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Will the Obama Effect Move Us Beyond Race?

I hope our president can change the culture into one in which success is an obtainable goal entirely distinct from one's skin color.

by
Daniel Halper

Bio

February 1, 2009 - 12:00 am
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Although I was a committed supporter of former presidential candidate John McCain, I have high hopes for Barack Obama’s presidency. Indeed, I cannot help but marvel at the strides made in race relations in America, culminating with Obama’s taking the oath of office as our 44th president. But my hope runs deeper: I hope that Obama will be able to change the culture in America into one in which success is not as a phenomenon particular to a single race, but as an obtainable goal entirely distinct from one’s skin color.

To put this incredible feat into perspective, and to understand my greatest hope for Obama’s presidency, one has only to look at Clarke Central High School, my alma mater. Located in Athens, Georgia, Clarke Central is a public high school that caters to the economically, socially, and racially diverse town. Currently, according the school’s published statistics, the school population is about 55 percent African American. Roughly 40 percent of the student body is on the free or reduced lunch plan. Because it is located in the small town of Athens, Clarke Central is not technically speaking an “inner-city” school, but it is demographically and economically exactly that.

The public school integrated in 1970, when Burney-Harris High School merged with Athens High School, as a direct — though belated — consequence of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision in 1954. At the time of Clarke Central’s creation, then, Obama was nine-years-old, and the prospect of an African American president of the United States was an unlikely hope even for the most optimistic civil rights leaders. Indeed, many of those who lead the civil rights battles in the 50s and 60s have expressed this exact sentiment in wonder and amazement since Obama won the presidential election last November.

But my hope for Obama is deeper than politics, and it carries greater cultural implications — which, if successful, would reverberate in the halls of Clarke Central, as well as similar communities around the nation.

One of the more frustrating aspects of attending Clarke Central was a pervasive attitude, held generally by African American students, that success was a “white” trait. This led to taunting of African American students who took advanced classes and who took school seriously by other African American students. They were considered social pariahs, and often derided as being too white.

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