Last weekend I invited my neighbor to join me for a cold beer and a cigar. We don't get to talk often but we have some rousing debates when we do. The presidential race was near the top of our list for this visit. I come from Irish stock and am roughly retirement age; my neighbor is a mid-forties black Army officer.
After the opening round of "How's the family?" we got down to talking about issues. Having grown up in a family of highly opinionated folks who love a good argument, I've learned to temper my opinions as I've aged, but am always at the ready for a good fight. We quickly dispensed with local politics, crime in the neighborhood (practically non-existent), and how much we both enjoyed a good beer (mine is homemade), and finally got to Obama vs. Romney.
My friend is conservative by nature and I fully expected him to be a Romney supporter. When he sheepishly told me he was going to support Obama, I was incredulous. "Why, pray tell, would you be an Obama supporter?" I asked him.
He told me that his inclination was to follow his conservative roots, but he felt the Obama presidency was so important to the black community that he would support the president on that basis alone. The realization that a black man can actually make it to the highest office in our country was too important. "If Obama is defeated," he told me, "he'll be remembered as a failure. His loss would be perceived, by some, as proof that a black man is not yet up to the task. The legacy is too important to let that happen."
I was, frankly, stunned to hear him express it in such a clear manner. For the record, I don’t disagree with him, but being a full generation older than my friend, I’m not used to hearing such things expressed with this level of honesty and sincerity. Not only was it refreshing, I felt honored that he trusted me enough to feel comfortable expressing it to me.
I’ve personally seen evidence of how the Obama presidency has had a positive impact on the self-esteem of young African-Americans. The blacks of my generation didn’t see much opportunity on their horizon. There was progress made, to be sure, but at a high cost. The presidency, though, has to be seen as the pinnacle of progress; the ultimate achievement in a world that has mostly offered barriers in the past.
I applaud my friend for his decision to choose legacy over personal politics, and to give his vote for the betterment of the next generation of blacks in this country. Encouraging more people of color to run for political office can only make our political system stronger. Win or lose, their presence in the race serves as a beacon of hope for the next generation of voters.