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Obama’s victory carries major implications

Joseph McMahon | Thursday, November 6, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama shattered the race barrier Tuesday, and in doing so has given hope to millions of black people who once thought they would never live to see a black president.

“It is a very significant rewriting of the history of African-Americans,” director of Multicultural Student Programs and Services Iris Outlaw said. “This election will not eradicate the racial barriers, which exist. It will help to provide hope for young people who felt hopeless until now.”

President of the black men’s group Wabruda Matthew Tipton agreed with Outlaw’s assessment, saying Obama has provided an inspiration to all black people, but there is still work to be done.

“President Obama has knocked open a huge door for African-Americans to do anything we wish to achieve and he has given us the strength to know that sky is limit,” he said. “However it is still our responsibility to walk in that door.”

Outlaw said the focus on the economy and the wars overseas helped numb the issue of race in the campaign. If the country were not in such dire straits, the so-called Bradley Effect, where voters have trouble pulling the lever for a black candidate. But she added that could have played a larger role.

“If the economy and mood of the country had been different, we may not have seen him win. He had an excellent strategist, who knew how to galvanize people overwriting generational and racial differences,” she said.

Tipton echoed Outlaw’s sentiments, arguing race took a backseat to the important issues in the campaigns.

“People who normally would not have the strength to pull the lever for the best-qualified black candidate did so because America is in dire need of change,” he said. “I think in the end, as race stood down and the issues stood up, people confided in President Obama and simply pulled the trigger, thus making the Bradley Effect non-effective in this election.”

Once he takes office in January, however, Obama will not enjoy the luxury of a grace period to adjust himself to the presidency, and instead will face intense scrutiny, political science professor Darren Davis said.

“Usually, presidents are given a honeymoon period when they are first elected,” he said. “I think that people are going to be more critical of Barack Obama.”

Davis said race is still relevant to society and still presents a major challenge.

“If we elect an African-American to the most powerful position in the world, people would tend to say that race is no longer relevant,” he said. “That is the downside to Barack Obama’s success.”

Outlaw said she hopes there is no racist backlash after this historic event, and Tipton added Obama’s wide appeal will probably help prevent any widespread violence.

“Of course we are going to have those few people who still think we are living in the Civil War era and still cannot fathom how on earth a black man was elected,” Tipton said. “However I think that a majority of America is behind President Obama, and this backlash will be minimal. To quote Sen. McCain, ‘The American people spoke, and they spoke clearly.'”

Outlaw said the diversity she saw at the Obama rallies across the country bodes well for future race relations and collaboration within the Obama presidency.

“What is promising was the diversity that was seen in Grant Park, Times Square and Harlem, which was a true picture of what we as American people who work collectively can accomplish,” she said.

Outlaw, who still has vivid memories of the Civil Rights Era and the atrocities committed by men such as George Wallace and Bull Connor, concluded by saying Obama’s election is just one more step on the long road to full equality.

“Racism unfortunately, is alive and well, this is a step to begin to eradicate it, but more is needed, which includes a change in mindset and acceptance of all humankind,” she said. “We still have to address disparity in housing, education, employment and other areas, where institutional racism is deeply embedded.”