Does Obama's Election Really Impact the Race Question?

John ArmstrongRace and Racism

Many white Americans cannot understand how the election of Barack Obama provides a new context for life in American for millions of people, especially African-Americans. James Thindwa, a 53 year-old executive director of Chicago's office of Jobs with Justice, understands otherwise. Said the African-American man after the election, "People on the receiving end of racism start believing in the story of their inferiority." Thindwa notes that for years he has felt that whites look at him as undeserving of his job or that they have lower expectations of him. It is hard for someone like me to relate to this feeling because I am white and grew up with great privilege and opportunity and without racial stereotypes.

After the election Thindwa said his views have begun to change. "Now white folks are more credible. They say, 'We are not racist,' but the vote for Obama established that their claim that they have made progress is more than rhetorical."

How profound is this new response on the part of blacks? We don't know but we can pray that it's effects will be deep and long-lasting. Many feel transformed by Obama's victory. They are speaking about renewed hope for real equity and a much brighter future. I do not think this is just post-election good feeling. I think a great deal of how we perceive our lives and opportunities is rooted in how we have been treated and how we perceive others even if they have actually treated us well.

An African-American woman in South Holland, Illinois, said that Obama's victory will allow her family to be seen as the norm now, not as the exception. She notes that she can begin to trust that people will look beyond the stereotypes and not think that her sons are likely to become criminals or end up uneducated. "Their futures are brighter for me because I hope that people will really look at them for who they are."

A great deal of human success is rooted in our self-perception. The election of Barack Obama will not alter hearts but it will change many perceptions about life and human respect. I celebrate this change and pray that it will promote the advancement of all minorities in America. I also hope that someday we will elect a woman and thus break the glass ceiling that still exists in that part of our life together in this great nation.