Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Reflections on Race

I have to admit that growing up my family was pretty racist - in that casual, always been like that way - and in many respects are still that way today. Perhaps not as baldly as I remember growing up, but it's still not unusual for my parents to use the "N-word." Having grown up in Florida during the 60's and 70's - I was born in 1961 - I picked up a fair bit of that mindset. There were racial fights in my high school even in my Senior year, 1979. I'll admit to using racial epithets back then.

Entering the Military Academy placed me in a completely different environment. Not only is the Academy in New York, far from the open bigotry of the South, but the Army had been integrated for decades by that time and I worked and studied side-by-side with people of all races and faiths. In fact, like generations of soldiers before me, I had to learn to trust the person next to me with my life - regardless of what they looked like. Unlike the African-American "acquaintances" I had in high school, I made my first black friends.

As you can probably guess, it was Colin Powell's endorsement of Barack Obama that brought on these memories. For the most part, until this year, I had mostly been able to forget that our country still has large areas where racism - the kind I grew up with - still holds sway. I am occasionally reminded of it when I visit my hometown when one of my parents or one of their friends lets slip the N-word as though it were nothing. Living in New York it's sometimes easy to forget about all of that.

I had thought that America had moved past (most of) such a shameful past.

Obama's campaign has been many things to many people; hopeful, inspirational, exciting. But it has also been an uncomfortable reminder of things in our past. And such reminders can provoke many of the opposites of these admirable things. Unfortunately, those opposites have been on display this year and most especially in the past couple of weeks. Think of Michele Bachmann, Rush Limbaugh, Pat Buchannan, Palin's rally attendees; think of those who pass on the whisper campaign of racial and religious fear-of-other. Saddest of all, think of John McCain who lets all of this happen in his campaign, on his watch.

Perhaps the most important thing that an Obama win in two weeks could do is to move us closer to a time when we really have moved past such a shameful past. I now believe that it's been premature of commentators to say that we've come to a post-racial society. Maybe, we can actually - finally - get there.

I'm hopeful.

No comments: