Regardless of one's own personal political preferences, from history's perspective, the first time Barack Obama was elected president was momentous. The second time marked actual culture change.
A few years ago as the U.S.'s first black president began his maiden term I published my book, The Inclusion Paradox: The Obama Era and the Transformation of Global Diversity. As a student and practitioner of culture change the work was inspired by a sense that we were at a tipping point of massive culture change.
The election of Barack Obama was a defining moment that captured both metaphorically and literally the zeitgeist of the times. The moment has come to be known as the Obama Era, a period in history that was as much about the demographic changes in society that made possible the election of the U.S.'s first black president as about the man and leader himself whose own diverse biography would come to further define the early 21st century.
That first election was certainly historic. It was a massive break through the color line. But it was too soon to tell if it was going to lead to being understood as being anything beyond a flash-in-the-pan stroke of luck due to an imploding economy so out of control that many millions were willing to take what for them was a what-the-hell bet of voting for the non-white person who could maybe magically save the nation.
While the insurgency of the 2008 Obama election brought us to the tipping point of a new way of understanding a contemporary and diverse society, as the governing road got tougher and steeper, plenty of evidence mounted that Obama's historic election could end up being an outlier episode rather than a transformative era.
As there always is when societies are at a tipping point toward some sort of tectonic shift, powerful countervailing forces emerged to keep the tip from happening. True to form we saw this societal dynamic emerge through the fierce Tea Party phenomenon which led to major setbacks to the President's agenda in the midterm elections. Confidence abounded between opposition leaders that was confirmed by pundits that the countervailing forces would make even further gains by denying the president a second term and even lead to the Senate majority changing from blue to red.
But for all the head winds the U.S.'s first black president faced, the pundits and the opposition fell well short of their predictions. While theories abound of political strategy missteps, it's clear that the biggest oversight by one side, and the greatest asset of the other, was in how they responded to the shifting diversity demographics.
Diversity Is Leading to Permanent Policy Changes
Demographics is destiny. It affects the economy, the workplace, politics. For students of the U.S. diverse demographic tsunami the waves crashing against the electoral shores in 2008 were a dramatic announcement that the long predicted vast diversification of the U.S. had finally arrived in ways that were going to affect everything. The 2012 election solidified this reality.
If diversity before the Obama Era had been about Bill Cosby feel goodism, embracing multicultural celebrations, and the paralysis of political correctness, the shifting demographics tipping the election to a biracial man now are having implications not for funny TV shows and more interesting cuisine but for public policy in education, healthcare, the financial system, and taxes affecting people's lives. Regardless of where one stands philosophically or politically there can be no denying that the massively shifting demographics have shifted the policy agenda.
Consider the following:
• Healthcare reform will end up insuring 32 million previously uninsured Americans -- a disproportionate number of which (11 million) are people of color.
• For the first time a U.S. president supports gay marriage and the 20-year-old military policy of Don't Ask, Don't Tell gets repealed.
• Education reform, with its signature Race to the Top program, will disproportionately benefit kids of color, as the focus is on failing schools which are graduating less than 50 percent of African American and Latino students.
• Financial reform had, within its provisions, the creation for the first time ever in the Federal Reserve System, the Office for Minority and Women Inclusion in each of the Federal Reserve Banks. Not only does it call for greater diverse representation in its workforce and leadership but for the Fed to also press the banks they regulate on their own commitment to diversity.
• President Obama signs an executive order in 2011 establishing a coordinated government-wide initiative to promote diversity and inclusion in the Federal Workforce that in his words is aimed "to develop and implement a more comprehensive, integrated, and strategic focus on diversity and inclusion as a key component of their human resources strategies."
But still, was the 2008 election and the four years that followed just going to end up being an episodic blip, or rather be the first surge of a rising and lasting tide of change?
The results of the 2012 election were the answer. The changes due to the demographic shifts were here to stay. Barack Hussein Obama sweeps back into office with the following diverse votes: 90 percent of Blacks, 70 percent of Asians, 70 percent of Latinos, 65 percent of voters under 40, 55 percent of the female vote. The cultural markers here are that, yes, there are now enough "minority" voters that have become majorities and they tip the balance of the election of the president of the United States.
This is why Obama's second election -- and the various state referenda on gay marriage and legalizing pot, as well as the election of the first out lesbian senator, and the sending of the greatest number ever of women to Congress -- ended up being a thunder clap announcing true culture change.
Obama's reelection is an announcement that the diverse demographic tsunami and their many implications to the economy, education, energy, immigration, and individual and collective responsibilities -- while still going to be happening in fits and starts -- are irreversible.
To keep driving the point further that this diversity focus will continue in Obama's second term Monday's Inaugural ceremony symbolically featured the first ever Latina Justice administering the vice president's oath, the first black female to do the invocation, the first gay and the first Latino to recite an Inaugural poem.
And in substance, the first black president, was the first ever to refer to Gay Rights in an Inaugural speech and spoke up for the equal rights for women and the citizenship rights for the millions of undocumented Latino immigrants. He tied it all together in a stunning statement: "from Seneca Falls, Selma, and Stonewall."
This is an upside down time. If before in the diversity field we singularly focused on how minorities or those traditionally on the margins of society were affected by or were at the mercy of the choices of the majority, we now see this emerging New Mainstream bending the arc of history as they challenge the rules of engagement for those who have traditionally held power.
Influence has begun to flow this other way.