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Wineke: Generations are getting better race, gender relations

Published On: Jul 25 2013 03:54:36 PM CDT
Bill Wineke

President Barack Obama said something interesting in his talk about race relations the other day. He suggested that “our kids are better than we are.”

“I don’t want us to lose sight that things are getting better,” Obama said. “Each successive generation seems to be making progress in changing attitudes when it comes to race.

“It doesn’t mean that we’re in a post-racial society. It doesn’t mean that racism is eliminated. But when I talk to Malia and Sasha and I listen to their friends and I see them interact, they’re better than we are – they’re better than we were – on these issues. And that’s true in every community that I’ve visited across the country.”

Is he right?

Well, it certainly wouldn’t seem so if all you see is daily news coverage. In response to the Trayvon Martin verdict, many black leaders have demanded the federal government do what a Florida jury didn’t do and find George Zimmerman guilty of murder and many white commentators -- I’m talking about you, FOX news -- have abandoned even any seeming intent to avoid overt racism.

But if you look at who is doing all the howling, at the Al Sharptons and the Bill O’Reillys, you notice one clear fact. These are aging men trying desperately to re-create the past so that their influence might still seem relevant.

Our kids are better than we are and we are better than our parents were when it comes to race.

They’re also better than we were when it comes to gender and when it comes to sexual identity.

I spent most of my professional career as a newspaper reporter. Part of my job was to cover “firsts.” I wrote about the first black police officer, the first black firefighter, the first woman police officer -- you get the picture. After a while, we wrote about the first black police chief, the first woman fire chief.

We don’t write about many “firsts” anymore because we take black police officers and firefighters for granted. We assume women will be considered for top jobs in our government. We don’t find it remarkable (though maybe we should) that the two most prominent young conservative senators have Hispanic roots.

Does that mean racism is dead? Of course it doesn’t mean that racism is dead. Those who profit from it will use every means at their disposal to make sure it doesn’t die. Nor is sexism dead. Nor is any other form of discrimination dead.

Nevertheless, in 2008 the people of the United States elected an African American president and, in 2012, they reelected him. If we don’t think that counts, then we are being willfully obtuse.

Every poll I’ve read suggests that this nation is now willing to elect a woman president in 2016. That doesn’t mean Hilary Clinton will run nor does it mean she will be elected if she does run. What it does mean is that the idea of a woman president is now mainstream.

That wasn’t true a decade ago and it certainly wasn’t true a generation ago.

We are better than we used to be and our children are better than we are.

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