Privilege Dies Hard, Even After the 2008 US Transition

By Helen Fogarassy

The departing US president in his last press conference a week before the white industrialized world’s first non-white president would be inaugurated summed up the historic 2008 US transition. He said he saw people crying on TV after the election saying, “I never thought I’d see the day when a black person would be elected president.”

He also said there would always be work to do to deal with people’s hearts. “It’s going to be an amazing – amazing moment,” he said of the swearing into office of the new president.

With a black woman as his Secretary of State, the departing white president could not be a racist. Yet the contrast between his eight-years in office and the projected administration shaping up under the newly elected president could not have been more symbolic of the global overhaul of values set in motion by the outcome of the 2008 US election.

The departing president had assumed office through the intervention of the United States Supreme Court at a time when the American economy was booming. America had little interest at that point in the world after it had failed so abjectly in the 1994 Somalia intervention.

The greatest attack against America on American soil occurred in the ninth month of the departing president’s tenure. The administration’s sole aim after that was to make war on the world and issue warnings about “enemies.”

Deregulated, the domestic economy ran wild and then ran aground until the conservative party’s policies were soundly routed by the American electorate. To do that, the country had to rally quickly and jump the hurdle of racial prejudice. The motivation for that historic step was mixed. Some Americans had faith in the fresh new leader. Others saw him as a last-ditch possibility for curing the illness that had befallen a land blessed by any measure of economic prosperity or social opportunity for its people.

Even as the country as a whole considered the radical concept of electing a non-white leader, the departing president’s “inner circle” remained unchanged. Few minorities were represented in his administration other than the Secretary of State. His wife was a quiet librarian out of the limelight by and large. His daughters were noticed when they “acted out,” as the president had reportedly done in his youth.

By contrast, the man about to become America’s first non-white president was married to a Yale Law School graduate. She had written a thesis at Princeton on the racial divide in America. It was based on her experience as an American black a mere 24 years before. Their two young daughters were as comfortable in front of the cameras as he, as were other members of their widely mixed family.

Once America cast its vote, the outgoing regime was accorded much credit for its “gracious” assistance in making the transition America had chosen. It was in that long three-month period when the degree of change coming to America became evident.

The new administration taking shape demonstrated inclusiveness of both gender and race, including of “mutts” as the president-elect referred to himself during his first news conference after the election. The old administration going out mounted a gathering campaign of vindicating its actions during its eight years in office.

The “racial divide” that had ripped apart the young United States throughout its history died on election night in 2008 and was laid to rest on January 20, 2009. It had died after a long illness in which America watched its fortunes decline, its standing wither and its economic dominance shrivel.

The steady voice of the new candidate had dealt the overdue blow to inequity based on race. The internet had fueled the effort, manned by the young mixed blood America had needed for its transfusion. The outcome was the guiding principle for humans at every level. It “felt right.” Centuries and millennia had come into focus. World social order had slipped into the “right slot.”

America has not been alone with its struggle to end a “racial divide.” South Africa’s brutal policy of “apartheid” only ended in 1994 when intense global pressure forced the ruling white minority to relinquish its hold. Segregation, separation and exclusivity were the policy’s aims. Economic restrictions and deprivations of basic human rights were its tools. The rule of law was its enforcer, just as it was throughout the history of slavery, segregation and racism in the United States.

As the world celebrated the outcome of the 2008 US election on inauguration day, the unprecedented security was a reminder of hearts still needing to be won. Nearly half of America had voted to continue the doomed policies that had led to the death of America’s “racial divide.” There was no instrument for gauging the level of the “white privilege” factor in the vote, let alone corollaries such as bias, superiority or downright hatred, resentment and even envy.

Helen Fogarassy is a Hungarian-born American internationalist writer working with the United Nations for nearly 20 years. She is the author of a suspense novel, The Midas Maze, about murderous hijinks in UN/US relations. She is also the author of The Light of a Destiny Dark, a novel about the Euro-American cultural gap through Hungarian eyes, and a nonfiction eyewitness tribute to the UN’s work, Mission Improbable: The World Community on a UN Compound in Somalia. All are available on the major web bookstore sites. E-mail her at []

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