Saturday, October 10, 2009

A National Aha! Moment

So the current President of the United States won the Nobel Peace Prize. That's something that should bring the nation together in celebration, right? Just as loosing the bid for the summer Olympics should bring us together for a short but collective moment of defeat. But things have changed drastically in the United States. We are now a place where many citizens find the awarding of our very own President a sure sign that the Nobel Peace Prize is now definitively worthless and count our loss of the Olympics a chance to ridicule the President and a literal chance to laugh in our countrymen's faces.

From the time I started school (actually even before that when you consider Independence Day & Columbus Day celebrations) I've been taught to take pride in being an American. Even as an African American I didn't realize that my "freedom and justice for all," was maybe still a little compromised. Not until I started attending a school that many white children also attended and watched Roots as part of my sister's school project did that fact hit me. I was in the second grade and was of course already aware of America's history of slavery, but Roots made my ancestor's pain real. And some of my fellow students made prejudice real for me too. I assure you that I had heard references about "the man," in my neighborhood and in popular culture, but that was abstract as young child. When my classmates or teachers treated me differently, it was tangible. It was real.

Fast forward 30 years. The majority of US citizens, I can safely guess, believe that slavery, government sanctioned racism, and any problems resulting from that institution are part of America's past. Look, the majority of US citizens voted for a black* president. Therefore, racism: dead and gone just like slavery. So, in conclusion, move on, get over it. As a matter of fact, no need to insist on separating your self as African American. Just stand as a proud American.

At the beginning of our President's term, I was ready to move on. I did have a humongous paradigm shift where prejudice and racism in America were concerned. I accept that his win is undisputed proof now that the only thing that can hold you back is you. People may try to label you and hold you down, but they can only do so if you let them, basically defeating yourself by accepting the limitations.

But now, after witnessing the surprising reactions to President Obama campaigning for the Olympics (and our loss of the bid), and winning the Nobel Peace Prize in concert with a representative yelling out during his speech to Congress and the constant attacks from Fox News, I'm starting to wonder about the level of progress we have made in this country. I don't believe the resounding discontent is coming from the people that voted for him. I think they are actually standing strong and proud. However I do believe these over blown reactions should make those that believe the effects of slavery and racism are nil, think again.

I wonder if Americans realize that the intensity of the hatred for the President, the constant wishes to see him fail, and the disrespect are rooted in America's deep history of prejudice. So many Americans can't quite put their finger on why they don't trust him, or why they violently dislike him. They can't even honestly articulate what they disagree with in his policies so they have to make up death panels and socialists agendas to feel like they have a reason, when the real reason at the root of it all is his blackness. It is rooted there so strongly that these folks no longer feel proud of the USA and it's progress if that also equals President Obama's progress.

I think this is a perfect time for the citizens of the USA to have a National Aha! moment. To recognize these feelings for what they truly are and try to grow and learn from them. If people would really step back and look at their anger and fear (people are really scared for our country now. Bush didn't scare them, but Obama does?) and see it for the prejudice and ignorance that it is, we would be able to have a more honest dialogue about universal health care, taxes, gun control & the many other issue that dog our country.

Our President is dealing with the basic political issues that our past Presidents have all dealt with. There is nothing shockingly and radically new here. What a wonderful moment it will be when we look back on this and realize that it is all just par for the course of the USA standing and growing as a great nation of great people. The world recognizes it. The Nobel Peace Prize committee recognizes it. I wonder how long it will take us to do so?

*I understand that his mother was white. I also understand that historically the US counts that as a black person. But most importantly, he refers to himself as a black man and was, I'm sure, treated as such whenever his mother was not standing next to him to say hey, wait, he's half white.

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