I've heard it expressed that African American support for Barack Obama is driven largely by a sort of racism... blacks sticking up for blacks. I don't buy it. You only need look at past elections to see that African Americans have always leaned largely Democratic (and why wouldn't they, its not like the Republican party has delivered on the issues that effect minorities). Still, Obama's candidacy is indeed historic in nature, and the passion of some of his supporters is consequently understandable. That point was driven home to me while I was driving home from work a few weeks ago.
More over the flip...
I live and work in Milwaukee Wisconsin, a racially diverse city with all the usual issues facing a major metro area. I work and socialize with people of nearly every ethnic background, so I like to think I'm as broad minded about issues of race as is possible for the typical middle class American white guy. Nevertheless, I know I can never truly appreciate what it is like to grow up black in America, not having walked in those shoes myself. But on the Thursday that Obama accepted the Democratic nomination, I witnessed something that brought home to me just how historic his candidacy is and how deeply personal this election is to a great many fellow Americans.
I work a few miles outside of Milwaukee and take the Interstate to and from the office. The route is crisscrossed by a variety of overpasses. The ones that include pedestrian walkways are popular targets for protesters. It is not unknown to drive home and periodically see rows of people holding signs or banners.
And so it was on this day, accept... it wasn't signs. On two of the overpasses, from end to end, stood African American families; young children to elderly grandparents, and they held not signs, but flags.
Just American flags.
That said everything that needed saying. It took me a moment to remember that Obama was giving his acceptance speech that day. It took me another moment to think about what it must mean to these families, and what they were saying with those flags. The right wing has tried to push an image of Obama as the angry black man, as some sort of reverse racist. In their twisted view, blacks are excited by his candidacy simply because 'one of their own' is taking some of the power away from the 'white establishment'.
But those flags say something different. Obama's run for the highest office in the land is exciting, to African Americans and many other Americans, more because of what it says about America. We are a better country than the cynics previously believed. Many of those cynics were African Americans who have struggled with the realities of racism their entire lives (and I say this based on conversations I've had with my black friends). If some of our fellow citizens have embraced an Obama Presidency with a bit more passion because of that... can we really blame them?
On Thursday, August 28, a crowd of American citizens turned out show the flag and their patriotism, perhaps to celebrate an enhanced sense of inclusion in the promise of America... and this middle class white dude from Milwaukee found himself pulling off the road to dry his eyes.