THE BLACK MAN'S. It's a shame to choose, but the racial order is finally primed for a defeat.
African-Americans have long viewed the prospect of a black presidency as a kind of sardonic joke punctuated by the punch line, "Not in my lifetime!"
It is true that African-Americans were officially granted the right to vote half a century before women were, but this "right" didn't stop whites from intimidating them through de jure segregation aimed at limiting their participation in government. As a race, African-Americans were intentionally shut out of politics just like women -- but with a vicious twist.
That twist involved officially sanctioned violence aimed at killing their spirit as a people. The long, bloody history of lynching -- whose victims were primarily African-American -- is all about denying blacks their humanity. This is an important distinction between African-Americans of both genders and white women.
It might even be said that the elitist white women who formed the largely segregated suffragette movement did little to stop the violence against African-Americans. In fact, pictures and accounts of those lynchings include a surprising number of white women who participated as false accusers and gawkers.
Clearly, on all but technical grounds, African-Americans have finished dead last behind white men and white women in terms of political positioning.
Today, as history beckons, things have changed and the unfortunate question arises: Who should be first -- a woman or an African-American? The only sensible answer, of course, is that there can be no entitlement to the presidency based on race or gender. While both candidates equally deserve the opportunity, only one is strong enough this year to whip the Ancient of Days, John McCain, in a run for the presidency.
There has never been an African-American man or woman on a major party's ticket during a presidential campaign. By contrast, Geraldine Ferraro, trailblazer that she is, represented women in 1984 and could have been an outstanding vice president. But Fritz didn't have the grits to beat Ronald Reagan, and a wonderful opportunity evaporated.
When Jesse Jackson received unprecedented support for his presidential bid in 1988, some wondered if perhaps he might be nominated. But as an outgrowth of the Civil Rights movement, Jackson's campaign brought back too many bad memories, and voters eventually handed the Democratic nomination to one of the most elegant-but-irrelevant footnotes in American history, one Michael Dukakis.
All of which points up the genius of the Barack Obama campaign. With no link to Civil Rights leaders like Jackson, Obama is free to talk about "hope" and "change" with little sense of irony. The longer he is front and center, the easier it becomes for the electorate to accept his style of blackness and even appreciate the brother's quintessential cool -- especially in contrast to McCain's white-hot anger, which seems to be smoldering just beneath the surface.
It's a shame when one marginalized group has to compete against another for the presidency, especially since good leadership is at a premium. But 2008 is destined to be the year when racial politics is finally turned upside down and the last shall truly be first.
Syl Jones, of Minnetonka, is a journalist, playwright and communications consultant.
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