Notes Of A Native Pennsylvanian

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Yet, there are millions of shining beacons of hope in the U. S. The enlightened and generous white people who support Sen. Barack Obama have demonstrated their commitment to decency and democracy.

[Election 2008]

Over the past 22 months, I’ve had numerous discussions with family members, friends and even strangers about racism and politics. Many of the intelligent and thoughtful people I’ve spoken with expressed hope that the election of an African American would finally put a rest to the deeply ingrained racism that had defined the U.S since its inception.

What I’ve expressed to those who have asked my opinion is that despite the potential election of Sen. Barack Obama to the White House, institutional racism will remain a reality for people of color who live in the U.S. As long as the institutions within American society: the military, government, financial institutions, universities, science and technology, industry, law enforcement, the justice system, and basically every societal instrument of power, are predominantly defined and presided over by white males, racism will continue to rear its ugly head.

In a recent article in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, a woman in West Virginia shared her feelings on race and the 2008 presidential election. Ella Mae Muldrew 64, explained, "I’m just a poor old woman on a widow’s pension. I can’t help being prejudiced. I was brought up this way. I try to not to be. I ask God to take this away from me, but the era in which I was brought up instilled these feelings in me. I can’t vote for a radical or a Muslim."

Sadly, racism is a sickness not easily cured by common sense, facts or even religion. The irrationality of racism in the 2008 election has led to strenuous attempts by members of the media, politicians and citizens to subvert the democratic process. Well-meaning efforts to generate an honest dialogue among American citizens about racism have become possible career breakers for politicians seeking re-election.

Representative John Murtha, (D) 12th District, who has served in Congress for 34 years, has come under attack for referring to white Western Pennsylvanians as racists and rednecks. I can honestly understand why some white people might be offended by Rep. Murtha’s observations. However, please don’t get it twisted. He is telling the truth. And even though he did not use pretty euphemisms like "white conservatives or patriots", people who live in Pennsylvania know that he is telling the truth. Sometimes, the truth hurts, but it should not cost a good politician his career.

I live and work in Pittsburgh and periodically travel throughout the state of Pennsylvania. When I pack for a trip, I make sure I plan ahead where I’ll stop for gas. One thing I always pray for as I ride along the Pennsylvania Turnpike is that I don’t experience car trouble. As I drive past small rural towns, I silently chant to myself, please dear God don’t let me have car trouble or run out of gas. This is my reality as a Pennsylvanian who grew up hearing the thinly veiled warning and long-standing joke that: between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia is Alabama. I believe we can now change the joke’s punch line from Alabama to West Virginia.

Having watched the 2008 presidential campaign for many, many long months, I can say with great confidence that racism remains a serious problem and has effectively re-invented itself as fervent patriotism. Racism is alive and well in the U.S. People of color will experience discrimination in its usual forms. Racial profiling, discrimination in housing, police aggression social injustice and limited opportunities due to one’s ethnicity will continue to impact the lives of the average African American citizen.

Yet, there are millions of shining beacons of hope in the U. S. The enlightened and generous white people who support Sen. Barack Obama have demonstrated their commitment to decency and democracy. The presence of those blue Obama signs in the front yards of white voters, the buttons on their lapels and the bumper stickers on their cars are an encouraging sign that maybe just maybe, there are rural Western Pennsylvanians who I can ask for directions if I ever make that wrong turn on the Pennsylvania turnpike.

On Tuesday November 4, Americans will vote for the next president of the United States. For many hopeful visionaries the dream of an enlightened American society in which people are judged by their character, achievements and hard work and not the shade of their skin.

Allimadi writes for The Black Star News from London

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