Why Race Does Matter

Travis - Winston Salem, North Carolina
Entered on October 11, 2008
Age Group: 18 - 30
Themes: race

After a lot of thought, I think it is time to admit that, at least for me, race does matter in this election year.

For what I believe is a majority of people my age, life has never been about the color of a person’s skin. At least that has never been the central theme in relationships, education, job searches, religion, or any other realm of social interaction. We are fortunate enough to have been given a gift by the generations that came before us, the gift of tolerance and acceptance.

Let me be clear, I know that there are extremes to every situation and viewpoint, but this piece is not about those extremes. I have lived along side of those extremes and seen their ugliness uncovered in moments of vulnerability and heated emotions, I am not proud of having seen them, nor of having stood by as a witness. On the other hand, I am not speaking here of forced acceptance nor government mandated equality measures.

Born more than a decade, but less than two, after the civil rights act of 1964, my generation was among the first to come to consciousness in this nation without the veil of segregation over our eyes, and without the cloud of hate worn on sleeves in the public sphere. I was brought up in small town South Carolina, hardly a bastion for tolerance and a far cry from progressive. Even so, never did I enter into a classroom full of students of one single skin tone. From a very early preschool age, people of every color surrounded me. I like so many other children my age, made friends, played ball, made enemies, and made a mess with all of the other children around me. Innocent and free to be so with whoever I chose to be.

I honestly can say that I did not realize the importance of color nor the impact it would have on my life or that of those around me. I think that this, my generation, was among the first to come of age in that reality.

I am thankful for that upbringing, not free of, but never imposed upon by racist view points. Tolerance was taught to me from a very young age, not only by my parents, although they surely played a role, but by the events of my childhood. Not a year has gone by in which I attended a school that was any less colorful than my elementary school, and many since have been more diverse. Schools in New Mexico introduced me to another people’s children, and that is all we were, children swinging our hearts out on tetherball courts and hoping not to be picked last or, even worse, strike out in kick ball.

This may all seem to ramble, and admittedly it is hard to sum up in words the feelings that have been stirring in me since I first became interested in the hopes and dreams of the young senator from Chicago. 

It is precisely because race has never been a deciding factor in my mind that it matters so much to me now.

The country that I know and love is a country molded by the brave choices of generations past, built on lessons of constant improvement in the search of a better tomorrow for its children, and full of those capable of making great leaps of faith in search of better ways of living together. That is the country that I see before me now.

As I sit here thinking of the possibility of knowing that a black man has risen to the highest office in this land, the fact that such a realization does not astonish, shock, or even surprise me in the least is reason enough to believe in our capacity to change and do so quickly. Just twenty years before I was born, this WAS a complete and total impossibility.

But I am not raising this issue out of purely unselfish reasons. There is one more variable to this equation. It is possible that my daughter will be born on Election Day. Regardless of the actual date, my wife and I are bringing a new life into this world, and what I want desperately for that new life, is an even better future for it; a future where she comes to see the world through eyes that have never seen anything other than an articulate, intelligent, qualified and black president.

If we, as a nation, can get over a hurdle that momentously tall in under a half of a century, imagine the goals we could meet in the rest of my lifetime, much less the rest of hers.

So yes, race does matter. It is not the reason that I will vote one way or the other. This is not a matter of turns or entitlement. This is a matter of my belief that the best man for the job is the best man for the job. The belief that hope is winning out over despair, spring over fall.

This is about a belief in the ability of a people to collectively push over one of the greatest walls ever built in the minds of mankind, for something better is bound to be waiting on the other side