Barack Obama (1961 – )

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“I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother — a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.”

His ultimate legacy has yet to be determined but Barack Obama, through his efforts at improving race relations, has shown the world that, even during tumultuous times, minority does not mean lesser citizen.

His speech on race in America, neither supporting nor condemning but, understanding Reverend Jeremy Wright, displayed a marked contrast to the inflammatory language that racial tension can reveal and incite. He was unwilling to point the finger at any one ethnic group, perhaps because he recognizes, like Mandela, that effective dialogue after conflict requires us to acknowledge our own wrongdoing.

After another racially charged episode, Obama invited the white police officer and the black Harvard professor he mistakenly arrested to the White House to shoot the breeze over a beer. A misunderstanding that could have had ugly after effects became a “teachable moment” for a nation quite unaccustomed to hearing a political leader speak that way.

For many, the election alone of Barack Obama was significant, in that it proved an African-American could reach the highest office and that the United States had taken another step forward in addressing its racial tensions.

Lest we forget he is but one generation removed from his African heritage, partially raised by an Indonesian Step-Father in a Muslim country, and educated in the Ivy-League. Given this diverse background, in an age of global immigration, his mere presence changes the tune on the international stage.

Though he is a politician, who, like many before him, has had to compromise his platform, break promises, and work in concert with special interests in gaining and holding power, his administration ushered in a strong voice for reason, so sadly missing from American leadership in the previous eight years.

His heritage may have forced him to cultivate a world view that cannot afford the luxury of cultural or ethnic bias. His speech on Race in America provided a glowing standard for his and all nations transitioning to a society of true racial equality.

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