Posted by: Winslie Gomez | 27/03/2008

Three Principles. Obama

First, we see the world not as it is, but as we are. Acknowledgement of the limits of our own perceptions is crucial to constructive conversations about race. I must be willing to recognize that your experiences and the emotions they engender are as real as mine, and I hope you are willing to do the same. After that, who knows – maybe a long overdue exchange about our histories, cultures and shared aspirations?

This call for empathy embodies the best of Obama, and his unique background makes him a special messenger. But it is our collective challenge to try to truly understand each other. We need to imagine the fears of an immigrant parent at risk of separation from her children, the anxiety of a minority child who faces daily school harassment because he looks “foreign,” or the disquiet of a longtime resident who sees his community morphing beyond recognition.

Imagining the lives of others does not guarantee compassion or justice, but it would be progress.

Second, we need to acknowledge race rather than pretending to be blind to it. The comedian Stephen Colbert does a send-up of those who say they don’t see race, claiming: “I know I’m white because people tell me I am.” But there is nothing funny about the promulgation of conservative “colorblind” policies, which have made us blind, not to race, but to racism and racial disparities.

By suggesting it is obsessive to see race, analyze race or discuss race, the spirit of the civil-rights movement is turned on its head. When Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of being judged not by the color of our skin but by the content of our character, he envisioned a society of equality, not willful ignorance.

By 2050, more than half of the U.S. population will be people of color. California has already crossed that “minority-majority” threshold. By turning away from race, we miss critical disparities in health, education and employment that have the potential to become societal time bombs.

How can we make racial disparities more visible? One simple effort is the Foundation Diversity and Transparency Act (Assembly Bill 620), which would require large philanthropic foundations in California to gather and disclose pertinent diversity data. Other policy measures have sought to ensure accurate data broken out by specific Asian and Pacific Islander American ethnic groups in order to understand how these diverse communities are faring.

If we identify programs and policies with foreseeable racial disparities, we can address many racial misgivings that result from systemic discrimination.

Third, inclusion and equality are necessary for the common good. As was recognized by the founders of our country, the protection of minority rights from the tyranny of the majority is central to a healthy democracy. But as a rallying call for racial reconciliation, it falls flat.

A wealth of research shows we are best at bridging racial divides when we share power and work together in pursuit of common goals. Many of us can recall just such personal experiences on sports teams, in artistic performances, or with community service projects. When Obama endeavors to generate inclusive coalitions on universal health care or national education reform, he is invoking the same principle.

In recent decades, racial justice advocates have allowed issues of affirmative action, hate crimes and harassment, and school desegregation to be framed as narrow and selfish. Though our positions have been correct, we have not effectively linked their importance to the common good. More than ever, we need to articulate the truth that America can only succeed if all people are able to fully participate in its political, economic and cultural life.

The Obama speech was compelling in its courage. It suggested the need to redouble efforts to empathize with one another, to transcend race by being conscious of it, and to work together on common societal challenges. It was a good start, but now the real work begins with each of us.

Vincent Pan is the executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action, a community-based civil-rights organization in San Francisco.

This article appeared on page B – 9 of the San Francisco Chronicle



  1. The reason I’m voting for Obama is that he will fix my computer – and more! See http/

  2. Jack
    Thank you!
    I too could do with a guy like that!
    Talk about multi-tasking. Wow 🙄

  3. […] Read the rest of this great post here […]

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