Race relations have always been a hot topic for the U.S., but I cannot remember a time in my life when it seemed so bad. From Ferguson to Baltimore, Chicago, New York, New Jersey, California, the list of major episodes goes on and on. Twelve year-old Tamir Rice was killed in Cleveland when officers mistook a toy gun for a real weapon. Eric Harris was killed in Tulsa, Oklahoma when an officer mistook his own gun for a Taser (the officer has been charged with manslaughter).
But the assumption of imbalance in the treatment of minorities by police is not new, and the riots and protests that appear in the media to have swept the country into constant nationwide chaos lasting more than a year are about an issue more fundamental than that.
In the public schools I grew up in, in Pennsylvania, I saw students who despite affirmative action, bussed integration of schools, and other efforts aimed at repairing race relations, understood themselves from the earliest of ages to be in a world that did not accept them.
Along came Barack Obama, being confronted with such a symbol was supposed to be a turning point for race relations in America, elected on the promise of “hope” no less. What the riots and protests are really about is the reality of minority Americans arriving at the end of the minority presidency of “hope” no noticeably better off than beforehand, and of affirmative action, bussed school integration, and every other effort at repairing race relations, despite any individual successes, continuing on the whole to fail.
But as events on the streets play out, there is another historic benchmark unfolding, one whose power lies in its subtlety. There is more diversity among major viable candidates than there has ever been this late in a presidential election cycle. There is not one, but three fully viable minority candidates.
Marco Rubio, of Cuban descent, Bernie Sanders, who is Jewish, and Ben Carson, have done better jobs than Obama of running as normal mainstream candidates rather than minority candidates. It is not that a person should have to give up their identity in order to run, or that the significance of minority successes should be under-recognized, but Presidents, and for that matter candidates, have to represent the entire country, not just one group or part of it. Furthermore, being President should be about the policies that direct the country, not about the distractions and drama that surround a particular individual. For there to be so many major minority candidates, and for it to not matter, is what repairing race relations is all about, and is a benchmark success for America.
But the significance of the situation goes beyond the diversity of candidates. The Democratic Party has already seen Obama, Hillary, Joe Lieberman, Al Sharpton, Carol Moseley Braun, Geraldine Ferraro, and Jesse Jackson. Sarah Palin, and Michele Bachmann may have done their parts, but the image of the Republican Party being for white men remained.
It may be by virtue of the fact that republicans have tended to care less about diversity as a political issue that they are able to receive Carson and Rubio as candidates without much fanfare, and were able to receive Carly Fiorina with only Trump caring, and even his exchanges with her boosted her.
Perhaps more important than what this election says about the Republican Party, and more relevant on inner city streets, is what today’s Republican Party says about race relations. Not only is the Republican Party no longer for white people, but rather than having minority voters allying themselves with democrats as a matter of identity, the success of Rubio, and even more so, that of Carson, speaks to a reality where it is slowly becoming easier for minority voters to choose between different political philosophies as Americans and vote for what they believe to be best for America, and even think that that might be republican policies, without having identity play as big a role. Not only is it now okay for the Republican Party to have viable minority candidates, it is now okay for minority candidates to run for the republican nomination, and they are doing so without having their campaigns implode in scandal before getting off the ground, as was the case for Herman Cain.
When it comes to the interests of minorities, there can be nothing more significant than supporting their ability to operate as normal voters choosing between political philosophies based on what they think is best—policy in a world where identity no longer dominates.
I am not saying that Carson’s candidacy solves race for America, clearly it has not, but a vote for Carson or Rubio, and the mainstream support they’ve garnered, is more significant than the candidates (including Hillary) are interested in having me acknowledge.