An Old White Woman’s Message to Young African-Americans
I was thrilled to be able to vote for Barack Obama last week and over-the-top thrilled to watch him win. It brought my life full circle. Fifty years ago when I was in college, I spent many weekends working and marching for civil rights. It was important work, and although there were moments of great disappointment for us in those days, I never doubted that America would move forward to fulfill its promises of equality and justice. Then as a college professor, I saw change come slowly but steadily over the years as each decade of young students viewed life differently than the previous ones.
So now I have a message for young African-American men. You can no longer yearn to be the first black president. That has now been done. But you can yearn to be the second one. Or the third. Or you can be lots of other things that you see in your dreams. You can study hard to see what others have learned in the past. You can learn how to resolve conflicts effectively, how to build bridges between opposing groups, how to find answers to hard problems. Your generation will have possibilities that surpass those which your parents and grandparents had. Look for them and pursue them.
Let me turn now to address young African-American women. You cannot be the first African-American President or First Lady, but I would love to see one of you be the first woman President. Since I am seriously ill, I know I will not live to see that day, but I feel the way Obama’s grandmother probably felt in her last days when she must have taken great joy in knowing what was coming even as she knew she might not actually see it. I feel confidently hopeful that you can now travel future roads without having me and my generation of feminists pushing you from behind. You can study hard, learn to lead healthy lives, resist the temptations of drugs or teen pregnancies which can derail your hopes. You can show them that a woman can be every bit as smart and successful as a man.
And finally, to the young men again, please decide to respect your female peers as never before. Play the songs of that other old lady from my generation, Aretha Franklin, every day if you need to remind yourselves of her and my advice. With your support, a new generation of African-American women will find its place in our America and bring our nation to heights of justice and equality that the world has never known. I am almost giddy at the thought.
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