A few months ago, a colleague of mine at work wondered about Barack Obama as a viable presidential candidate due to his race. "There's a lot of hatred out there," he explained. This was not coming from a racist individual; rather, he was giving what he thought was a realistic appraisal of Obama's chances due to the racism that still prevails.
I countered with the example of Jackie Robinson. When Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1950's, he suffered a great deal of abuse. Clearly not all of America or Major League Baseball was ready for an African-American baseball player. He was a pioneer, however, and he forced the issue by his very presence, outstanding skills and strong character. I stated that Barack Obama was that same kind of pioneer.
As the presidential campaign continued and the Republican ticket was faltering, my colleague, who happens to be a Republican, admitted that the only reason McCain could possibly prevail was because of racism–which he correctly stated was a nothing but an shameful factor.
Obama's victory on Tuesday proved my Robinson-Obama analogy to be correct; more importantly, it vindicated America from charges like that the country is too racist to elect an African-American. Many Obama supporters were worried about the "Bradley Effect," the concern that whites who say that they'll vote for a black candidate will not be able to do so once they're alone in the voting booth.
America proved better than this fear. In fact, it proved better than all the fears that the McCain-Palin campaign tried to stoke: Obama as a "socialist," a "pal of terrorists," a "redistributor." In voting for Obama, the country turned away from these false images and concentrated on the real issues.
The nation elected a candidate who wants to find a place for diplomacy in foreign affairs, extend health care for all, restore progressive taxation, respect the Constitution, explore alternative energy sources and end the quagmire in Iraq, among other crucial issues. At the same time, the country repudiated the continuation of the Bush administration policies represented by the McCain-Palin ticket.
To what degree is the country ready for a pioneer like Jackie Robinson and Barack Obama, and to what degree do extraordinary individuals like these push the country forward? It's difficult to tell. What's clear is that both are extraordinary individuals who come along once in a generation and reveal to ourselves how ready we are to embrace progress and justice.