Recently I took a job teaching high school English again in Ventura County. The first novel I have to teach is Harper Lee’s beloved classic To Kill a Mockingbird. Intertwined within the beautifully constructed prose about coming of age, family relations, and the wisdom of Atticus Finch is the story about America’s great sin of racism. As Scout learns about her father’s moral battle against the great disease of ignorance and racism, the reader is propelled into an America we have left behind. To deny our racist roots is foolishness for a Republican, conservative or any person in general. History is an unforgiving mistress, reminding us of our sins through textbooks, pictures, literature and cinema. But an even greater foolishness is to deny the unbelievable progress we’ve made since the 1940s setting of Lee’s novel and the dark 1960s period in which it was published. We may not be perfect, but America is on track.
As of late October, Republicans seem to have decided that Herman Cain is their man. In a recent Fox News GOP candidate poll, Cain leads the pack of elephants, surpassing long-time front-runner Mitt Romney and flash in the pan Texas Ranger Rick Perry. Fox News reports in the new poll that Cain is four points ahead of Romney, and way ahead of Perry, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul. Michelle Bachman can kindly step aside now, along with John Huntsman of Utah. Obviously, Cain’s current standing among conservatives doesn’t forgive Jim Crow laws and slavery, but it’s a huge step. To think that America could have two African-Americans running for the highest office in the land is an amazing achievement. Somewhere in heaven Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln, Fredrick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr. are smiling.
Cain’s story is unique. He’s a black conservative, which means he upsets the establishment. He goes against the grain, and he has become a symbol of what America is becoming and not what it once was. Even though our past may not be perfect, our future is looking brighter.
While Cain may not be our most polished candidate, he has been a huge critic of fellow African-Americans who blindly follow the Democratic Party out of fear that Republicans are a racist party: “People sometimes hold themselves back because they want to use racism as an excuse for them not being able to achieve what they want to achieve … [and] … I don’t believe racism in this country today holds anybody back in a big way.” He does not play the victim card. He does not see the world as against him. He is not going to blindly follow any group because that is what he has been told to do. He understands that the GOP is not against him, but for him and his success.
This scares the DNC and has inspired the GOP. The tides are turning.
Throughout the past years, we’ve seen numerous prominent African-Americans take a larger role in our country. Artists like Spike Lee and Jean-Michel Basquiat have revolutionized their worlds, while political figures like Condoleezza Rice and Clarence Thomas have served in our country’s greatest offices. Black sports figures, musicians and writers have shaped the popular culture. Be it Michael Jordan, Bill Cosby, Tupac, Beyoncé or Thomas Sowell, black leaders have come in numerous forms. Popular pastor and writer T.D. Jakes was hailed by Time magazine as the next Billy Graham. And of course, there is Barack Obama, who became America’s president a few years ago. The transition this country has made must be applauded.
Too often, Americans left of center like to simply take a Howard Zinn approach to analyzing our country’s actions. But if America was still as racist as many on the left claim, how could black Americans have such an influence on our political, cultural and religious world? Today’s America is not yesterday’s.
As our country progresses and we become more and more accepting of things we once dismissed, let’s not forget where we were, so that we can see the true progress we have made. So do yourself a favor and go reread Harper Lee’s masterpiece. Cherish the writing, the story, the characters and most of all: the progress.