Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this post are solely those of the author and are in no way reflective of any official or unofficial positions of the Antioch United Methodist Church were the author serves as pastor, nor represent the official teaching of the United Methodist Church.
Not long ago I was talking with someone about the current political race for president, focusing in particular on the persons seeking the nomination as the candidate for the Democratic party. I was sharing my belief that part of what we are seeing in the rise of non-establishment candidates in both parties (Huckabee in the Republican world and Obama in the Democratic realms) represents a move beyond the politics of the baby boom as the succeeding generations (and those boomers who lean more toward the postmodern than modern side) insist on a new, less polarized vision of politics in our nation.
In the midst of that conversation, this person (who tends to lean toward the progressive side of political belief) said (and I paraphrase):
“Obama is an interesting candidate, but there is no way that this nation will be willing to elect a black candidate.”
“O really,” I replied.
“No,” the person said, “we simply haven’t come to that point in race relations in this country.”
Certainly, I absolutely agree that issues of race and ethnicity are still powerful forces in the U.S., some of which is demonstrated in the recent xenophobia directed at recent immigrants. I also agree that we have a long way to go before King’s vision of a world in which people are judged on the “content of their character and not the color of their skin” comes to be a reality.
Yet, in Mr. Obama’s victory in Iowa last night, I found myself filled with hope that maybe we have moved beyond the historic racism that has been a part of our story for so long.
Iowa is a state which is 97% white. It is rural, filled with farms and small towns. I’ve known several folks from Iowa, and while Iowans take their politics very seriously and there is an independent streak I every Iowan I’ve known, they don’t conform to any image of east coast liberalism.
But then there was last night:
Mr. Obama’s victory in this overwhelmingly white state was a powerful answer to the question of whether America was prepared to vote for a black person for president. What was remarkable was the extent to which race was not a factor in this contest. Surveys of voters entering the caucuses also indicated that he had won the support of many independents, a development that his aides used to rebut suggestions from rivals that he could not win a general election.
Yes, there is a long way to go in this campaign, and it is likely that the Clinton machine will regroup and make this into a fight. Yes, the south is still ahead of Mr. Obama, a place that has become more hostile to Democrats in general, and where racism is still found in rural areas.
But last night gave me hope that it might indeed be possible to see a change in our national identity that is far overdue.
Could it be that a new chapter in our history is ahead of us?
I pray that it might be so.