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.

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  1. James K November 16, 2008 at 7:11 am

    Everyone knows America has made a great progress for the last 40 years as far as racism is concerned. America is a great country in this regard, ahead of European countries. How important it is to have a right perception about who we are, regardless of skin color or other human background. Right perception can enhance our self-confidence a great deal, and it comes from the truth that we are created equal in God.

  2. Antony November 16, 2008 at 5:20 pm

    Having a background in intellectual history, my reflections and thinking about culture tend to focus on geist. Consequently, one of the major reasons I voted for Obama was that I thought his election to the Presidency would both express and initiate a major shift regarding the legacy of racism in our nation. Keep in mind, if I didn’t think he was a reflective and nuanced thinker, who has demonstrated grace under pressure, and I didn’t have points of agreement regarding socio-economic policies, I wouldn’t have voted for him. Of course there are areas where I completely disagree with his convictions, and yet in the synergy of the whole, I thought he was the right man for this time in our nation’s history.

  3. roadtoad November 16, 2008 at 11:16 pm

    I believe finally racism has been seen for what it really is. Not there. Affirmative action is no longer necessary. Anyone can do anything if they want it badly enough. Obama is a great example of the American dream. No more excusses or blame placed on others for personal failures. It is great to see that “the man keeping us down” is going to be black.

  4. LKH November 17, 2008 at 9:41 am

    I have a friend, a white woman who did not vote for Obama, who teaches tenth grade history. She tried to convince the students that the U.S. is not a racist country. Then she received an essay from an African American student that said, “Now when I hear ‘We the people,’ I finally feel like that includes me. ” She was deeply moved.

  5. Sean Nemecek November 17, 2008 at 4:24 pm

    I am praying for President Elect Obama. I fear that if he fails as Prsident it could add fuel to the fire of racism. However, if he is a good President it could help to heal many wounds.

  6. Anthony November 17, 2008 at 11:42 pm

    Roadtoad – You are a bit presumptuous in the claims you made regarding American culture and racism. Having our first black president does not mean there was not or is no longer any racial barriers in our culture. Often the worse forms of racism and prejudice are de facto, and not de jure, as those expressions that are not written in law are more subtle and harder to point at, and therefore harder to address. And yet, its effects are no less devastating when you are on the receiving end of it, and perhaps more so, because it is insidious.
    I am not sure if I captured the undercurrent of your piece correctly, but it seems that you are reading Obama’s presidency as grounds for whites to finally say, with proof positive, that blacks are without excuse for their overall lower socio-economic status in our society. If this is so, I think you are being simplistic. Certainly there are black people who lack initiative, but this is true of all ethnicities. Moreover, the statistical differences between blacks in poverty in comparison to whites, or the median incomes of black households versus white households cannot be accounted for by a mere lack of initiative on the part of black people. Along with this, even if there are a higher percentage of black folks who lack initiative or whatever other personal characteristics lead to success, this does not mean they are necessarily to blame for their current overall status. Historical forces are not overcome in a generation, not even in two or three or four etc. In obvious and not so obvious ways the effects of slavery and racism still mars America’s landscape both figuratively and literally, and these lingering effects continue to influence the cultural horizons of those raised in black culture.

  7. Keith November 18, 2008 at 10:36 am

    Some will just chalk it up to me being white, but why is Obama’s victory that much different than say Colin Powell’s advancement? Or Clarence Thomas’ or Condi Rice’s achievements? The bottom line: The issue, in much of this, is not race proper, but racial politics.
    If this victory was achieved by Thomas Sowell or Walter Williams, then no one would be talking about the great advancements and how racism is on the wane, etc., and they would be seen as Uncle Tom’s. Many blacks have been achieving great things in this country for a long, long time, but since their politics and ideology *MAY* not have been those of what it is supposed to look like to be black or in the context of power politics, then their achievements are under-appreciated & some how not indicative of any advancement in race relations.
    I work in a Fortune 500 Company and our CEO is black. Why isn’t he appealed to as showing that racism is marginal in corporate America if you are bright, motivated, and disciplined?
    If Obama was married to a white woman, what would the response be by the black community, especially the females? Would their racism be called out and how much of the problems to that community are internal and not external?
    In the same vein, if Palin was elected, it would not be seen as an advancement for women, b/c she does not represent what it is supposed to look like.
    The left has defined the race debate for years, so it is almost impossible to discuss with being branded with a Scarlet *R*.

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