"Guess Who's Coming to Dinner,": Obama
A NEW NORMAL.
Towards the end of the 1967 movie "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," Dr. John Wane Prentice, played by Sydney Poitier, sits down with his fiance's white father, played by Spencer Tracy. "Have you given any thought to the problems your children will have?" Tracy asks. "Yes, and they'll have some...[But] Joey feels that all of our children will be President of the United States," replies Poitier. "How do you feel about that?" asks Tracy, looking skeptically at the black man in front of him. "I'd settle for Secretary of State," Poitier laughs.
Written in the late-1960s, the exchange was, indeed, laughable. The Civil Rights Act had been passed three years prior. Two years before, the Watts riots had broken out, killing 35. Martin Luther King Jr. would be assassinated a year later. But here we are, almost exactly 40 years after theatergoers heard that exchange. The last two Secretaries of State were African-American and, as of tonight, the next president may well be a black man. John Prentice's children would probably still be in their late-30s. They could still grow up to be cabinet officials or even presidents, but they would not necessarily be trailblazers.
Obama's speech tonight was powerful, but then, most all of his speeches are. This address stood out less than I expected. It took me an hour to realize how extraordinary that was. I had just watched an African-American capture the Democratic nomination for the Presidency of the United States of America, and it felt...normal. Almost predictable. 50 years ago, African Americans often couldn't vote, and dozens died in the fight to ensure them the franchise. African-Americans couldn't use the same water fountains or rest rooms as white Americans. Black children often couldn't attend the same schools as white children. Employers could discriminate based on race. 50 years ago, African Americans occupied, in effect, a second, and lesser, country. Today, an African-American man may well become the president of the whole country, and it feels almost normal.
It was, to be sure, not entirely unpredicted. On March 31st, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. preached his final Sunday sermon. "We shall overcome," he said, "because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." Four days later, he was murdered. But 40 years later, his dream is more alive than he could have ever imagined. Not only might a black man be president, but at times, many forget to even be surprised by it.
Posted by Ezra Klein on June 4, 2008
Ezra Klein is a staff writer at The American Prospect.
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