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Race and Obama's Election

By LaToya FosterPolitical Commentator/Host, "In the Know"

Standing on the National Mall yesterday, observing millions from all walks of life come together to celebrate the change that has arrived in America, I couldn't help but be overcome with emotion, thinking to myself how would Dr. King react had he lived to witness this moment in time? He marched for this moment. He was incarcerated for this moment. He delivered speeches that continue to emotionally move us generations later for this moment. He sacrificed his life for this moment. How would he respond to the fruits of his labors? How proud would he be to witness his dream unfolding? Would he feel that his mission was accomplished?

[caption id="attachment_2872" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Martin Luther King (AP)"][/caption]

Now that Barack Hussein Obama stands before us, only a heartbeat away from becoming the first and only African-American to be elected leader of the free world, I often wonder if the doors to conversations regarding racism and race relations are about to close forever.

The beauty of the 2008 Presidential campaign was the fact that America could finally have an open conversation about racism, classism, and sexism, instead of tip-toeing around the white elephant in the room.
Can Black America continue to invoke racism as the reason they weren't hired or promoted, pulled over on a highway, or followed around by a sales associate in a high-end store?

Will the world look at Black America and believe that because Barack Obama was elected to the highest office in the land that racism no longer exists?

Wishful thinking. In a perfect world, that's music to our ears, but the fact remains that President-Elect Barack Obama was not elected president of the most powerful country in the world because he's black. He was elected because he was the best person for the job.

His ability to connect with the disengaged is why first-time voters, young people, many who weren't even old enough to vote, rallied together embracing the "yes we can" attitude.

On that cold January night in Iowa in 2008, African-Americans--who were his greatest critics in the beginning-- felt the movement, and jumped on board the road to change, believing that if a state with only four percent of blacks in its population believes that we're ready to embark on change, there must be something special about this man, and perhaps this country is ready to write a new chapter in its history.

The beauty of the 2008 Presidential campaign was the fact that America could finally have an open conversation about racism, classism, and sexism, instead of tip-toeing around the white elephant in the room.

When I interviewed President-elect Obama during the campaign season, we discussed how the world and the country will look at this nation differently when he's inaugurated the 44thPresident of the United States. President-elect Obama made it clear that his victory would not be a test of symbolism or diversity, but a test of how ordinary people can bring their agenda to Washington, which has been dominated by special interests and ignored the challenges facing everyday people.

I recall election night in Washington, D.C., as people from diverse backgrounds---young, old, black, white, Latino, Asian, gay, straight, Democrat, Republican, waited anxiously for the results to come in. Even in that moment, many blacks still wondered if all of those supporters who came out in masses to rallies all over the country in support of the guy with the funny name and the big ears (in the words of President-Elect Barack Obama), would flip the script and throw their support behind John McCain, who represented Washington as we know it. People sat on the edges of their seats, hearts pounding in anticipation. As I write today, the thought of it still sends chills up my spine and tears flowing down my cheeks, that this country is evolving and truly embracing inclusiveness.

Last night, one of my best friends and I were hobnobbing at one of the swankiest hotels in Washington, and ironically, as fate would have it, we ended up sitting in the lounge with P-Diddy's mom, Janice Combs, who recalled how emotional election night was her. She recalled sobbing uncontrollably at a private watch party given by her hip-hip icon son in New York City, thinking like so many, that she would never live to see an African-American President.

But, after the balloons have dropped, the confetti is swept away and we go back to life as we know it, the issue of racism, unfortunately, still lives on.

There is still a lack of diversity in our government. African-Americans still only represent ten percent of Congress.

Children who live in the nation's capital and other regions of the country, continue to feel the impact of a divided city, recognizing that the public education playing field is not leveled.

We still have an issue of crack versus powder cocaine laws that have disproportionately sent young black men to prison.

We cannot begin to turn our backs on the families of victims who died at the hands of law enforcement for uncommitted crimes, whose bodies were riddled by rounds of bullets.

We haven't forgotten the story of the young black woman who was kidnapped in West Virginia and was forced to drink water from the toilet, eat rodent feces, and perform sexual acts on her captors.

Ambitious young minority job seekers still face the possibility of stereotypes because the names on their job applications read "LaKita" instead of "Linda," or "Malik" instead of "Mark."

Do we really need diversity departments on our campuses and in our companies? If not, why do they exist?

What about all of the children who go missing everyday that never get the air time that Caylee Anthony or Jon Benet received?

What about our news outlets, none of which have hired one African-American or Hispanic to host a public affairs program, shaping and leading the dialogue and discussion, even after a black president was elected.

Oh, I could go on and on with more examples, but at the end of the day, I am so proud of how my country has evolved. That our nation is aggressively moving towards a color-blind society. That the dream that Dr. King had for this country is being fulfilled. That when parents from all ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds tell their sons and daughters that they can be anything they want to be, including the president of the United States, it will be the truth.

Black America also has its share of work to do to improve its image and change public perception. We must work diligently to ensure that more black students fill our college campuses instead of our federal prisons. Black men must take responsibility for raising their children, and recognize that their presenceis their children's greatest present.

Can we put an end to racism once and for all and improve race relations? In the words of President-Elect Barack Obama "Yes We Can!"

LaToya Foster is the host of her own independently-produced public affairs program "In The Know," in Washington, D.C. and is currently working on her first book.