Tuesday, January 20, 2009

a call to affirmative action

Today was an historic occasion. I sat in a friend's living room with Israel on my lap as we watched Barack Obama take his place as our President. I could not have been more pleased with his speech and was proud to be an American for the first time in quite awhile. We will see what he does once he is in office, but the ideals to which he aspires in his words are nothing but encouraging to hear.

Of course, much of the news has been about him being our first African-American President. (I still think this is strange; he is really our first bi-racial President, but whatever, I guess.) And seeing him take the stand has done a lot of good for a lot of people. It has brought lots of grand ideas about how far we have come in our racial relations as a country. And we have come far. I remember readings and videos from my civil rights history class in college and am astounded that people in my parents' generation could recollect some of those events. It is a long way for us to come from segregation to today. That pushes us toward a feeling, especially today, that anyone can do anything in our country.

However, this evening, still riding on my euphoria from the day's events, I was presented with a sobering reminder that the lives of my neighbors are not suddenly better for all of today's achievement. I am exceedingly happy for the new face of success and all it can inspire people of all races to achieve. But I see that the youth in my town still face the same difficulties in their families and in society today that they did yesterday. I see in some of them the potential for truly great things. But I also see many obstacles in their way and a lack of various sorts of resources that a "black" president cannot fill.

It is especially sobering when we recall how many people gave their lives, either by their living or their dying, to make today possible. (And it is truly a great day, regardless of your political leanings.) It took all those lives for one man to rise up as president. It makes me wonder whose lives it will require for the kids here to rise up. What will my role have been?

I am afraid that electing a "black" president will enable us to mentally put a check in the "promoted equality" box of our lives. But that is merely the beginning of our work. I am not talking about affirmative action here in the political sense. I do think, however, that we ought to be about affirmative action in the sense of affirming the worth of all of us and working to ensure that all of us have what is needed to be our best selves. These are lofty words, to be sure, so let's start small by finding one way to give a resource (emotional, spiritual, educational, financial, or otherwise) we have to someone who has not been provided with that resource. Where can I start? Where can you start? I hope we have not, as a county, come this far merely for the sake of one man. I hope we have come this far and will go further for the sake of us all.

1 comment:

Pat and Lezlie McCrory said...

(Maybe it's not cool to comment on your own post, but who says what's cool, anyway?)

There has been some confusion that undoubtedly results from the title of this entry. I am not telling people that I am or that they should be for affirmative action in its usual sense. (That's a different subject that seems too complicated to allow me to come to a firm position as of yet.) I am saying that we should all take personal action to affirm those in our society who desperately need it. "Affirmative action" = action that affirms.