What African-American male politician recently said the following: "I'm in the business of winning elections."
If you guessed President Barack Obama, you're wrong. Try Michael Steele, the new head of the Republican National Committee who lost his 2006 Senate bid (not as good a record as Obama) but beat a fellow contender who sent out a holiday song, "Barack the Magic Negro."
Despite Obama's unprecedented and nearly flawless rise from the Illinois State Legislature to the White House in about a decade, he never described his political goals as a "business of winning elections." He spoke in more profound terms about ushering in an era of politics in Washington based on rescinding the "business-as-usual" sparing between parties that created gridlock. He had an unique ability to unite Americans across racial and ethnic backgrounds to support his political campaign. But more importantly, his run for the presidency brought us together as a national community and helped us to discuss and acknowledge our slavery-based national roots that established -- both literally and figuratively -- the foundations of our government. But Obama's candidacy was a major step towards the full actualization of the civil rights movement begun by Dr. Martin Luther King.
So, with the international praise and embrace of our first African-American president -- accolades George W. Bush never experienced, even at the peak of his presidency (which was a bit of a low peak at best) -- the Republicans are now scrambling to keep up with the Democratic party's historic election and Congressional majority. While the Republican Party is still dominated by white men, those men realized that putting forth yet another white man as their leader wasn't the best option and chose Steele instead.
However, despite both parties unprecedented elections that have turned our racist policies and legacies on their head, there's still plenty to be done. While listening to NPR this morning, I was overwhelmed by the disturbing story of Timothy Cole, a young African-American male convicted of rape who eventually died while in prison but was posthumously cleared by DNA. His family is now trying to clear his name.
This isn't the first time I've heard such a story nor will it be the last. And, it's the intersection of racist police departments, judges, citizens and policies, supported by shoddy scientific forensic techniques (as covered in the New York Times on Thursday) that have been used to arrest and/or convict thousands of innocent people. While DNA is now being used to exonerate many wrongfully-convicted people, it does not erase our legal system's egregious policies that have allowed this to happen.
And, while the election of Barack Obama and Eric Holder as the first African-American to run the Department of Justice is yet another nail in the coffin of our nation's racist policies, it's not the end. The election of Michael Steele is an interesting choice for a party that has woefully used race for political gain. We've got a long way to go still. Amazingly, both parties can hopefully provide the much needed leadership and support for leaders who can help our nation reflect upon, address and heal from our racist policies to ensure that there are no more Timothy Cole's in our country. And, you can do your part by supporting the Innocence Project today, which assists prisoners who could be proven innocent through science-based DNA testing.