By Jeff Fecke • 10/2/08 • Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO speaks bluntly about fighting racism, how it’s used to divide workers, and why it’s very wrong to vote against Barack Obama because of the color of his skin.
The right spent a long time working to turn the hardhats against those who believed in social change, a lot of time working to get the union rank-and-file to vote against their own interests on economic ground, to instead vote on social issues. It’s been a long journey, but there are times when I dare to hope that the Southern Strategy has finally run aground on its own moral bankruptcy, and that while social issues retain their salience for some, they are no longer as divisive as they once were. It is easy to forget that we are, perhaps, but a month away from electing our first African-American president — and but two generations removed from a time when African-Americans could not vote freely, could not patronize institutions reserved for whites, could not attend the same schools, live in the same neighborhoods, or even pick their own seats on a bus. We are a long way from equality in this nation, but we have come a long way. And I dare to hope that when this election is over, and Barack Obama is president, we will have taken a large and meaningful step toward the day when we are a truly egalitarian society. His election will not take us there by itself, any more than Hillary Clinton’s election would have eliminated sexism. But it will be a step forward on race relations after a generation spent dancing around the issue. And that cannot help but be a good thing.