My grandfather came to America in the early part of the 20th century. He was a Lebanese man who could not speak English and who could not find work. His response to the pressure of life in racist America was to find a job, irrespective of cost. As a result he moved to the coal regions of Pennsylvania and went to the mines in a quest to gain the only job he had any chance of being hired to.
Even they would not hire him.
My grandfather slept at the mines during the day. He waited patiently for the quitting whistle to sound so that he could go into the mines and pick coal at night, with stolen gear and no supervision – and no pay. His only goal was to prove what a good worker he was.
After three days of this, my grandfather, John Simon Mozloom, attained his American dream; he was hired at the mines, for pennies a day, to work the hardest and most dangerous job in America; to work the only job this country would have to offer for a man of his ethnicity.
Today, two generations later, I – the grandson of John Simon Mozloom – am the president and owner of a branding and advertising agency. I am a guy who has spent most of my adult life trying to understand what other people think and feel, and then shape those thoughts and feelings. That alone may seem like a perverse occupation and, yet, that is the occupation of a branding and advertising executive and, this, combined with my unique heritage, offers me a very unique vision of what the election of Barack Obama means.
So what does it mean?
How do we process, from a branding perspective, that we have elected the first black president of the United States of America?
For many, this election will indicate the end of the Civil Rights Movement. From this day forward, it will be exponentially more difficult to argue that blacks do not have the same rights, privileges and opportunities as any other citizen.
‘After all,’ the undefined “They” will argue, ‘there is a black man in the White House.’
And the problem with this viewpoint is that “They” are right.
America will have to wake up to discover that we live in country in which minorities, virtually all minorities (even my minorities) have all the same rights, privileges and opportunities as any other citizen.
And that means that this is the end of the cop-out. No longer is there the excuse that it is impossible for one group of people to get ahead. No longer can we say that the cards that are stacked against some of us are so great that they are insurmountable. No longer are there excuses.
The danger in these statements is to infer that racism no longer exists.
There are many who will make this leap. They will make it out of arrogance. They will make it out of selfishness. And they will make it out of ignorance.
Make no mistake. Racism is still alive and well. Racism is still lurking in the corners. Racism is the conversation that must be opened – because racism is the remnant and byproduct of a thought process that said, “They are not as good as Us.”
Today, however, racism is undeniably a surmountable obstacle. Racism is a hurdle and not a wall.
Barack Obama, the new president-elect of the United States of America, has proven that racism is the beginning of a challenge, not the end. He has proven that racism is something that nobody has a good reason to succumb to. In other words, there is no reason not to overcome racism.
Is America ready to wake up to this new paradigm shift?
I have no idea.
But today, as the president of my own company, I can tell you that this is the messaging – stated or unstated – of President Barack Obama.
Are you ready?
And so was John Simon Mozloom.
Thom Mozloom is president of the M Network, which specializes in branding and marketing strategies for corporate and political clients.