Some pundits ask whether America is ready for Obama. The much more important question is whether Obama is ready for America and even more important is whether black people can afford Obama. Let's look at it in the context of a historical tidbit.
In 1947, Jackie Robinson, signing a contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers, broke the color barrier in major league baseball. He encountered open racist taunts and slurs from fans, opposing team players and even some players on his own team. Despite that, his first-year batting average was .297. He led the National League in stolen bases and won the first-ever Rookie of the Year Award. Without question, Jackie Robinson was an exceptional player. There's no sense of justice that should require that a player be as good as Jackie Robinson in order to be a rookie in the major leagues but the hard fact of the matter, as a first black player, he had to be.
In 1947, black people could not afford a stubble bum baseball player. By contrast, today black people can afford stubble bum black baseball players. The simple reason is that as a result of the excellence of Jackie Robinson, as well as those who immediately followed him such as Satchel Paige, Don Newcombe, Larry Doby and Roy Campanella, there's no one in his right mind, who might watch the incompetence of a particular black player, who can say, "Those blacks can't play baseball." Whether we like it or not, whether for good reason or bad reason, people make stereotypes and stereotypes can have effects.
For the nation and for black people, the first black president should be the caliber of a Jackie Robinson, and Barack Obama is not. Barack Obama has charisma and charm, but in terms of character, values and understanding, he is no Jackie Robinson. By now, many Americans have heard the racist and anti-American tirades of Obama's minister and spiritual counselor. There's no way that Obama could have been a 20-year member of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's church and not been aware of his statements.
Wright's racist and anti-American ideas are by no means unique. They are the ideas of many leftist professors and taught to our young people. The basic difference between Obama, Wright and leftist professors is simply a matter of style and language. His Philadelphia speech demonstrated his clever style where he merely changed the subject. The controversy was not about race. It was about his longtime association with such a hatemonger and whether he shared the reverend's vision.
Obama's success is truly a remarkable commentary on the goodness of Americans and how far we've come in resolving matters of race. I'm 72 years old. For almost all of my life, a black having a real chance at becoming the president of the U.S. was at best a pipe dream. Obama has convincingly won primaries in states with insignificant black populations. As such, it further confirms what I've often said: The civil rights struggle in America is over and it's won. At one time black Americans did not have the constitutional guarantees enjoyed by white Americans; now we do. The fact that the civil rights struggle is over and won does not mean that there are not major problems confronting many members of the black community, but they are not civil rights problems and have little or nothing to do with racial discrimination.
While not every single vestige of racial discrimination has disappeared, Obama and the Rev. Wright are absolutely wrong in suggesting that racial discrimination is anywhere near the major problem confronting a large segment of the black community. The major problems are: family breakdown, illegitimacy, fraudulent education and a high rate of criminality. To confront these problems, that are not the fault of the larger society, requires political courage, and that's an attribute that Obama and most other politicians lack.
Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University.