'We have far to go'

My precocious 8-year old, like other elementary school children, participated in a mock presidential election this past fall.

"I voted for the winner," he boasted, before the outcome was clear. Youngsters do not guard their political choices with the same intensity as adults.

While the legal drama played out in Florida, my confused son wanted to know when "President Bush" would leave for Washington. Until then, I had no idea I was raising another little Republican. His only sibling, a beloved big brother, can never forget his juvenescent support for the first Bush administration.

One day in 1989, my then 5-year-old came home with a face full of tears. As the only African-American in his class, he vowed not to return to playmate jeers of "burnt toast." Having heard my share of epithets, I felt it showed a sensibility that could not have come from other little ones.

Less than a week later, my son graduated from cute breakfast food to an ugly word more familiar. To help alleviate the psychological pain, I enthusiastically announced plans to write a letter to the president to let him know some of his "kinder, gentler" messages hadn't made an impact. My child's eyes widened like moon pies. "What president?"

"The one who lives in the White House," I assured him.

As George W. Bush prepares to take the oath and become the 43rd president, I can't help but fondly recall that letter and the unexpected answer from the elder Bush.

His compassionate response included this: "I am also saddened that, in this day and time, racial prejudice could be expressed by ones so young. We have far to go to make this a kinder, gentler Nation, but my resolve to do so is only strengthened by your report."

True, we've come a long way, but there is much work to complete unfinished business between black and white. I don't want my children to carry, always, the enormous racial baggage of generations. Nor do I want another race to shoulder forever blame or ignorance.

I hope the new president will reach out to unite the country over racial issues that doggedly overshadow amazing accomplishments. Unfortunately, 2001 has arrived to find people still divided over the definition of hate crimes, like the racially motivated murder of a black man dragged to death, over police brutality, affirmative action, racial profiling, reparations, the death penalty, inner-city decay, school vouchers, and economic disparity.

People on both sides of the political aisle are impressed with the inclusive appointments of Condoleezza Rice as national security adviser and the formidable retired Gen. Colin Powell as secretary of State. It is a start in the right direction, but as the former President Bush wrote, "We have far to go."

Millions agree, and hope his son will avoid any Supreme Court nominees who remotely resemble his legacy, Clarence Thomas. Many blacks view the ultraconservative justice as a traitor who has forgotten where he came from and the racial perks that landed him in his position of prominence.

No matter how much I disagree with some of the decisions made by the first President Bush, I wholeheartedly respect the man who must stand as leader of the free world. I love this country and pray for its leaders because, ultimately, they represent me and should care about the interests of all Americans.

Three years ago, I came close to thanking President Bush personally for the sincere letter that made a world of difference to my son. As "Hail to the Chief" played at a special dinner in Dallas, my heartfelt excitement could not be contained as the man himself walked by my table. Surrounded by Secret Service, I toyed with the idea of reaching out, but my hubby quickly convinced me that agents would foil the gesture.

Today, my teenage son can laugh about "burnt toast" and the forgiven child, whose embarrassed mother forced her to write an apology. Ironically, girls of all colors now stand in line to date the boy once dubbed "Mommy's little Hershey bar." He is a handsome young man who must help lead his generation to that colorblind society that remains elusive.

I implore you, ex-governor of my home state, be your father's son by being your own man. The mantle is passed and the man we expect to be president is you, not Daddy. Embrace, include, advance, and empower America to move forward, beyond color, discrimination, and petty ignorance.

And please help us understand what kind of "compassionate conservative" could have voted against freedom for Nelson Mandela, as did your vice president-elect.

We have far to go.

Joyce King is a freelance writer in Dallas.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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