When I first became aware of Barack Obama he reminded me of Bobby Kennedy. Young, energetic, very bright. More than that, they both seem to me to have been men supremely suited to their times. The assassination of RFK robbed us of the man with the best opportunity to bridge the racial divide in 1968. His impassioned speech to the crowd in Indianapolis on the night Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated cemented his singular ability to bring us together. He shared the pain of losing a brother to a white assassin’s bullet. He urged the crowd not to give in to revenge and hatred. In just two months, he himself would lie mortally wounded in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel. His life’s blood flowing from a gun shot wound to the head.
President-Elect Barack Obama is a man suited for his time. He has always superbly handled opportunity. When given one he has consistently knocked it out of the park. He has done so at Harvard, in the race for the Senate, his 2004 convention speech, the presidential election, and as a father (his daughters are by all accounts little gems).
It would be a tragedy of incomprehensible proportions for the United States were something to happen to this man before he has the chance to apply his many talents to the troubles we face domestically and abroad. Knowing the training and professionalism of the United States Secret Service personnel charged with his safety; I rest easier, knowing how hard they will work to ensure he has the opportunity to do so.
I began to think about the 2008 election. How historic it was. Hillary, Barack, and Sarah. All firsts of one sort or another. How in the hell did a black man with the name Barack Hussein Obama not only obtain his party’s nomination, but actually get elected to the highest office in the land? Some say the most powerful office in the world.
Now, I don’t profess to have insider information. There will be books written for years on this election. On Obama’s campaign. I would like to point out my thoughts on why, in 2008, Barack Obama was deemed electable by a majority of American voters.
First some background. I was born on the South Side of Chicago. The “South Side Irish” from a neighborhood called Roseland. It lies more than one hundred city blocks south of The Loop, or downtown Chicago. In 1970, when black people began moving into Roseland, my parents, and their parents, moved from the city to the south suburbs of Chicago.
Blacks brought crime and drugs, we were told. Black kids beat up my brother and stole his bicycle, I was told. Blacks meant our home would sell for less if we waited too long, we were told.
The N-word was not something we thought about much. It was used all the time. From my earliest memories that is how people in my life described black people to me. That N-word at work. The N-word on the corner. Those N-words on welfare…. I truly believed all black people were on welfare when I was a child.
These migrations, or emigrations from the city to the suburbs became known as “White Flight”. When the first black family bought a home in the neighborhood the stampede began. You didn’t want to be the last person to sell your house. It was kind of like being the one left without a chair when the music stopped. My parents would take flight again just thirteen years later. Relocating from the South Suburbs to the Brighton Park neighborhood of Chicago.
This is the background in which I developed. When I went to high school black kids were bussed from other towns into our school. White kids from our school were sent out of town to their school. Neither wanted to be relocated. Being at the sharp end of a social experiment created friction. Friction led to fighting. These situations played out across many suburbs of America in the late seventies and early eighties.
I graduated High School and joined the United States Army. I was immediately thrown into a world where black and white blurred. You didn’t care what color the guy was that had your back, as long as he was Army green. I was led by black soldiers, and I was given the opportunity to lead. In short, I was freed from the ignorance of the environment I was brought up in.
I had children very young. I consciously brought them up not to see color. They lived in multi-cultural environments with military families of all types. They had white friends, black friends, and Hispanic friends. The N-word was not used in our home.
How did Barack become electable? He became electable because people in America changed their mindset. Over a period of a generation or so, Gen X’ers became educated and rejected the institutional racism of previous generations. They also raised their children, who became of voting age in the 2008 election, not to see color first. We did not indoctrinate our children into a culture of racial distrust or hatred.
So the question becomes; How in the hell does this apply to China? Well, I believe it does in a very big way. I believe we need to change the mindset of the American public on their views on China. I believe we need to do this quickly before the United States and China get themselves on a collision course with destiny.
So how do we change this mindset? We do it in the same way we did it on race. Expose your children to Chinese people and culture. Replace stereotypes with positive experiences. Teach your children not to distrust. GlobalWonk will be focusing on opportunities to educate Chinese and American people, particularly our youth, on the many positive aspects of our respective cultures.
You can start today with your own family. Read your child a book about China. Take them on a trip to Chinatown in a city near you. Introduce them to Chinese friends and associates. Get involved with their school and get culture on the curriculum. Talk to your local representatives of government and share your concerns with them.
The opportunity to prevent these same children, our children, from fighting a war with the Chinese twenty years from now, presents itself now. What are you going to do to make a difference?