Despite the recent spat concerning both racism and sexism in the campaigns of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, I read an article this morning that dares to looks beyond those accusations to the ultimate truth. Entitled "Tossing Out the Race Card from the Deck", written by Tom Moran of The Newark, New Jersey, Star Ledger, it illustrates how the issue of race-based politics has evolved over the years. I am very glad we are having this kind of reasoned, rational conversation on this issue instead of the same old pointlessly divisive argument that does little to address the problem and everything to stir up old hatreds.
A year or so ago, I attended a political debate held for local city council elections. The city of Birmingham has for years been comprised of a majority African-American population and as one would expect, most of the candidates themselves were people of color. A woman a only a few years older than me was running for one of the open council seats and I couldn't help but notice a decided difference in how she chose to present her candidacy. By contrast, the candidates of a generation before us trotted out the conventional line of thinking which pits White against Black.
When I pulled her aside privately, we had a chance to speak at length. As she said to me,
You and I are younger. We understand that it isn't about Bull Connor and fire hoses anymore. Times have changed. People have changed.
This has been a long time coming. Only with the arrival of Obama on the political landscape and his viability as an electable candidate have the majority of Americans realized aware that the same politics of racial division are no longer applicable. No one doubts that racism still exists, but it has taken on different permutations than in the past. Economic inequality is arguable the most potent example of contemporary racism and as such, it needs to be addressed in a much more diplomatic, broader context that unites us rather than separates us into factions. As Moran notes, merit, not race, will be the deciding factor in who becomes the Democratic nominee for President in 2008.
Gloria Steinem argued in a column written for The New York Times that, as she put it, "gender is a far more restricting force in American life" than race. I see her point, but the reality is far more complex than that. Discrimination in any form is not always so cut-and-dry. If it were, then we as a society would be better able to address the matter and combat it properly. The problems that face humanity as a whole present challenges that cannot be solved by simple, easy solutions. They are contextually broad and as such resolving them requires the input of everyone, white or black, male or female, rich or poor.
Ignore the Oppression Olympics. Ultimately it matters little whether sexism or racism is a bigger challenge. Electing the best candidate for the job is far more important than superficial banter. We need not get distracted from the true purpose of an election, which is to select the person who can do the best job and be the best steward of our trust. So long as there are people, there will be inequality and oppression.