August 28, 1963
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Two score plus seven years and a couple months for good measure have passed since those words were spoken. Change that began on the warm summer day has been slow but change has continued at a steady pace. The visceral divide between different races and cultures remains alive and well at the kitchen table in many homes in this country. Old ways do not die until old people that support them die. The dynamics of an ever changing population allow for one segment to enthralled with myspace, facebook, twitter and things those over 50 never dreamed of and another segment to sit back on ponder the good times passed, wishing they could relive the good ole days once more.
We elected an African American President
I am not sure that the impact of this event has completely sunk in the American consciousness. The same country that has seen third party candidates such as George Wallace make a credible run for the White House, stepped one at a time into the privacy of a voting booth and cast that private ballot for Barack Obama. We did this in the north, the south, the east and the west. Young people did this, old people did this and middle aged people did this. Black people, red people, brown people and white people did this. Members of every ethnic group did this. Men and women, married, single and divorce people all took part in this election. People of every sexual persuasion did this.
Obama was elected based on the content of his character and not the color of his skin.
BUT IT GETS BETTER
We have quietly seen a marked reduction in the use of the “Race Card”
Elected officials from the President of the United States on down to the Mayor of Washington, D.C. have been openly criticized by members of their own race. In days of the recent past, criticism of elected officials that happen to have been members of a minority was met with the shell game used to divert focus from the issue at hand. Members of the African American community would fall in line behind the “race card” player and denounce the criticism. Two of the most vocal lightning rods have been Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. Even their justifiable angst over public policy was lost in their choice of argument.
It is a new day
More than 50% of those polled are not happy with the way that Obama is handling the country. This criticism is uniform across race, creed, sex and age. The important point is that people of color are criticizing his actions.
Charles Rangel has had to step down from a very important committee in the House of Representatives. The people that live in his election district have joined the chorus of voices that have denounced his playing loose with the rules governing who pays for those island vacations. His constituents are holding him accountable for the content of his character…despite the color of his skin.
David Patterson, the Governor of the State of New York is under fire for behavior that is dubious at best. Reports are that he used his position to pressure a victim of abuse to not file a claim against one of his staff members. He is under pressure to resign and there has not been one word of his ethnicity in any of the reports. Again, he is being held accountable for the content of his character.
In Washington, D.C., Mayor Fenty is under constant scrutiny for his handling of the schools, finances and the recent snowstorm. The criticism comes from all areas of the city. D.C. is predominantly African-American. There is no mention of Fenty’s ethnicity. The people are demanding he perform.
And even Marion Barry has finally been censured for his behavior. It was this action that made me stop and take notice of the subtle change that has occurred in this country. You see Barry has a very distinct history. He was just at the beginning of his political life on the day in August of 1968. He was the first chairman of SNCC. He was replaced by H. Rap Brown. He then founded Pride, Inc. in Washington D.C. He spent his political career working for the people of the city. Few remember, he was shot and nearly died when the Hanifi Muslims attempted a takeover of city hall. He recovered, ran for Mayor and won. He has had many public embarrassments. He was filmed smoking crack in a sting operation. He went to prison. He got out and the people of the city just elected him again. Scandals were overlooked year after year after year. He proclaimed himself Mayor for Life.
Those days are done.
Obama faces stiff tests in the coming months regarding his health care proposals and handling of the economy. Rangel has stepped down, albeit temporarily, but he will have to face the consequences of his actions. Patterson is under fire and may have to step down as Governor. Fenty remains on the hot seat in D.C. And Barry, well the Mayor for Life has been removed from chairmanship of committees. He has been censured. Oh, and the citizens that once looked the other way and nodded their head when criticism of Barry was labeled racist, well they are fed up too.
One of the surprises that has accompanied the acceptance of leaders from every walk of life is that once they have the job, the people expect them to perform. The challenge is no longer, will minorities every have equal opportunity. Now the challenge is found on a more level playing field.
Finally… the bloom is off the rose. Leaders are being judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin. And the sweetest thing is that those doing the judging come from every race, creed and color.