The election that has consumed us for nearly two years is about to be over. Assuming that everyone goes to the polls and pulls the right lever, we will have the president we deserve on Nov. 5.
Whether the new president is John McCain or Barack Obama, our new leader will have his hands tied by the economic decisions that have been made in the Bush administration. Whether the new leader is Barack Obama or John McCain, there is implicit history in our collective choice – we will either have the first acknowledged African American man as president (according to Diversityinc.com, there were five others who did not acknowledge their African blood), or we will have the first woman as vice president. Whatever we think of the choices, it is quite clear that it is unlikely that there will ever be an all White male ticket for the Oval Office again.
No matter what the outcome, though, we have work to do. Racial economic gaps remain.
When the White unemployment rate is 5.5 percent and the African American unemployment rate is 11.6 percent there is work to do. When the incarceration rate of African American people is nearly triple that of Whites, there is work to do. When foreclosures hit the hood more severely than the rest of America, there is work to do. When the dropout rate is higher among African Americans than among others, there is work to do.
When 30 percent of Whites finish college, compared to 18 percent of African Americans and 12 percent of Latinos, there is work to do. No matter who sits in the White House, there is work to do.
To be sure, if Barack Obama wins, there will be cause for celebration in the African American community. A mere 45 years after we took our case to the Lincoln Monument, some of the dream has been attained. But it is just some of the dream. The gaps remain. Excuses are diminished. The gaps remain.
There is work to do. And if Barack Obama does not win, there is still much work to do. Whoever wins is the president of all of the United States, red and blue. If McCain should miraculously pull a rabbit out of a hat (or find the wrong folk to interpret hanging chads) he is not exempt from the work that must be done.
Here is the work that we must do:
1. VOTE. It sounds redundant, but there are folk who may not vote because they think that Barack Obama "has it in the bag." Wrong, wrong, wrong. We must make our voices heard on Election Day, or earlier through early voting. And voting is not the most we can do; it is the least we can do. Voting, however, gives each of us the right to complain after the election.
2. VOICE. Each of us has the option to speak our mind in our government, national, state, and local, and in our organizations. Our leaders must exhibit their highest and best at all times. I had a recent interesting and unfortunate experience with an NAACP branch, where the people were bright, engaged, enthusiastic and focused, but the leader was obtuse and offensive. It was interesting that several folk told me that they disagreed with their obnoxious leader. They have the obligation to raise their voice and their vote in finding new, more representative leadership for their organization.
3. VENT. Our leaders need to hear from us. Whether they are members of Congress or a state legislature, they need to see us, hear from us, and get tips from our direction.
Letters to our leaders are one way to vent. Another, sometimes more effective way, is to simply go see them and share our views. Developing relationships with leaders is one way to participate in the civic process. Many of them are courageous souls who got into politics to "represent the people."
It's your job to hold them at their word. Above all, we must keep the American dream in mind at all times. Not the dream that comes with the pledge of allegiance, but the dream that Dr. Martin Luther King articulated when he said, "I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere should have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, peace and freedom for their spirits." More than 40 years after he uttered those sentiments when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, we are not within sight's distance of attaining those goals. What prevents us from having the same audacity Dr. King had? What keeps us from doing our work?
Julianne Malveaux is president of Bennett College for Women. She may be reached at [email protected].