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Inaugural begins a discussion

Posted: Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What a day! Remember this one so you can tell your kids and grandkids about it in years to come.

Jan. 20, 2009, sits on a trajectory from the Emancipation Proclamation to Brown v. the Board of Education to Martin Luther King Jr.'s marches for freedom. Also on that trajectory are our dark moments of national sin: the founders' failure to outlaw slavery, the Dred Scott decision and the Birmingham bombings.

We celebrate because we've shown "Yes, We Can." We've moved forward enough that we can elect a person of color as our leader. This is a get-up-and-stomp-your-feet day. Let us take pride in this moment.

There's been plenty of talk that Tuesday's events mean we are entering a post-racial era. And in a way we are. It just depends on how you define that term.

There was a wonderful discussion about this topic in the pages of "The Christian Century" as the year ended. The liberal Protestant journal asked various essayists to define what the conversation about race will be like in Barack Obama's America.

The one I loved most was by Melvin Bray, a teacher at a Seventh Day Adventist school in Pennsylvania and blogger at melvinbray.com. He started by quoting Newark (N.J.) Mayor Cory Booker, who said on election night:

"I want to luxuriate in the racial deliciousness of our country: the Italian-Americans, the Irish-Americans, the Mexican-Americans. I mean, that's what makes America great. We are a nation that celebrates racial diversity. We're not Norway; we're not South Korea; we are the United States of America. The story of America is one of bringing such differences together to manifest a united set of ideals - not a united culture, not a united language, not a united religion, but a united set of ideals."

Bray gave an amen to Booker and added, "God forbid if we ever get to a point where we 'transcend our race."'

I couldn't agree more. It's crazy to think Obama's election means people no longer see black, white or brown. Of course we do. But that's no longer a liability. It's a plus - a big plus. We're showing that we can live with one another. Or at least we are trying to live with one another.

This will continue to require hard work. If we indeed are in a post-racial era, we will need to keep examining how we relate to one another in our community.

The black church will play a particularly important role in that task. A new generation of black pastors is working in small and big ways across the nation, rebuilding community one family at a time. They can help Americans pursue a season of reconciliation, as Curtiss deYoung of Bethel University put it in "The Christian Century."

In Texas, and in populous states like California, we daily face new demands about living together. Ours is no longer an Anglo society. We are made up of that "racial deliciousness" Booker describes. Latinos particularly are driving our growth, both in Texas and nationwide.

As our diversity spreads, I don't want Latinos to stop being Latinos. Or blacks to stop being blacks. Or Anglos to stop being Anglos. That would deny our humanity, our made-in-the-image-of-God humanity.

Let's be who we are individually, while we keep working on our common ideals.

What I like about our new president is that he is made up of that "racial deliciousness" Booker and Bray talk about. He's black, but he's also white. His narrative is common lore these days. But think about it. This is America stepping forward into a new reality. And I say that as a person who didn't vote for Obama, for policy reasons.

Fifty years from now, when America will have no racial majority, people will look to today as the start of this new reality. Take it in. Days like this don't come around often.

• William McKenzie is an editorial columnist for The Dallas Morning News.



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