Mr. President! A Reflection
There is a cry against the predilection of poisonous political rhetoric that only seeks to divide a people committed to being the United States of America.
On the steps of the Capitol a new chapter of American history will be written on 20 January in the 9th year of the 21st century because of the amazing moment when Barack Obama became the 44th elected president of this country! While most folk of many hues are celebrating, some folk from many places are asking ‘What do you think?’ I thought I might jot down a thought or two because my mind went back to the day when Initiative of Change symbolically ‘scrubbed’ the steps of the greatest political symbol of freedom in the world: The U.S. Capitol.
We programmed that day of our Washington conference acknowledging not only the mistreatment of the slaves who built the Capitol but also – we looked towards a new future – lifting up a message of ‘never again’ that any American would ever be degraded by any political institution of this country. Actors, dressed as slaves, worked until they ‘fell dead!’ They were ‘resurrected’ and then danced on the steps they had built while onlookers (representing new generations) joined them in not only washing the steps: cleansing our common history and seeking to prepare this country for a far more glorious future, a future that would include generations of lawmakers and those who would guide the ‘Ship of State’.
I did not cry last night as I saw President-Elect Obama offer his acceptance speech because I knew that the steps were cleansed and ready for him to stand upon as he launched this country into its even more profound history. A slight smile was the most that I could muster as I pondered his heritage and his potential as our new leader. Looking at this man who looked much like me by skin color, I recognized that there is a significant difference in my DNA and his. I came from enslaved Africans and free Europeans. He came from a free African father and a free European mother. He harbored no contempt – nor expectations – for the descendents of former slave masters since his ancestors had never been enslaved. A very telling comparison is the comparative rhetoric of him and his wife, Michelle, as she launched into her role in the campaign.
His capacity to embrace both so easily came because he had never had to choose only one aspect of his own being while denying – even denigrating – other aspects of his being relative to both color and culture. He had never had to accept his blackness while denying his whiteness; he could hold dear both races and cultures that had merged to form his life. Therefore, it is clear that racial animosity has found no place in his thinking because though he identified with black Americans, he never needed to castigate white Americans because they – through his mother and grandparents – forged no racial distrust into his emotional makeup. Though subject to some contemporary racial attitudes – Obama admits about his grandmother – overall they carefully nurtured him into a racial maturity because there was no historical racial animosity.
I rejoice with the world that a man with the qualities of President-Elect Obama has been voted into such a position. Having inspired a nation like John F. Kennedy, I believe that he will selflessly risk much for peace like an Anwar Sadat and will raise principles of life and living matching the wisdom of the great Mahatma Gandhi. For it was in his ‘Letter To The Negroes’ he prophetically declared in the 1930s that ‘the unadulterated message of non-violence will be given to the world through the American Negro’. This vision was fulfilled in the person of Martin Luther King, Jr. However, that ‘vision’ has now emptied itself into the fulfillment of ‘the dream’ that ‘one day his children and others would be judged not by the color of their skin (however they came by it) but by the content of their character!’ That day has come and along with a more righteous assessment of fellow human beings, there is a cry against the predilection of poisonous political rhetoric that only seeks to divide a people committed to being the United States of America.
Rev. Dr. Paige Lanier Chargois serves churches and organizations as a consultant in the areas of leadership, faith and ministry development. She is an author of Certain Women Called By Christ and has been tapped by Judson Press for her second book covering the area of hospitality in the church from its historical beginnings to the role of ‘greeters’ in various churches today. She has worked professionally in the field of racial reconciliation through several organizations including Hope In The Cities over the past 20-plus years. She currently resides in Richmond, VA.