“With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.” –Martin Luther King, Jr. “I Have a Dream”
President Barack Obama’s re-election and his inauguration this month help put a hatchet into the old American class system, into centuries of bigotry that sucked dry the ideals of the nation. While there will probably always be those who are privileged and unprivileged in our society, at least we can have hope that Obama’s presidency allows one of these oppressive barriers to be shattered. It doesn’t mean we don’t still have work to do, but it does show that some of the previous work has paid off.
Obama’s background is similar to many middle-class and blue-collar workers in America. He grew up with a single mother, needed the emotional and financial help of his grandparents, and took jobs out of college that paid very little. He had a far different upbringing than many elected officials in Washington who come from families of privilege, like Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, and his 2012 running mate, Mitt Romney. The many Americans who voted Obama—now twice—into office saw in him the ideals of a country founded on equality and democracy. He is a person who has achieved great things despite financial hardship and racial bias, a person who was able to remain hopeful and determined in the midst of cynicism and despair.
When Obama speaks on Monday, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, it will be hard to forget the “I Have a Dream” speech King gave 50 years ago and those final words—“Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, we are free at last.”
Having a person of a different ethnicity and background in the presidential office for eight years helps change our perceptions of who can be a leader in this country. It helps us have faith that we can transcend class and racial prejudice and privilege in order to connect and move forward into a more diverse twenty-first century. Hopefully, American citizens will take this shifting perspective into our workplaces, our educational institutions, our political causes, and even our hearts, in case any whispers of bigotry still exist there.
It is a new beginning, one that has been so desperately longed for by people who have fought and prayed and given their lives for centuries. It is a cause for celebration.