"We had a dream. Now it's a reality." This T-shirt slogan explains why Barack Obama enjoys more than 90 percent of black voter support and why he is seen as a beacon of American progress. His success is the culmination of years of struggle, injustice and reform.
However, some in the black community have posed a difficult question that on the surface seems absurd: Is Obama's candidacy bad for black people?
Now, I'm not a die-hard Obamanaut, and I'm not black. But I was still pretty shaken when I heard this. How could something as monumental as a black candidate for president hurt the cause of racial equality?
On the blog Feminist Law Professors, Vernellia Randall makes some interesting points in her article "Will Obama hurt or help black people?" She states, "I have long felt that when black people and white people hear his message of hope, they hear the exact opposite. Black people hear the hope of having a black president who will eliminate the gap between whites and blacks white people hear the hope of not only improved lives from [sic] themselves but also the hope of not having to deal with the issue of race anymore."
She goes on to say that Obama is soft on racial issues to court the white vote and concludes that the black community would be better off without him, because "we will still be uniquely suffering under discrimination and racism, while the rest of America is in denial and self-congratulation because they elected a black president."
What would people like Randall have America do? Only nominate old, white men until our nation is color-blind? Love him, hate him or care less about him, Obama's candidacy marks a turning point in American politics. The very fact that he is running for president is indicative of the incredible progress that has occurred in just a few decades.
But would Obama's election alone transform the country into Martin Luther King Jr.'s promised land? No. America has its problems with racism and will continue to have them. But to ask Obama to become a Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton is not fair to him or his campaign. He is a black man, but as a president, he needs to represent all of America, which means he has to solicit votes from all ethnicities.
After all, regardless of what broad social implications his presidency could have, Obama is still a politician looking to win an election, and he's doing a good job. On the BBC program "Is America ready for a Black President?" Mike and Marianne, a white couple from Connecticut, said that they liked Obama because "he doesn't take the tactic that Jessie Jackson would. It isn't so in your face and aggressive. He seems to care and represent us, you know, everybody, regardless of race, culture, religion, any of that."
While blacks are still underrepresented in politics, people like Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and Obama have ushered America into what CNN calls a "post-racial" society. It's not perfect, but it's certainly a step in the right direction.
I'm not sure if Obama is the light of hope he is made out to be, but this election is special nonetheless - not because Obama's success means we are free from our struggles with racism, but because in the midst of war, high gas prices, economic insecurity and global unpopularity, his candidacy is a clear sign of the strength and progress of the American people.