This is an essay I wrote for a scholarship contest. I'm posting for reviews on writing style, not really on content. I tried to stay true to my values, and not be a sell out; but it's hard when one is fighting for money to determine the next few years of their future...
In 1832, a thirty year old black man was jailed for sitting in the “white car” of a train. On September 22, 1862, the slaves of America were freed. 1868 saw the passing of the fourteenth amendment, which gave blacks the right to vote. In 1870, Mississippi became the first state to elect an African American senator. In 1914, Kentucky passed a law allowing residential segregation. In 1915, Oklahoma segregated telephone booths. In 1920, Mississippi passed a law making it a criminal offense to advocate interracial marriages. In 1920, all states had segregated schools. In 1921, all voters were required to be able to read and write in English, which many blacks could not do. In 1953, segregation in the National Guard was banned, school segregation was banned, and residential segregation was banned. In 1961, transportation segregation was banned. By this point, nearly all of the country was desegregated, and where it wasn’t, efforts were underway to stop the segregation. For several years, it seemed as though African Americans had come as far as they could in the fight for equality. Most of America was desegregated, they had most of the same rights that whites had, and they even held positions of power. It seemed to many that the fight for equality was over, and African Americans could ask for no more. Some wanted more though. In 1901, Booker T. Washington became the first man to ever dine in the White House, and in 2009, the Obama family will become the first African American family elected to live in the White House.
On Tuesday January 20th, 2009, Barack Obama will be sworn in as America’s 44th president. The inauguration of any president is an important occasion, but this one is especially so. This one is special because Barack Obama is half African American. Many in America would like to say that this is meaningless, that America has been equal for both blacks and whites for many years now. Some would argue that the racial orientation of Barack Obama has no relevance in our country today. They would say that he is a good man, and the color of his skin is irrelevant. I know, however, that this is not true.
My family lived in southern Virginia for eleven months. First hand, we witnessed what racial discrimination can do to a community. We saw how neighbors fought against each other, classmates distrusted one another, and coworkers were blatantly racist. Store clerks ignored customers because of their color, and some of the store patrons were horribly rude to the employees. Not everyone was racially prejudiced, but many people were. It seemed that these people were unable to see past the mindsets of their ancestors, and could only judge a person based on his or her skin color.
For several generations, the line between second class and equal was very obvious to the African Americans in America. Prejudice didn’t stop there, however. Many African Americans are prejudiced against the Caucasians in America. There is a strong “victim’s” mentality in the descendents of slaves, and even in those whose ancestors were not slaves. Many behave as though they believe that the white citizens of our country owe them, whether the debt be monetary, in servitude, or even in attitude. Across the southern states, these thoughts and attitudes are rampant. This, I believe, is just as detrimental to America’s fight for equality as the racism against African Americans is.
In order for our country to achieve complete equality, racism must be wholly eradicated from our society. The people of America need to accept that, beneath the skin, every person is exactly the same as the person next to him. When a body has decayed, the bones left behind are the same, regardless of the color of skin the owner of said bones had. Regardless of a person’s heritage, every man is his neighbor’s equal. Not until all of America realizes this and accepts this will we be a truly united nation. A nation united cannot fall.
In the election of a man who is fifty per cent white and fifty per cent black, America has reached a pivotal point in her growth. The acceptance of someone not exactly like ourselves is showing a maturity far beyond what has been seen in recent years. President-elect Obama’s election is not simply the election of another president, it is proof that American’s can overcome racial boundaries and put aside their personal prejudices.
Regardless of one’s personal opinion of Barack Obama, his morals, and his policies, it is impossible to ignore the significance of his election. He has been chosen by the people of America to lead our country for the next four years. Being of mixed race, Obama is defining what America should strive for. His mother is Caucasian and his father was African American. Barack Obama is equal parts of both races, just as our country is.
For four years, the entire Obama family will live in the White House. For years, even decades afterward, they will be remembered as the first African American family to be the first family. Barack Obama will always be the first black president, and Michelle Obama will always be the first black first lady. They will go down in the history of America as pioneers, along with Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and hundreds of others who have stepped out and moved forward.
What does the election of Barack Obama mean to me and my family? It means that our country is moving forward. It means that we have reached a milestone in the fight against racial prejudices. It means that America is headed in a new direction morally, into unchartered territory. It means that we are one step closer to a nation where who a person is is not dependent on the color of their skin, but rather their personality, morals, and personal beliefs. Obama ran his campaign on the idea of “change”. Our country is changing; there is no denying this fact. The election of Barack Obama means that America is one step closer to equality.