News and views from the award-winning author of the Class H Trilogy: AMERICA LIBRE, HOUSE DIVIDED and PANCHO LAND

Friday, July 11, 2008

A landmark election…regardless of the winner

How will we justify the need for affirmative action programs when the U.S. electorate has chosen a black president?


Every four years, presidential candidates try to convince us that the next election is the most critical in U.S. history. “Our nation is at a crossroads” the politicians are fond of intoning. This year, however, that tattered cliché is actually true.

Barack Obama’s candidacy is nothing less than historic. No African-American has ever earned the nomination of a major political party. But it’s the outcome of the election that will reveal how much progress in racial equality the United States has truly made. A win by Obama will unequivocally prove the nation has moved a giant step closer to Martin Luther King’s dream; that a person should be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.

Should Barack Obama be elected president, there will be much rejoicing among those who have carried the banner of racial equality since the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Yet many of the faithful may find unforeseen consequences in an Obama victory. How will we justify the need for affirmative action programs when the U.S. electorate has chosen a black president? Will Obama’s election put an end to the issue of reparations for slavery? Ironically, a victory by Obama may help undo much of the social agenda the Civil Rights movement helped put in place.

Of course, all this presumes a win by Barack Obama. Although Obama currently leads McCain in the polls, there are many pundits who feel that in the privacy of the voting booth, deeply ingrained prejudices will prevail. In other words, when polled publicly, Americans profess to be unprejudiced. But how they vote privately will reveal what is truly in their hearts. This would not be the first time a lead in the polls has evaporated on election day.

Regardless of the outcome, this presidential contest will reveal much about the real nature of the U.S. electorate … and the future of racial relations in this diverse nation.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez