Success and tenacity go hand in hand.
Dave Cunningham / November 5, 2008
Like many Americans, last night I watched the election results with excitement. Unlike most Americans, I was tallying the results on my spreadsheet, comparing my projections with the actual outcomes. I was right on all but four states. Having always believed that, “almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades,” I am disappointed in my misjudgments.
I surprised myself with my emotional response to our election of an African American candidate. In my fifty-nine years, I have witnessed encouraging changes in black-white relations in the US. But until about a year ago, I didn’t think I’d see this in my lifetime. Even as President-elect Obama continued to close in on victory, I continued to have my doubts. I wondered, still, if, in the final outcome, in the privacy of the voting booth, white people would exercise covert racism by voting for a white candidate. Thankfully, my doubts were not justified. So I am proud. Proud of what?
I am proud that, as a nation, we chose principal over prejudice. Although the latter exists, it was secondary to the overwhelming choices made by voters of all kinds, young/old, black/white, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American.
I have seen the struggle of blacks from a distance and experienced the struggle of whites, as we continued to move forward with a moral belief in equality for all and a Constitutional commitment to the same. We struggled with giving up entrenched values in favor of what we knew was right. We supported a Civil Rights movement over the past 48 years, knowing that we should have to give up some of our own privileges to accommodate needed change. We argued, debated, fought, and litigated.
In our private conversations (whites-to-whites and blacks-to-blacks), we nurtured our suspicions and disillusionment. We supported equal opportunity while resisting favoritism and quotas. We opened our work places to diversity while moving to segregated neighborhoods. We were living a paradox, at once, wanting what we knew to be right while fearing the changes it might bring.
We have come a long way.
Late last evening, I called Fred, a long-time African American friend. We have been fortunate to have opened and maintained a cautious conversation of black-white race relations. We both came to adulthood in the era of Martin Luther King and the peace marches. We saw the race riots and the destruction that came with them. We saw the acceleration of “white flight” from cities to suburbs. I learned about “driving-while-back” arrests in white communities. He learned how to accommodate. I learned the reality of inherent white-privilege. He learned how to fit in and make it work for him. We both developed a sensitivity and attempt at understanding each other.
I called him last night because I knew and know that our struggle to create a new foundation had been completed. We had moved forward in a substantial way that can not be reversed. As with any foundation, there is still much building to do. But I am so proud of what we have done so far to lay this significant groundwork.
Freddie told me he was trying to explain to his grandson the meaning of what had happened, the civil rights struggles, the race hangings, the jailings, the black slavery of only 150 years ago. “He doesn’t get it,” he told me. I related to him a similar story as my daughter, earlier this week, tried to explain to her daughter, that we were going to elect an African American president. My granddaughter saw nothing unusual or striking about this news. Isn’t it great that slowly, generation by generation, we have moved our collective national consciousness from knowing that change was necessary to taking that change for granted?
When I was a little boy, my Mom used to tell me that colored people (a term that later fell into disdain) were just as good as we were. That was the beginning of my education about racism. Later, while in college in the late 60’s, I began to understand the need for change through personal dialog with black classmates. Soon, as a young father, I did my best to teach my children that we are all the same. Thankfully, it is their generation that openly and without reservation, seized upon, and in many cases, led the new direction we have chosen. I and many of my generation can be proud that we began to erase the polarizing ideas that had dominated our parents’ thinking and to some extent, still, our own. We chose the high road, passed the baton to our children and they ran with it. Their children, in turn, simply accept as normal, what my friend, Fred and I still see as almost revolutionary.
We will have a black family living in the White House. The whole world will look at the United States differently. We have done what most countries will never be able to do. We have risen above ethnicity, race-bias, ignorance and existing prejudices to raise our national consciousness to a new, unprecedented level.
I am so proud of the part, though small, that I have played. The bar has been irretrievably raised for all Americans. Thankfully, we can never go back to where we were. As Barack Obama said in his victory speech last night, “This was the moment – this was the time – when we came together to remake this great nation so that it may always reflect our very best selves, and our highest ideals.” Our country will never be the same.