In winter of 2008, the American voters did something they had never done before. After all the rhetoric and after all the ballots were counted, the American people had made history. Barack Hussein Obama was elected as the 44th president of the United States. Irrespective of your political influence, this was an historic day for America. Considering all the racial tumult that the country has been through and considering he was elected only one generation after the civil rights movement, this event signaled a major change in America. For many Americans, the odds of this occurring were astronomical. Haley’s Comet hitting earth seemed more likely.
After the fanfare, speeches and protests, we all realized that Barack Obama was a politician. There were areas where he excelled and other areas where he struggled. He stayed true to his political base and supported those who supported him. He pushed through laws that some wanted and forced through laws that others didn’t want. Though he accomplished something historic, at the end of the day he was just another politician. He will be evaluated through the “first African American President” lenses, but he more appropriately should be evaluated based on his merits.
Martin Luther King asked the American establishment to judge all people based on the content of their character and not the color of their skin. However, we have done the exact opposite. Instead of talking about the 44th president of the United States of America, we talk about the first African American President. It is understandable. After all we have been though as a nation, we want to point out great accomplishments like this. They are the markers of change, the signs of the time. But that isn’t necessarily what Martin Luther King and those who marched on Washington asked for.
As a society we really need to change our tune. We need to change our language. We need to heed the teachings that Mr. King left us. We should stop using those patronizing terms, the first black this, the first Hispanic that. These titles are well intentioned, but we should stop acknowledging accomplishments based on the color of one’s skin. We should start acknowledging accomplishments based on the content of one’s character.
We need to start focusing less on who people are and more on what they do. Then and only then will we be fulfilling the essence of the Civil Rights movement. We should hope that we all can pursue excellence and get acknowledged for what we do and not who we are. We should be judged not by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character.