"American race relations plummet"
That is a headline I do not want to see in any paper, yet it is a thought that has taken over my mind since I wrote last week's article. It is also in the thoughts of two friends, one in Baltimore and the other in Kansas City.
Nov. 4 — 9:00 a.m. I just came home from voting and conducting a very unscientific study. Let me start from the beginning.
Ann was politically active in Missouri until she married, moved and gave birth to her first child. A few months ago Ann sent me an e-mail of great concern. Her husband heard rumors that if McCain wins the election, riots will sweep the African-American communities across the continent. Ann was so fearful that she was contemplating returning to Missouri and the safe haven of her mother's home.
Carl is equally scared if Obama wins the election. Two weeks ago he told me his fear is the fringe white supremacist radicals that would take it upon themselves to terrorize Americans of color. He fears for his family's safety.
Ann is a Caucasian liberal. Carl is an African-American conservative from Kansas City. Today, they are both voting party line.
I lived through the race riots of the '60s in New York. Not directly, mind you, but we watched racial unrest every night. We have grown since. In some cases we have regressed. With the "threat" of losing the position of "majority," there is an apparent resurgence of white hate groups. Equally, there are black fringe groups that believe there will be retaliation by whites and have vowed to fight back.
I had a single question for the voters this morning as they left the polls: Regardless who wins, will race relations deteriorate or improve?
There was a lot of serious thinking about the question. Although the poll was nonscientific, what I found was interesting.
At the Columbia Activity and Recreation Center, I talked to every fifth person with an "I voted" sticker. Fifteen in all; seven black, eight white. I found optimism out there.
Ten of the respondents believed that race relations will get better. However, of those, five believed improvement will happen only if Obama is elected. Three hesitated answering, "It depends" but the election of McCain will keep status quo.
Two believe that, regardless who wins, race relations will get worse. I did not ask them to elaborate. Their pessimism was easily read on their faces, black and white.
There is a 'gut feeling' involved in their position. It is based on, first, arguments of fear. We are reminded of this every evening. The news talks about a failing economy, violent crime and reminders that America is under attack by "them," whoever "them" is.
Second is the argument of false dichotomy; you are either for us or against us. You are either white or black, speak English or Spanish, are a new immigrant or your relatives came over on the Mayflower, are Christian or something else. There are no "shades of gray" in these arguments, it is us versus them.
When Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered in 1968, Robert Kennedy spoke in Indianapolis, though he was warned not to. The fear was an immediate reprisal by the black community against all whites, including the presidential candidate. Kennedy's eulogy reminds all Americans:
"... the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings that abide in our land."
Many others have said this, but I repeat: We are not white Americans or black American, Japanese Americans or Mexican Americans. We are not English- or Spanish-speaking American, and we are definitely not Christian, Buddhist, Jewish or Atheist Americans. We are all just Americans and if we live by that premise, forward is the only direction we can go.
By the time you read this we should know who is the 44th President of the United Stated. Both have promised "change." Let's hope they can deliver.
David Rosman is a business and political communications consultant, professional speaker and instructor at Columbia College. He welcomes your comments at ProfDave1011@netscape.net.