Saturday, October 25, 2008

An Election Manifesto

I ask you to close your ears, for a moment, to the din of bickering, name calling, and finger pointing going on around this election and look at one simple aspect. That aspect is race.

Race is probably the single largest issue in this election, but people don't talk openly about their secret doubts and fears. They say they're undecided because they don't know how to explain their inner conflict. After the second debate, the T.V. channel I was watching took comments from around the country. I heard people say things like, "I am voting for John McCain because he's a war hero. I know I can trust him." Among the many comments, no one brought up race. And they never would.

But standing in a hospital room in New Jersey, where 99% of the patients are African Americans, my son's surgeon said he told his colleagues at the hospital, African-American doctors and surgeons, that he was voting for Obama. He related telling the doctors, "If they elect a black man like you, they might even elect a Jew like me some day!" and he said they all laughed and thought that was a good thought. Then the surgeon winked at us, as if we already got the joke, and said, "I'm not putting Aunt Jemima in the White House!" and laughed.

How many intelligent, logical folks in our country are like this surgeon? A man who works side-by-side with African-American doctors, cares for his patients that live in that city - and yet can with complete lack of any apology dismiss a brilliant politician who has won the Democratic nomination and the endorsements of countless political, entertainment, intellectual, and world leaders, as "Aunt Jemima."

Today, in our very own U.S., 1.5 million out of 10.4 million African-American men, are in prison. That's 14.4%--more than one in eight. They make up about 75% of our prison population. An additional 3.5 million are currently, or have been previously, on probation or parole. Due to current and past incarceration they are the most socially disenfranchised group of Americans in our country today.*

Racial bias manifests itself as a deep, sometimes unacknowledged, fear. It is a symptom of ignorance. We fear what we don't know or understand. Fear triggers strong defensive actions. We want to protect ourselves, our families. We shrink back from contact, or any opportunity to break through that barrier. It is deeply ingrained and difficult to dislodge. Even with logic. Even with personal experience to the contrary.

I am voting for Barack Obama. Not because he is an African-American man. But because he is a brilliant, articulate, honest, thoughtful, responsible African-American man. Yes, I added that because it is part of who he is. He has seen the eyes of racial hatred looking back at him without cause. In that situation he has chosen to have self-discipline and self-control in the face of blatant injustice, qualities that few white men are required to develop just to keep their jobs. It has tempered his spirit and graced him with the ability to forgive and move on. He is not vindictive or spiteful. His character and integrity are evident in his history. He worked with the poor, he worked for justice and fairness in communities in Chicago where no one else cared. That's the kind of man I want leading our country.

I am voting for Barack Obama because I believe he is the better man for the job. I admire his even temper, his political choices, his sense of fairness. The change he wants to bring is the change I can't wait to see for the future that my children will grow up in.  

But another reason has to do with my understanding of the role race plays in our nation, even today, where frightened separatists still deny equal treatment to those who are different from them.  Thousands across our nation will be crying out against every African American, if they vote against Obama simply because he is African American. I can't help but think of the gift our votes can be in a moment like this. When do you have an opportunity to make such a clear, meaningful stand for what you believe, if not when you vote? 

So, for every black man in prison and every black man on parole, who has no role model, who has no mentor, who has no idea where he belongs in this society that denies him everything from a good education, to basic respect, to a decent job--for each of them, and for all of their children--even more than for mine--I vote for Barack Obama. 
Let freedom ring.

*Prison information from: Why Are So Many Black Men in Prison? A Comprehensive Account of How and Why the Prison Industry Has Become a Predatory Entity in the Lives of African-American Men by Demico Boothe

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