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Friday, November 7, 2008

Barack Obama, Lewis Hamilton break race barriers in politics, motorsports in historic week

Associated Press photos
Lewis Hamilton (above) is the first black Formula 1 champion. Barack Obama (right) is the first black person to be elected U.S. president.

More than 40 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, and expressed the wish that everyone in the world could judge people by the content of their character, and not by the color of their skin.

At the time he spoke these words, the race divide was so violently deep it ended many lives, including King’s when he was assassinated. At a time of separate drinking fountains and bathrooms, he was one of few brave enough to fight for equality.

Now it’s 2008, and there’s no doubt King is looking down on the world with a big smile on his face after two historic firsts happened this week.

First, as everyone who isn’t under a rock knows, Barack Obama has been chosen to be the next president of the United States. On January 20, he will take the oath on a podium that was originally built by slaves more than 100 years ago. Regardless of where you stand politically, this vote of confidence for a black man from the masses in America is proof that King’s dream can come true. People didn’t see a black man, they saw a candidate and decided they wanted him to lead the country. The fact that Obama could even be elected (when even recently many people doubted a black man could be elected, and that perhaps white voters couldn’t go through with it) is perhaps the most significant advancement in race relations since the changes brought about by King and other civil rights fighters decades ago.

Of significance is that Obama is leading a close battle in North Carolina -- a part of NASCAR country, which many want to stereotype as racist -- and will likely win the state, something nobody could have predicted when he started his campaign. Let's hope that's the ultimate proof to kill the stereotype that NASCAR fans are a bunch of redneck racists.

On the motorsports front, just two days before Obama’s election, Lewis Hamilton, the British wunderkind who took Formula 1 by storm in 2007 when he joined the McLaren team, became the first black driver ever to win a Formula 1 title in dramatic fashion.

On the last corner of the last lap of the Grand Prix of Brazil, while driving in the rain, he was able to overtake Timo Glock and finish fifth in the race, exactly where he needed to be to win the championship by a single point.

He is the first driver of Afro-Caribbean origin to ever race in Formula 1 in its long history, a fact that’s astonishing. Even more amazing is that in his rookie season, at age 22, he was on the brink of the title before mechanical issues cost him the title. This year, in one of the most exciting finishes to a Formula 1 season ever, he was able to take the prize in his sophomore year.

Hamilton is of mixed race, like Obama, but that was not on McLaren’s mind when they chose him for their young driver program at age 13. The past decade has been full of success, and the only color McLaren saw was green, as they knew Hamilton would bring them more money than they could imagine with his tremendous talent.

That doesn’t mean the race issue is completely gone, or that King’s goal has been completely realized. Earlier this year during time trials in Spain, Hamilton was taunted by fans wearing black face paint and afro wigs. Incidents like this are an ugly reminder that racism does still exist all over the world, and fore every successful story like Obama or Hamilton, there are others still being victimized by racism.

But this week is one to celebrate the incredible advancements that have been made in an ugly area of history in this world. Congratulations to both Obama and Hamilton, and let’s hope their success is a sign racism will soon be a thing of the past in most people’s minds.

Johnson should rebound at Phoenix
Though it’s not what Carl Edwards wants to hear, look for Jimmie Johnson to get back on his game this weekend at Phoenix. Of all drivers, he has the best average finish at the 1-mile track and isn’t likely to struggle for a third straight week. I see him taking the checkered flag and being able to coast to the title even with a weak Homestead performance.

Should Johnson happen upon a crash or mechanical trouble, look for his teammate Jeff Gordon to battle Edwards for the win.


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