Panelists discuss issue of race in election

By Sarah Meyer: PNT Staff Writer

Questions about race and its implications continue to be of interest since — or because of — the 2008 presidential election.

The election marks a historic time as Barack Obama became the first black man to become president of the United States.

Panelists at a forum Thursday at Eastern New Mexico University found much to discuss, so much, in fact, that the forum went on for twice as long as it was scheduled and did not address all of the questions listed.

The forum, organized by ENMU’s African-American Affairs, included opportunity for input from the audience.

Panelists included ENMU offensive line football coach Draco Miller, student and Ghana native Hannah Odame, retired ENMU personnel director Oscar Robinson and ENMU financial aid specialist Felicia Thompson. All were black.

Here are some of the questions the panelists and audience members responded to:

In what way do you think Barack Obama and Martin Luther King Jr. are alike?

Miller: “Both men wanted change. Both men wanted America to be united, not divided.”

Odame: “The eras are different. King called for civil rights, while Obama participated in politics. Both men are very good speakers, and both bring about the idea of change.”

Robinson: “King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech is still with us. Obama reiterated what King said about judging a man on the content of his character, not the color of his skin.”

“I’m 68 years old. Martin Luther King was my role model. Obama transcended the dream. He belongs to the world, not black, not white.”

Thompson: She also saw the similarity in the idea of basing a person’s worth on his or her character, not skin color.

What is your feeling when people say Obama is not “black enough”?

Miller: “I have a hard time answering that question. What is black enough? I don’t understand what that means. I don’t consider myself a black man; I consider myself American. He’s not all 100 percent black, but who is? What makes you black enough? … King fought so I would have the same rights as everyone else.”

Odame: “The question is baseless. The issues are not going to go away. The issue of race is still going on. The conversation has just started.”

Robinson: “I don’t know how you measure if someone’s black enough. Bandwagons lead to ‘isms’ and prejudice. … The question is kind of insulting if you leave it out there. The question should be ‘Are you person enough to love each other?’”

Thompson: “I’ve heard that question so many times. It just blows my mind that this is even still an issue.”

Raquel Lewis, a freshman nursing student from Jamaica: She said black people have been given negative messages all their lives and it takes a lot of courage to change. “It’s going to take a whole lot to get out of that mindset. … How can one pigment create such a barrier in society?”

Should Obama, being black, be held accountable to the African-American community? Why or why not?

Miller: “He should be held accountable for the United States of America. … We need to change; we need to do something about it. Nobody in this room is being kept down by anything but themselves.

“He was anointed by the Almighty. America woke up and said, ‘In these hard times, this is the best person for the job.’”

Robinson: “Obama said, ‘If you didn’t vote for me, I’m still going to be your president.’ He was chosen by God. … I’m so glad it happened in my lifetime.” Like John F. Kennedy, Obama is going to ask us to give back to the country.

Odame: “He shouldn’t be held accountable (to the African-American community). He’s a global leader now.”

Thompson: “We carry a lot of the responsibility … for getting the education and making the world a better place.”

What were your reactions after Obama was elected?

Miller: “This was an election that really excited me.” When it was announced that Obama won, “I was just in shock. I didn’t think it would happen. After a few seconds, I was crying. Can you believe this? It made me proud to be an American. At this moment, anybody can do anything. Get off your lazy (butt), and go do something. There’s no excuses.”