Up & Coming Weekly

February 02, 2021

Up and Coming Weekly is a weekly publication in Fayetteville, NC and Fort Bragg, NC area offering local news, views, arts, entertainment and community event and business information.

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WWW.UPANDCOMINGWEEKLY.COM FEBRUARY 3-9, 2021 UCW 5 OPINION MARGARET DICKSON, Columnist. COMMENTS? Editor@ upandcomingweekly.com. 910-484-6200. The importance and burden of being a 'first' by MARGARET DICKSON Since the Inauguration, Americans have heard a great deal about being "the first." Kamala Harris is the first woman elected nationwide and the first person of Black or east Asian heritage to serve as Vice President of the United States. Janet Yel- len is the first woman named Secretary of the Treasury. Lloyd Austin, no stranger to our community from his days at Fort Bragg, is the first Black person to serve as Secretary of Defense. Pete Buttigieg is the first openly gay Cabinet member. There are more firsts as well and more will come as President Biden fills out his administration. A temptation may be to say "ho hum." After all, someone has to do these jobs. But being the first does matter, and it matters on several fronts. Being the first is, of course, a personal achievement for Harris, Yellen, Austin, Buttigieg and many others. They have served their nation—or company or community—well and are expected to continue doing so. Their achievements can and will serve as inspiration to others who follow in their paths. They see that if someone who "looks like them" can rise to the heights, then "so can I." Being first becomes a collective achievement. Being first is an especially meaning- ful model for young people. A young person who does not see opportunity before him or her can imagine it with a "first." As Vanderbilt University political scientist Amanda Clayton told the New York Times, "There's a lot of empirical evidence that you can't be what you can't see. Citizens get used to seeing women in certain places, and I think once your idea of who can lead changes, there's more demand for it." And, being a first is a sign that a society is becoming more inclusive. When our nation was formed, leader- ship roles were open only to white men who owned property, a small and exclu- sive group indeed. After our Civil War, that opened to men of color and non- property owners, and, in the early 20th century, to women. This enriched our nation by including millions more people with the skills and inclinations to lead in all areas of American life. Change is not always easy or welcome, however, and some in the groups that have had to share power are resistant. Our nation is experiencing that resistance now, and it is painful and dangerous. It is shocking to think that our elected mem- bers of Congress are asking for personal security when they are in their districts, in other words, when they are home. Almost 20 years ago, I attended a lec- ture that illustrated and foreshadowed such resistance to change. James John- son, a distinguished professor at the Ke- nan Flagler Business School at the Uni- versity of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an internationally known demog- rapher was speaking on the graying and browning of North Carolina, demograph- ic trends that continue. As Johnson spoke about aging and diversity and flipped his charts to a predominantly white audience of middle-aged to older men and women, one man who appeared to be in his 60s, suddenly shouted, "I don't believe that!" Johnson continued speaking, and again the man who was becoming ever more agitated shouted, "I don't believe that." Johnson looked a bit annoyed but con- tinued, and when it happened a third time, he turned to the audience of rising senior citizens, and asked, "Are any of you people planning to go home tonight and make a baby?" The dissenter later ran for Governor of North Carolina and lost. I took away two lessons from this ex- perience. One is that there is no bucking a demographic change that is already underway. The other is that sticking one's head in the sand about societal change is not a successful political strategy. Kamala Harris is the first woman elected nationwide and the first person of Black or east Asian heritage to serve as Vice President of the United States. Being the first serves as inspiration to others and becomes a collective achievement.

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