Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Obama's Nomination: A New America? Maybe, Maybe Not

This has nothing to do with writing, but everyone is talking about this today so I might as well throw in my two cents.

History has been made. A U.S. political party has finally nominated an African-American as its candidate for president.

While I'm very happy and this is an amazing moment, we do need to put this in perspective. The Civil War ended 143 years ago, so this was a long time coming. Also, racism is still rife in U.S., witness the huge round of applause Rep. Geoff Davis (KY-R) when he referred to Obama as a "boy" at a Republican event. Speaking of the Civil War, did anyone else catch the irony of this guy's name?

Last month here in Madrid I met an African socialist who said Obama was "white power with a black face." That's a bit cynical, but if I was an African socialist I'd be cynical too. He does have a point, though. Just how much can Obama really change the power structure in the U.S.? Or change its deep-rooted racism? We've heard these promises before, by other candidates who were probably well intentioned too, and little has changed.

I'm also worried that he will become the ultimate in tokenism. People will think, "How can we be a racist country if we have a black candidate?" Quite easily, as a matter of fact. Whites might consider him "one of the good ones" and continue thinking as they've always thought.

On the other hand, maybe this is the start of something new. I teach university students, and one thing I've noticed is that there a lot more interracial couples than there were when I was in college almost twenty years ago. That's a good sign. Plus people are beginning to recognize the lasting legacy of slavery. Which brings me to:

I apologize for slavery. I'm Canadian, and Canadians like to be smug about the fact that slavery was always illegal in our country, but we were part of the British Empire. My family was middle class, and all white middle class people in the Empire benefited directly or indirectly from the slave trade. So I'm sorry I got an unfair advantage and you got burdened with all this crap. Yeah, this doesn't change anything, but it had to be said.

And yes, I am embarrassed the state of Virginia beat me to it.

Oh, and sorry to the Native Americans for the genocide. Interesting how that still gets ignored.

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Looking for more from Sean McLachlan? He also hangs out on the Civil War Horror blog, where he focuses on Civil War and Wild West history.

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