Does race still matter?

It is said that before Prophet Moses (Musa alayhis salam –” peace be upon him) could settle his people to the Promised Land, the children of Israel lived in the deserts of Arabia for decades. It was like a transition period for the former slaves of Egypt. There they learned how to live as a free nation away from the corrupting influence of Pharaoh’s Egypt. Any change agent would tell you about the wisdom of a transition phase that allows people to adjust accordingly and change their paradigm. Anything done too fast with little preparation and education of the very people who must live through a change is often doomed to failure.

So with President Obama’s election in 2008, I see a validation of that change theory. He is a mixed breed –” son of a Black African father and a white American mother. He is not a pure-bred white or black. Thus, it is no accident that he appears somewhat lighter skinned than many Afro-Americans living in the USA. Being brought up by a highly educated mother and cared for by his white grandparents, it is not difficult to understand that Obama does not have an Afro accent, unless he wants to use that distinguishing dialect.

In their new book "Game Change," authors Mark Halperin and John Heilemann say that in 2008 Harry Reid, the Majority Leader in the Senate, described candidate Obama as a "’light-skinned’ African American ‘with no Negro dialect unless he wanted to have one,’" whom many voters would embrace. This revelation has now become a big news item in the media. Many see the remark damaging to Reid’s re-election chances in Nevada where 77% of eligible African Americans voted in 2008. Some fear that it will inject race into an already tough campaign depressing black turnout in Nevada, and eventually hurt Reid. Senator Reid has already apologized to President Obama on Saturday for his "poor choice of words" — and the president accepted saying that "I know what’s in his heart." Still the Republicans are out to get Reid’s head, who is a Mormon Christian, and fondly known among his supporters to have “an ear of tin and a heart of gold.”

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele, who is black, said on
"Fox News Sunday," "There is this standard where the Democrats feel that they can say these things and they can apologize when it comes from the mouths of their own. But if it comes from anyone else, it’s racism. It’s either racist or it’s not. And it’s inappropriate, absolutely." Steele, along with GOP Senators John Cornyn of Texas and Jon Kyl of Arizona, said Reid’s remarks justified the same outrage once directed at former Sen. Trent Lott (Mississippi Republican) who in 2002, had to step down as majority leader after implying that the country might have been better off if Strom Thurmond of South Carolina had been elected president in 1948, when he ran as a segregationist.

There is no doubt that the Republicans –” the losers in the 2008 election –” are trying everything to hurt the Democratic Party so that the latter’s margin of seats in the Senate is reduced from 58 in the upcoming mid-term election of 2010. They are fired up for 2010. They want to unseat Reid in Nevada — long known as the Mississippi of the West. Their comparison of Reid with Lott is, however, misleading given the fact that Sen. Reid was one of the first lawmakers (alongside the late Senator Ted Kennedy) to encourage Obama to run for president and worked hard to help him win. Reid’s point was that he believed the country was ready to elect an eloquent, mixed race person like Obama in 2008. And he was proven right.

As a keen observer of history and race relations, I seem to believe that while America was ready for Obama in 2008, it was not ready for the likes of Jackson and Sharpton. Even if the latter personalities were to match Obama’s academic and professional credentials, and had spoken and behaved exactly the same way as Obama had done, they would have been rejected by most White Americans. Race still matters not just in the USA, but throughout our world. People are more comfortable about electing or selecting their own kinds even when they are less qualified. As I have pointed out elsewhere the corporate world is no different either. Prejudice runs deep into our human conscience and has had produced adverse results. The societies that have been able to bury prejudice and embrace integration are better positioned to lead and succeed than those that are not.

It was no accident that in their failed attempts for the White House both Hillary Clinton and John McCain played the race card. Even the former president Bill Clinton came to his wife’s aid to sully his own global image. But nothing worked. The American people had enough of anyone who sounded like George W. Bush. They wanted a change; a real change away from the Bible-thumping Christian merchants of war, and the savage labels of Bush and Cheney’s extraordinary renditions, Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. And Obama sold that idea of change rather successfully. He gave them hope of a better future. With that, Obama was able to unite not only his Black electorate base and minority voters but excite all those in the middle who were White swing voters, and win the 2008 presidential election.

I am willing to believe that it won’t be too long when one day the son or daughter of Black parents will occupy the White House. But in the mean time, those aspiring children of the African Americans must go through the transition phase of living in the “desert of Arabia” before occupying the White House.