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Barack Obama: Hug a White Person Week

October 30, 2008

Victory in this election is a victory for all Americans in many ways.

If a tall handsome black guy gives you an unexpected hug anytime soon, please just try and understand. In recent days, I have found myself focused almost exclusively on the historic significance of what America has revealed to be its proud social fabric in this campaign season. Beyond this article’s tasteless title, there remains a necessity to somehow acknowledge those who have the torch of the American spirit burning within them. These special people require no acknowledgement while residing within the multi-ethnic and socially complex foundation of this nation that has found its’ collective voice. Rest assured, I am confident in my ability to resist any urges to randomly although lovingly hug any unfamiliar white folks over the course of any celebratory week. Why? Because you see, if I have learned anything from this presidential campaign it is about this truth: the victory is absolutely not about race.

In spite of being inundated with media political reporting about the negative racial impacts, I know that like me, many Americans are absolutely ecstatic. These Americans must certainly know at this point that something wonderfully shocking has transpired in this country. A tide has turned that has exposed a weakening, if not dying ideal of social separatism that was once as powerfully gripping as it is now insignificant. I first became aware of it after Senator Obama won the Iowa Caucuses. At that point I became hopeful that I had a firm grip on the nation’s political and social pulse. It seemed at the time to be a significant indicator, but understandably I still found myself confronted by doubt. As I became compelled to more intently consider what I was observing, I also became aware that I was ill prepared to fully appreciate it all.

I voted more than a week ago here in Florida and I was thunderstruck by what I saw at the polls. There was an enthusiasm and excitement that was noticeable and extremely upbeat. Although I live in a conservative bastion in Northwest Florida, there are telling signs everywhere. Both signs of resignation and signs of hope are blatantly obvious. This area has been well established as Bush Country in the past two Presidential races and nobody seriously expects Senator Obama to have much of a contest. The clear signs of Obama support are everywhere. This ranges from the substantial numbers of yard signs and bumper stickers to open discussions about politics flowing from unlikely, if not unexpected people, and in unexpected places. Even the “Letters to the Editor” in our local newspaper are reflecting some surprising balance. This is not to suggest that the many ugly and angry voices of McCain/Palin “Real Americans” in the local conservative Christian base have been quieted. It is important to note however that they are openly concerned and perplexed as to what they are politically confronted with and why.

I think it would be difficult to dispute the fact that Senator Obama’s success is in part the result of a Perfect Storm politically. Barack Obama is an overwhelmingly dynamic man who has done all that could have been asked of him in orchestrating his brilliant campaign. He has also reaped the benefits of a horribly unpopular President coupled with an opposition candidate who is inarticulate and lacking in both charisma and convincing solutions. Senator Obama has landed on the up-side of many issues facing this nation which have taken a devastating toll on the lives of so many Americans.

Let’s be direct about the racial component in this election. I hesitate to use race in this example but it is unavoidable. Just consider for a moment the number of votes required to be cast by those characterized or identified as white Americans in order for a candidate -“any candidate”- to become the nominee of a major presidential party? No doubt that number is staggering! That alone tells me that the media fueled racial component was completely manufactured. Discussions of racism may sell newspapers and hike TV ratings but racial impacts in this election have been dramatically disproved. The idea that any person could not be elected President of the United States on the basis of race alone has been exposed as a myth. This myth has been rooted in tragic historic events which became life lessons for so many of us. These same life lessons fueled our vision for a brighter future. Still, nobody told us when that future vision would morph into reality. My minds’ eye had not yet permitted me the modern view of that once seemingly distant vision.

In coming to grips with the change that America had already undergone, I had only to look first at my children and the youth of this nation. They are in large part unsaddled by the baggage of racial conflict that previous generations wrestled with. For most of my adult life I have seen my children interact effortlessly with their multi-colored, multi-ethnic friends and peers without incident and with disarming mutual admiration. This most probably should have been the most stark indicator for me.

But why did I have to look to the youth for clarity? For decades I have watched with awe and often pride as people of all hues have risen to positions of power and massive success in virtually every aspect of public and business life. I have dear friends, trusted associates and yes, even family members ranging across the social and racial spectrums. So what the heck is so surprising about the absence of race in Senator Obama’s run for the Presidency? Why was I so concerned that there might be racial impacts that might derail such an endeavor?

As progressive as I aspired to be, I apparently missed the fact that much of America not only understood the destructive impacts of race, but also that they had effectively moved on with better thinking. I guess to some degree that I missed it. Bad for me…

I do have what I will offer as an explanation in retrospect. I was conditioned by decades of the rhetoric without substantially inputting my modern reality. I hope now that many, unknowingly stalled in their social vision, will also update their view of things. Those who remain crouched in an ideological position of intense racial caution can to some degree find the means to relax. Although the presence of racism in this country has been well documented in this election, we have got to take stock of the good news. No, this is incredible news. This is a marvelous story of the very real and very strong, the cohesive, progressive and welcoming America that embraces all those who embrace her. The unveiling of a trans-racial society that could not be hidden overlooked or vanquished. This is not a matter of question or debate at this point. The frenzy within the remaining bastions of fear and myopia provide confirmation of the facts. What we now know with absolute certainty is that anything is possible in America. Anything is possible, not only through our committed individual efforts, but also by one who must rely on an impassioned network of citizens who seek only to make an unbiased decision about the nation’s leadership and direction. It was not that I had little confidence in America. It was actually that I did not fully appreciate the confidence that Americans of every variety can have in their colorless voices and votes.

So if you remain one who believes that the negative impacts of race alone present an insurmountable obstacle for Senator Obama, I invite you to think again. You might need time to prepare yourself. This time it was not about racism at all. It is exclusively about the absence of racism.

And when Senator Obama wins, if anybody really wants a hug… I’m for that too.

L. A. Walker, © Leon A. Walker

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