President Obama is an incredibly accomplished man, and his accomplishments began long before he ever ran for office.
In 1990, while at Harvard Law School, Obama became the very first black President of the Harvard Law Review, one of the most prestigious honors a Harvard Law student can achieve. Obama himself commented on this historic moment:
Yet the New York Times article on Obama has more than a whiff of paternalism about it. It pays tribute to the accomplishment, but it just has the feel of an uncomfortable profile the newspaper was unsure how to write and edit:
For his part, the future President of the United States commented in a manner that is reminiscent of the same themes he touched on as he sought the 2004 Democratic nomination:
The fact that I’ve been elected shows a lot of progress, it’s encouraging. It’s important that stories like mine aren’t used to say that everything is O.K. for blacks. You have to remember that for every one of me, there are hundreds or thousands of black students with at least equal talent who don’t get a chance.
How incredibly accurate Obama was in that statement. As the ACLU and other organizations have clearly documented, most African-Americans are unable to get a higher education and are instead prosecuted under harsh “zero tolerance” laws which are aimed at minorities, meaning they wind up in prison at young ages and for long sentences. The ACLU has noted:
A disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Many of these children have learning disabilities or histories of poverty, abuse or neglect, and would benefit from additional educational and counseling services. Instead, they are isolated, punished and pushed out. ‘Zero-tolerance’ policies criminalize minor infractions of school rules, while high-stakes testing programs encourage educators to push out low-performing students to improve their schools’ overall test scores. Students of color are especially vulnerable to push-out trends and the discriminatory application of discipline.
Had those same rules and laws been applied to young whites–including myself–how many millions of us would have been incarcerated before the age of 21 on non-violent drug offenses such as the possession of a bag of weed? How many of us would have had the opportunity to achieve the degrees and professional accomplishments we’re so proud of?
Have things changed for the better since 1990? Most certainly. But there are still many miles left to go on this country before we achieve full equality. Electing a black man as President does not–cannot–magically make up for centuries of inequality.
Featured Image Via The Telegraph (UK)