Would anyone vote for him with his character and history if he’d been black? To be black in politics, means to be perfect in every way, every moment of every day. He would have had to set and live his life to an impossible standard of perfection ‘off’ his field of play that exceeded his performance ‘on’ it.
Three black men, Barack Obama, Tiger Woods, and Lewis Hamilton have had to live up to this level of perfection every minute of every day. We’ve read a lot about the first two names. The third made history yesterday as the youngest man ever to hoist the season ending Formula 1 Racing Driver’s Championship trophy at age 23.
In just two hours, quiet and soft-spoken Englishman Lewis Hamilton broke through a colour and skill barrier piloting a McLaren race car worth millions past Ferrari, BMW, Renault and others to the title.
In two years, Forbes Magazine projects that Tiger Woods will become the first sportsman to become a billionaire.
In two days time, two score years after Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have Dream’ speech, Barack Obama could become the first black man to become Commander in Chief and leader of the free world as President of the United States .
All have heart, skill, and determination. All overcame enormous odds to reach the pinnacle of their profession. All suffered indignity with a quiet and firm resolve. All sacrificed to perfect their craft. All needed perfect, calm, steel-like personalities and the temperament to show the world they belonged or… sadly, might never have gotten the chance. And all broke through the highest of glass ceilings and had to understand ‘their place’ to reach the top level of their game.
All owe a debt of gratitude to a man they never met. Jackie Robinson broke the colour barrier by being the first to play baseball for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Travelling through the South in the 1950s, he could not stay with his teammates in hotels. He slept in Coloreds Only rooming houses. He could not sit at a lunch counter, dine with his teammates in a restaurant or sit at the front of any bus. Robinson never made a fuss, never raised his voice and never, ever stepped out of line. He couldn’t, the stakes were too high. He retired as quietly and gracefully as he arrived and so many men of colour in all walks of life thank him for their chance.
All of the UK rooted today for a black man to win the title. Two years ago we roared at Tiger’s phenomenal British Open comeback in Liverpool before a record worldwide television audience. Season-ending surgery caused attendance and television ratings to drop since his June US Open win. The FedEx Cup challenge was a TV bust without ‘still’ point leader Tiger there.
And sadly, if he ever once behaved churlishly or like a drunken lout, raised his voice or abused a course official, what do you think would happen? If he was ever described anywhere as anything but a perfect gentleman and an always gracious, well-spoken young man, would we still follow him?
Barack Obama draws crowds of 100,000+ clamouring to be part of something we cannot put our finger on yet everyone wants to reach out and touch this man who so touches us with his being. He is universally described as ‘special.’ Here is a man who has every reason to blame the world or fall into a fit of co-dependency, anger or self-destruction because he was ‘wounded.’ Abandoned by his father, mother dying of cancer, growing up all around the world… he could have ended up like so many other young men of colour and yet look at who he became.
Obama’s running against a man who has served his country with distinction and… how far though he would have gotten, if circumstances were changed?
- Obama paraded five children across the stage, including an unwed, pregnant teenage daughter?
- John McCain was former president of the Harvard Law Review, while Barack Obama finished fourth from the bottom of his graduating class?
- McCain had only married once and Obama was the divorcee?
- Obama had met his second wife in a bar and had a long affair while he was still married?
- Obama left his first wife after a severe disfiguring car accident when she no longer measured up to his standards?
- Michelle Obama not only became addicted to pain killers but acquired them illegally through her charitable organization?
- Obama had been a member of the Keating Five, United States Senators accused of corruption in 1989?
- McCain was a charismatic, eloquent speaker while Obama couldn’t read from a teleprompter?
- Obama had military experience that included discipline problems and a record of crashing four planes?
- Obama was known to display publicly, on many occasions, a serious anger management problem?
- The Obamas had adopted a white child?
How close would this race be? Would a black John McCain even be allowed to be a politician much less a potential leader of our country?
This is the scourge of racism. We have a lot to do to heal our country.
Thank you Mssrs. Obama, Woods, Robinson, and Hamilton and keep on keepin’ on gents, there are generations of Asian-Americans, Arab-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and Native-Americans looking to you to inspire and make their paths easier through your example and… bring us back together as a country and intoa global community of nations.
And we’re all lucky enough to be a part of it with you.
(With kind thanks to my colleague Charley James and his friends Mike and Micheline teachers in Guangzhou, China for the ‘what if’ list.)
Denis Campbell is a US journalist based in the United Kingdom. He contributes to newspapers and magazines, is a BBC Radio election commentator and publishes the daily e-magazine The Vadimus Post from the Latin Quo Vadimus – where are we headed and do we know why?
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Copyright 2008 LA Progressive