If former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wins the White House in November, there will be millions of children born after 2009 who will never have experienced a president of the United States who wasn’t a woman or person of color.
This seems kind of mind boggling when you think about the millions of Americans throughout the centuries whose vital purpose was to either break the color barrier or shatter the glass ceiling. Many of us have viewed winning the U.S. presidency as the last frontier to be won in the pursuit of achieving equal rights in our nation. After all, the U.S. presidency is consistently referred to not just as the most powerful job in the nation, but as the most powerful job in the world.
This leads me to believe that the psyches of current and future children in the U.S. will be greatly impacted, both subconsciously and consciously, by knowing only American presidents who are – or have been – a person of color or a woman.
We all know that the browning of America is in full swing, meaning the population of people of color as a whole in the U.S. is steadily rising. This will result in someday soon changing the status of those who have been historically referred to as racial minorities to gradually being considered in the racial majority. As our babies slowly begin to grow up in a nation where they’ve only experienced a president who is a person of color or a woman, or only known what it’s like to be in the racial majority, how will their outlook on life and its possibilities change?
Already, children born in Minnesota during the past 10 years will never have known what it’s like to live in a state where women haven’t made up the majority of post-secondary education students or attained greater high school and college graduation rate than men. Our children are now growing up in a world where a woman staying home solely as a homemaker is more and more foreign, with it being more commonplace for infants and toddlers who are coming up now to see mothers working two and three jobs to make ends meet.
Whenever women or people of color break the color barrier or put more cracks in the proverbial glass ceiling, it is easy to see the “Oprah Effect” or “President Obama Effect” kick in, with people saying, “Well if Oprah can make it, why can’t you?” Or in the case of Barack Obama, “You guys got the White House, so you have no more excuses as to why you can’t do x or y.”
It’s hard to scientifically quantify or qualify how much of an impact breaking color barriers or chipping the glass ceiling makes in the minds of our children. It’s difficult to say how much of these high-profile accomplishments is either window dressing or victories of great substance.
Has the presidency of Barack Obama actually seared into the minds of African-American little boys that they too might grow up to be president of the United States … that the opportunities for them to achieve in America are limitless? And does the last part of the previous sentence even ring true? Has the achievement of the first woman to win a major political party nomination, and possibly now the presidency of the U.S., made a difference in the minds of our young girls?
And how much stock can we really put in being a part of the racial or gender majority in a nation? We need to ask no further than the people who grew up in South Africa during the Twentieth Century.
It’s interesting to watch infants, toddlers and children each day, knowing that the world they encounter is so different than the one in which I came of age. I look at each of our children and pray they see what is possible in the lives of each of us, not just what is available or attainable for those who achieve the highest positions in the land.
I’m not sure what breaking color barriers or shattering glass ceilings means in the lives of our children, but I’m excited to live in a nation where the ultimate vision of professional success our children will hold in their hearts and mind’s eye constantly looks like them.
Gloria Freeman is president and CEO of Olu’s Center, an intergenerational childcare and senior day program, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.