As President Barack Obama takes his bow and as we reflect today on Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy, there is a sense of dismay because having a black president for the past eight years didn’t do more to advance race relations in this nation. The dream of a post-racial America seems elusive. In some ways racism seems worse.
It’s not as if there were a significant subset of people advocating racism. So many people wanting progress on the issue should yield great change.
But like the “Avenue Q” muppets sang, everyone’s a little bit racist. Your place on the spectrum is a product of upbringing, experience and culture. Your ability to change that is a very personal mix of intellectual will and self-interest.
Obama’s farewell address offered optimism. From his vantage, things are better, but then fixing racial issues was the great hope for his presidency and many have criticized the dearth of change.
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“For blacks and other minority groups, it means tying our own very real struggles for justice to the challenges that a lot of people in this country face — not only the refugee, or the immigrant, or the rural poor, or the transgender American, but also the middle-aged white guy who, from the outside, may seem like he’s got advantages, but has seen his world upended by economic and cultural and technological change. We have to pay attention, and listen,” Obama told his audience in Chicago.
Chicago: Obama’s home base, which last year saw 780 people murdered, mostly young men, three out of four black, in a wasteland of economic opportunity where human potential is squandered. We understand that dynamic, because we, too, harbor our own Chiraqs in the metro-east.
“For white Americans, it means acknowledging that the effects of slavery and Jim Crow didn’t suddenly vanish in the ’60s — that when minority groups voice discontent, they’re not just engaging in reverse racism or practicing political correctness. When they wage peaceful protest, they’re not demanding special treatment but the equal treatment that our Founders promised.”
Strip down Obama’s farewell, strip down King’s famous speeches, and you come to the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. You’d expect good schools, economic opportunity and presumed respect.
Still, it is a matter of daily steps and choices of the moment guided by the Golden Rule. Its achievement may be our nation’s most worthy mission, as well as yours.