SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL OP-ED ONLINE
Is America Ready for a Real Black President?
Are you ready for a peanut butter and hamburger sandwich? Not sure? Yet someone in Bluffton, Indiana insists it was a favorite of her father and herself. But there's an equally teasing but serious question being asked, "Is America ready for a black president?"
The question is provocative because the answer won't be known unless Barack Obama wins the Democratic nomination and is tested in the general election. The election then would become a measure of how much progress toward a color blind society has been made in the 143 years since four million blacks were suffering in slavery on the eve of the Civil War.
Actually, America never has been ready for most black advances and firsts. Milestone freedoms for blacks have come about not because America was ready but through legislation, judicial decisions, decree and the actions of courageous individuals and institutions.
Blacks attending other than historically black colleges, let alone playing intercollegiate football, were a rarity a century ago. Would you have thought that America personified by Princeton University was ready for a black football recruit, the son of a local black minister? Princeton wasn't but elsewhere in New Jersey, Rutgers University was and Paul Robeson, later a controversial actor/classical singer/activist, went on to become an All-American end.
In the world of professional baseball before 1947, blacks played peaceably among themselves in the old Negro Leagues. These players had major league dreams and aspirations but organized baseball granted them only occasional perfunctory early morning tryouts after which they were shown out of the stadiums and cruelly ignored. Would you have thought that America personified by its "National Pastime" was ready for black players? A white major league executive, Branch Rickey, brought UCLA star and former Army officer Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers. You know the rest, including Robinson's election to the Hall of Fame and his subsequent activities as a Republican activist, businessman and black advocate.
The history of blacks in the armed forces is a painful one with World War II witnessing segregated black units going to war as if they were not standard human beings but a type of ordinance to be fired upon the enemy. Would you have thought that postwar America was ready for a black to head up the armed forces as Chief of Staff? A black graduate of humble City College of New York, Colin Powell, not only served in that position but was later sought after by both parties to head their respective presidential tickets.
Something else to consider is the factor in election years of the fascination of audiences by personages who can take center stage. Take Hillary Clinton, heir to feminist and suffragist history. She was preceded in her quest to be the first woman president by the candidacies of former Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Dole and Representative Shirley Chisholm. Neither got far in the process. Senator Clinton is in the process and awaiting the verdict in Florida. Can Mayor Michael Bloomberg be charismatic if he is the next to challenge the two-party system? If so, he will have been preceded by Ross Perot and Ralph Nader and, in earlier times, such as George Wallace, Henry Wallace, socialist Eugene Debs and Teddy Roosevelt trying for a second term. Their dynamism got them to the general election but America judged itself not ready for them.
On the wings of success in South Carolina, Obama seems to be thrusting himself center stage. Although he is not my preferred contender, it is devoutly to be wished that the electorate comes to view him as if it were color blind. This is difficult because prejudices learned at an early age in the home are difficult to lose. Such prejudices may be reinforced when unfortunate faces such as Michael Vick's swim at us from TV and Internet screens. But in media's ocean also coming at us are the faces of law-abiding black athletes, faces of black corporate leaders, black educators, black judges, black journalists, black lawyers, black physicians, et al. Let it be that lessons learned from the media can cure lousy home schoolin'.
Should Obama be nominated and elected, it will happen through the vote of the American people. They would then have decided en masse that America is ready for a black president.
Norm Vance resides in Jupiter.