more progress. Look at the arguments today. When people try and argue that racism is not a problem in America, they point to ridiculous trivia like Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama. While good signs, they are nothing more than that. Signs of getting better, not evidence that we are cured. They are exceptions and not the rule. Mouthpieces like Buchanan are effectively telling people, "You're not a slave anymore so what is left to complain about?"

When we give ourselves too much credit for the morally correct ways we have changed, which should have changed a long time ago anyway, we start to ignore the work that is to be done. We start to ignore the disproportion of minorities below the poverty line and the rates of discrimination and the need for ladders of opportunity. We pat ourselves on the back because one half black guy might make it to president, and then take the rest of the day off.

It's hubris. I've seen it before in a lot of liberals who, because of their progressive politics and points of view, believe they have no flaws to work on and therefore can do no wrong. It's an attitude that becomes apparent when you realize that there are a lot of liberals say things that are actually kind of racist, like Geraldine Ferraro. The thing is, since they're so left of center, they don't believe what they're saying is racist. I mean, they probably like Will Smith movies! They can't be racist or have racist thoughts or say racist things.

The day the comments of Jeremiah Wright are not considered controversial will be the day we make real progress. The day where people by and large aren't turned off by a candidate like Jesse Jackson for being "too black" is going to be a serious milestone. When we stop being scared of intelligent but angry black men decrying the state of the nation on television (because no one ever thinks angry white speeches are a threat on the same level) is when we have successfully leaped towards our ideal goal.

For some reason, people think there ideal goal in terms of race relations is when we're all assimilated and white washed so that mainstream America can accept people without having to budge. There is a conservative belief that when we all finally act the way we want them to, completely dropping everything that makes us ethnic, is when they can finally really get behind us and we'll be equal. The reality is that mainstream America has to do some moving too. It has to get to the point where we can accept cultural differences too, not just skin color. We understand judging people by their color is petty, ignorant shit. But as a society we're still making assumptions about hip hop, turned off by ebonics and afraid of anyone that dares to think America is institutionally racist.

The first black person to win an Academy Award was Hattie McDaniel for Gone with the Wind in 1939. Oh, what progress we've made, right? You think racism ended in 1939? The second was Sidney Poitier in 1963. The third was Denzel Washington in 2001. We are at the 1939 phase - who knows how long it will take until we get to the 1963 or 2001 phase?

Progress needs to be recognized but not at the cost of more work. So when you're watching Barack Obama get sworn into office in 6 months, don't just think about what a great moment this is for the minorities of the world. Think about why it took us this long and hope it doesn't take this long again.