It was indeed an historic event, the election of Barack Obama as the first African-American President of the United States. It was something I never imagined I would see in my lifetime, and I feel privileged to have witnessed it.
You see, I’m old enough to remember when black or colored people were indeed considered second-class citizens in thought, law and action. For example, when I was about six years old in the early 1950s, I remember taking a train trip with my parents from Los Angeles to Texas, and having to walk through a ‘colored’ passenger car to get to the dining car. I remembered being shocked by the sea of black faces, all looking at me and my white parents. Of course, I asked why all those people were sitting in the same car. You see, unlike my parents who were born and raised in Texas, I was born and raised in California where there were a lot fewer black people, and my parents raised me to believe that all people should be treated equally. I remember my mother explaining that all was not like it was in California and that in many places, including Texas, black people were treated a lot diffently.
That trip was quite an education. I met a lot of black people who were treated as friends of our extended family, yet they were not allowed to use the same public rest rooms, water fountains or restaurants as I. As well, I met some white people who had decidedly racists attitudes about black people.
Of course, my education continued through the civil rights movement of the 1960s, including the marches, murders and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. A lot of progress was made. Blacks became mayors, congressmen and senators. The south slowly gave up its overtly racist legislation and policies. When I visited the United States over the years (I became a Canadian citizen in the 1970s), I saw blacks assuming more and more of the traditional jobs and roles that were formally exclusively held by whites. But progress was slow. It seemed the older generations were going to have to pass on before true equality was going to be obtained.
Well, the election of Obama is a significant landmark, indicating that what prejudices remain are definitely in the minority. Barack Obama was not elected so much because he is African American but because he offers change that a majority of Americans, regardless of race, want to see.
I for one am encouraged there is now American leadership to positively address the global problems of climate change, biodiversity, terrorism and the human condition.
So, what’s wrong with that?