Wednesday, January 21, 2009

It's Not Over Either...

Tuesday’s inauguration has been called the last lap of the civil rights movement, the fulfillment of Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream and the passing of the torch. To me, only one of those is correct.

It was powerful to see Barack Obama walk out to the masses. It was powerful to see him recite the swearing-in oath (nice try, Chief Justice Roberts on fumbling the words…it was the first inauguration for you as well). And of course, hearing his address was like seeing a brilliant portrait of our past and present.

It was also a great passing of the torch from those who came of age in the 60’s to those forty-somethings who came of age in the 80’s like Obama. So guess what the inauguration wasn’t.

In my opinion, it was an extension of Dr. King’s dream. It was a realization of his hope that people would judge folks based on their character and merit not by race. And on November 4, America did just that for a job many thought a Black person (or at least a non-white male) would never get.

However, the fight is not over and anyone who thinks it is can just imagine someone being the only person of their race/gender/orientation in a crowded room.

For my generation, we are fortunate to see this moment so young in our lives and at a point where we can influence change as eager adults fresh out of college or in the working world. But we are also a colorblind generation at times and that’s why whenever issues of race come up, it seems like a vocal minority get it when everyone else should.

That’s always the other side of moving beyond race. When it rears its ugly head, we want it to stay behind us instead of dealing with it and discussing it.

But the challenges for us in this era are not to be comfortable where we are. For every Obama, there is a student of color at a university who feels uncomfortable being the only one in a room. There will be someone who doesn’t understand why someone of another culture or background responds to actions or got offended by something.

The “civil rights movement” shouldn’t stop with one act. If that was the case, it should have stopped with the Voting Rights Act and other significant events. But instead we saw in the 1970’s and 1980’s that the lack of sufficient push – compounded by a bad economy, government intervention, drug use, people going to the suburbs – led to troubling times for the Black and Brown and lower class communities.

My hope is that seeing Obama in the White House as well as the furor we raised during the campaign will inspire people to confront their own views on race. Watch the jokes we say and try to understand each other a bit better.

My hope is that Tuesday inspires folks to rebuild that unity that has been lacking since 9/11 faded into our consciousness.

The challenge for my generation and those under 40 is to continue growing and moving beyond racial boundaries but understanding that they exist. We are all Americans with unique stories and perspectives and we’ve shown over the years that we can listen and understand. I hope we can take it in a better direction.

America took a noble and beautiful step today in that right direction. Let’s hope that it inspires smaller steps inside its boundaries.

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