Merlene Davis: Non-whites' optimism about U.S. took root, flourished with Obama

Herald-Leader columnistMarch 8, 2014 

Obama

The pollsters have credited President Barack Obama for the high level of optimism among blacks and Hispanics.

JAVIER GALEANO — AP

According to a January Gallup Poll, the gap between how white people and non-white people view this country's current situation has grown wider than ever in recent history.

I didn't think that was all that surprising.

Since the economy's nose-dive, many non-white citizens are forced to survive on less money and fewer jobs in neighborhoods with substandard housing. Many see more violence in their streets and they watch politicians puncture social programs designed to keep them afloat.

Add to that scenario stand-your-ground laws that make cannon fodder of their youth and laws that try to make it harder for them to vote.

What you end up with is a group of non-white citizens totally dissatisfied with their country.

That's what I thought, anyway, before reading further and discovering how wrong I was: The people dissatisfied with their country were the white citizens.

That blew my mind. It blew the minds of pollsters as well who struggled to find out just what was going on.

The Gallup's Mood of the Nation poll, conducted Jan. 5-8, asked people to rate the present standing of the U.S., on a scale of 0-10. A rating of 5 was considered neutral. Six and above was positive.

For non-whites, 57 percent of the respondents had a positive view of this country. For whites, the number was only 33 percent.

Thinking those numbers might be a fluke, I found another survey, released by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research in August, 2013, that said the same thing. Blacks and Hispanics, despite being hit hard by the economy, reported high levels of optimism.

In that poll, 46 percent of whites said they had a good chance of improving their living standards, while 71 percent of blacks and 73 percent of Hispanics believed their lives would improve.

The pollsters said it was the biggest gap with whites since 1987, and, in both cases they credited President Barack Obama for the optimism. It seems that blacks and Hispanics could look at the most powerful leader in the world and see someone who looks like them, someone who wasn't necessarily supposed to achieve such success. Obama became a symbol of hope.

I think that bears some truth.

But I also believe watching Obama suffer the same sting of racism as non-whites experience on their jobs has something to do with the unexplained optimism, as well.

For example, when my mother sent me to fifth grade at a previously all-white school, she told me I could not be as good as my fellow white students, I had to be better than them.

It was her way of saying a bunch of stuff was going to happen to me, but if I just did my best, worked harder, everything would turn out fine. Other mothers of color have said similar things to their children.

It was the "keep your eye on the prize" philosophy and not "keep your eyes on the dogs chewing at your heels."

Blacks or Hispanics have never seen that confirmed on the national stage until Obama was elected president. He has been labeled incompetent, unintelligent, and a usurper of the presidency. And yet, when he worked hard and stayed focus, he was re-elected.

There was hope again, a hope that had been fading for many, many years.

Show of hands: How many of you black people thought Obama would be president? I know I didn't.

Now, there is no reason to say it cannot be done.

Motivational speaker and author Wayne Dyer has said, "When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change." How true.

The problem is not your external circumstances, not your lack of a paycheck or how people perceive you. Those situations may always be there. The president, after all, still has to deal with being black in a country that has not fully embraced that.

Our problem is cultivating enough hope to create a better future for ourselves and our children. According to these two polls we are doing just that.

In this season, when Christians are celebrating the resurrection of the promise, we must keep in mind how our mothers told us to live.

When it all boils down, that lesson was for us to walk by faith, not by sight.

Living like that is always filled with hope.

Merlene Davis: (859) 231-3218. Email: mdavis1@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @reportmerle. Blog: merlenedavis.bloginky.com.

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