I will always remember being in Grant Park the night Barack Obama was elected president. The air was thick with a kind of intoxicating magic. People were crying, hugging strangers, singing and shouting.
But two years later, I think it's safe to say the bloom is off the
rose. That night, America felt to me like a place where anything can
happen. Today, it feels more like a place where nothing happens and
someone will knock you down just for thinking it might.
night, many people felt like our country had made a huge stride
forward, particularly in terms of race. But two years later, have we
made any real progress on race in America? Are we now or will we ever
Glover Blackwell, founder of Policylink, starts the conversation off,
challenging us to answer these questions. She admits that talking about
race won't be easy, but it's necessary, especially now.
particularly tough right now because the euphoria of the election of
Barack Obama as president of the United States is gone," says
Blackwell. "There's no question about that. People are squaring off in
Other contributors agreed. Not only are we not "post-racial," they said,
but Obama's election has either made race relations worse or brought
out some lurking racism that we hadn't dealt with.
"It did become worst after we elected President Obama," wrote one
commenter, identified as "Granny." "That is when all the racism hidden
and swept under the rug surfaced."
"I also agree that the election of an African American as President has
unleashed a lot of racism," wrote "Idealist." "For example, I view much of the animosity
within the Tea Party movement as being driven by racism, not principally
by a concern over the size and role of government."
Another commenter, Jeff, said the -isms unleashed by Obama's election weren't just about race. "In my opinion, we've been slipping significantly ever since Obama's
election, especially when you look at the recent treatment of
Arab-Americans and others of Middle Eastern descent," he wrote. "There have been
very strong anti-inclusive attitudes towards those who are (or just look
like they might be) Muslims across this nation."
called the Tea Party movement racist or racially motivated. It's definitely a
reaction against something. Was it coincidental that it collided with the
election of America's first black president, or perhaps it is the
expression of racial tension that we've been ignoring?
But it isn't just conservatives squaring off.
I was at a rally
yesterday in Daley plaza where people were asking Congress to extend the Put Illinois to
Work program. Towards the end, it dissolved into a sort of Democratic
political rally for Gov. Pat Quinn et al., and it was made clear where
lines were being drawn.
"We're having our own tea party today,"
said one activist. "We need to make it clear that Sarah Palin does not
represent all of America."
Now, those words on their face don't
seem so provocative, but it was the feeling behind them - the fist
shaking, shouting feeling that carried the crowd. And then came the
mentions of "us" versus "them," and pledges from politicians that he/she
wouldn't forget "us." No one said it, but it was clear who belonged in
those two groups. "Them" consisted of conservative, largely white,
perhaps more rural Americans, and "us" meant urban residents, liberals
and people of a decidedly more colorful hue.
For all the celebration that took place in Grant Park, we didn't realize
that the election of Barack Obama might have been a catalyst for
something very ugly but very necessary in this nation - the continued,
painstaking working-out of what race and racial equity means in America.
And author Angela Blackwell says that doesn't just mean working on our
own personal attitudes and feelings. We can never know what another
person really thinks or feels, writes Blackwell, and trying to
scrutinize each other distracts us from the bigger problems of race in
America - problems that go beyond personal prejudice. She adds: "Let's work on addressing personal racism, but while that is going on
let's fix the things that represent the worst result of racism--failing
schools, joblessness, unhealthy communities in which there are no
grocery stores or decent public transportation systems, substandard
housing, no loans for small businesses, and way, way too much
That's not a task for each individual. We're going to need everyone - people on both sides of the debate and the country.
"We can all work on that together," says Blackwell.