COTANGENT – By Daphne Cardillo
“Black in White House” ran the headline in the November 6, 2008 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, and on the front page carried a blown-up photo of US President-elect Barack Obama “striding onto the stage in the Nov. 4 rally in his home base in Chicago.” With Obama waving to the crowd, the photo took up two-thirds of the news page, indicating a very significant event—becoming the first black president of the United States of America! Historic and monumental indeed.
Democracy has finally erased the racial barrier in American politics by allowing a black man to hold the highest seat of the land. Almost half of the white voters supported Barack Obama, while most of the votes he won were from women, blacks, and Hispanics. Democrats, composing forty percent of voters, chose him. Obama also won the youth vote—the under 30 crowd, the first-time voters of all ages, and those who call themselves independents.
With democracy came multiculturalism, as more and more migrants flocked to the US mainland. “Obama got the votes of 95 percent African-Americans, 66 percent of Latinos, 61 percent of Asians, and 65 percent of other non-whites.” The world has now developed a multicultural and global network of citizens, and the US, being a great melting pot of the world’s migrants, is now ready for a black president.
In democracy, the center is the individual; not family, class, race, or even the state. And in America, the first barrier democracy fought and dealt with was class. Success and destiny then was defined by social and economic status, birth, family ties, and blood lines. This way of life was challenged by the early immigrants who were uprooted from feudal Europe and advanced the work ethic. What mattered after that was what one can do, what are his arts or skills, of which led to the advancement of the great American dream—the self-made man.
Another issue democracy has to deal with for over a century now is race. And in America, it was fought hard by the people of the black race who first came as slaves. At least the European immigrants came as paid laborers in the newly industrializing American homeland, and some even started as small entrepreneurs selling their technological inventions and crafts. While the early Asian immigrants came as contract laborers in the Hawaiian plantations, in railroad companies, and other American business interests. But the Africans arrived in America as slaves—owned, can be bought and sold like commodities.
So it is a monumental and heartwarming event to see a black man take the highest seat of the land, a triumph for humanity in its civilizing task. For as Barack Obama succinctly puts it in his victory speech: “And to all those who have wondered if America’s beacon still burns as bright tonight, we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals—democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope.”
Democracy, indeed, has won.