Barack Obama’s speech to the United States and the world last week moved me more than any political oratory I can recall. It wasn’t just the content of the speech I found moving but the quality of human being that he showed us—a man willing to take a stand for his convictions and tell the truth about a subject that has been an ‘elephant head on the table’ for decades. He will have my vote and whatever the maximum financial contribution allowed is to support his campaign.
I was also impressed by the fact that many of the most positive comments after the speech came from conservative pundits. That is a hopeful sign that it is possible somehow to repair the polarization that has gripped our nation for the past eight years. Now, we need to move forward in electing this man as our leader because of who he is and not because he would be the ‘first black’ in the White House. I heard that comment recently and while it would obviously be a true statement, I wonder why someone would even draw the fact to attention but as a reflection of the very issues that Obama was addressing in his speech. America is still a racially divided nation, at least on a deep emotional level.
I don’t think this means that America is racist. I also don’t believe there are a whole lot of individual racists either—and the real bigots are contemptible, as well as ignorant. But a nation’s past and its culture isn’t personal. It is a long-standing ‘story’ that lives in the background of our awareness and manifests in often unintentional ways. When I expressed surprise recently when a black woman complained of being hassled at the airport because “nothing like that has ever happened to me”, I was showing how blind I am to this issue. None of the people of color in the room were the least bit surprised—in fact, they considered it normal.
I think the same kind of unconscious ‘blindness’ pervades our culture’s thinking about age. Ageism doesn’t seem as overt and doesn’t have the historical foundation of slavery, but can be just as disempowering and deadening to the human spirit. I pray that Obama’s remarks will ignite a passion for dialogue between the races, just as I hope Serene Ambition might contribute to a dialogue between the generations. In the case of race, we need the dialogue to complete the past once and for all so we can move on. In the case of age, we need the dialogue to create a world worth moving toward.