My wife Becky and I attending the annual Black History Month reception at the White House last month.
Back in 2013, I had an interesting discussion on race with a secretary at my God daughter’s middle school. She had a dentist appointment that day, and while waiting for her to come down to the office, a secretary asked me had I seen the new movie “42?”
The movie was a biographical sports film about Jackie Robinson and his integration of major league baseball in 1946.
Once I answered I had indeed seen the movie and enjoyed it very much, the (white) secretary started recounting the ugly racial discrimination during that time period and that currently exists in the United States as she saw it.
As an African American, I agreed with her that America has not always lived up to its creed that all men are created equal. I did tell her though that no other nation on earth has attempted – through a bloody civil war and with a too often bloody civil rights movement – to rectify these past injustices.
I also told her how remarkable it was that a country founded on the enslavement of Africans would one day have a president of African descent who was not only elected but reelected.
I will never forget her response to me afterwards. She said, “You know, I’ve never looked at it quite like that before!”
This school secretary wasn’t a Millennial or Generation X’er like myself but was a Baby Boomer nearing retirement! The fact that she saw only the negative history and not the great strides this country has made in race relation still astounds me to this day.
I had a personal experience recently that poignantly illustrated to me just how far this nation has come in terms of race. My wife and I were honored last month to attend a reception at the White House with President Trump honoring Black History month.
The fact that a great great grandson of former slave Steve Arp (the “s” was added after the civil war) was attending a reception at the White House (that was built by slaves) is still unbelievable to me. But was was even more unbelievable was the selfie my wife and I took.
Here we were an interracial couple taking selfies in the White House while Abraham Lincoln is looking down at us in an observant pose. I kept thinking to myself how unfathomable that would have been for people during Lincoln’s time in the White House.
Senator Obama made a similar observation on the progress of race relations back in 2008 while running for president:
Throughout the first year of this campaign, against all predictions to the contrary, we saw how hungry the American people were for this message of unity. Despite the temptation to view my candidacy through a purely racial lens, we won commanding victories in states with some of the whitest populations in the country. In South Carolina, where the Confederate Flag still flies, we built a powerful coalition of African Americans and white Americans.
Unfortunately, the Democrat Party’s electoral fortunes suffer when there is a perception of racial progress so they and their allies in academia and the media foment division to keep us separated by race. Pew Research:
The election of the nation’s first black president raised hopes that race relations in the U.S. would improve, especially among black voters. But by 2016, following a spate of high-profile deaths of black Americans during encounters with police and protests by the Black Lives Matter movement and other groups, many Americans – especially blacks – described race relations as generally bad.
Here is the Brookings Institution’s assessment of how Donald Trump became the 45th president of the United States:
First, Donald Trump’s support in the 2016 campaign was clearly driven by racism, sexism, and xenophobia. While some observers have explained Trump’s success as a result of economic anxiety, the data demonstrate that anti-immigrant sentiment, racism, and sexism are much more strongly related to support for Trump. Trump’s much-discussed vote advantage with non-college-educated whites is misleading; when accounting for racism and sexism, the education gap among whites in the 2016 election returns to the typical levels of previous elections since 2000. Trump did not do especially well with non-college-educated whites, compared to other Republicans. He did especially well with white people who express sexist views about women and who deny racism exists.
Perception can too often mean reality to people too busy with their lives to follow politics closely. The Democrats have been doing everything in their power to portray America as heading backwards in terms of race relations.
I find it ironic that the Party that touted “the most diverse presidential field ever” is now down to two old white men.
Am I saying that racism and discrimination no longer exists? Of course not, but my visit to the White House reminded me that we have indeed come a long way to achieving Martin Luther King Jr’s dream.