If the yardstick for determining the social opportunities of a group is having one of its members elected as president, an innumerable amount of groups could be called underprivileged.
Still, President Barack Obama’s achievement may give weight to the idea that there are greater barriers to social mobility than skin color.
The validity of this view may be tested by analyzing social interactions. Sharing a person’s behaviors — rather than sharing their skin color — may be of greater advantage. Wearing similar clothes and having similar interests, for instance, enables a person to gain a sense of familiarity and belonging. All of these attributes may be credited to a person’s social environment, regardless of race. This is not a matter of opinion, but a part of the human condition.
In some respects, cultural advantages could be seen as cumulative. A person may apply his or her privilege of common traits to social networking. This will allow him or her to gain more insight into the behaviors of more people, establishing additional commonalities and connections.
There has been much editorializing on the implications of Barack Obama’s race as it relates to his ability to govern. “Will Obama have to be better because he’s black?” was the question asked in a cnn.com headline on Monday.
Before jumping into race issues, it seems appropriate to answer the most important part of that question: “Will Obama have to be better?” The answer is a resounding “yes,” if the United States is once again to create positive public policies and regain favor in the international community. In his column, writer John Blake went on to ask another extraneous question: “Would Bush have been president if he were black?”
Today, this question may actually be easier to answer if one were to substitute “atheist,” “incredibly poor” or “incarcerated for a period of time” for “black.”
Unfortunately, there is no fair means of compensating for the inequities of social conditions. Barack Obama’s achievement indicates a step away from years of racial injustice, but also serves to highlight the other social obstacles millions of Americans face each day regardless of race.
Perhaps there will come a day when people answer questions about average income rather than race on government forms and standardized tests. This method will give a reliable estimate of the only quantifiable form of privilege.