Cory Booker is the junior United States senator from New Jersey. He was born in Washington, D.C., and his parents, who both worked for IBM, later relocated the family to Harrington Park, New Jersey. A star high school athlete, Booker received a football scholarship to Stanford University, where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He then attended Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar before earning his law degree from Yale University. Booker won a special election to fill the term of the late Senator Frank Lautenberg to become New Jersey’s first African American senator and only the twenty-first person in American history to ascend directly from mayor to senator. Booker lives in Newark’s Central Ward. His book, United: Thoughts on Finding Common Ground and Advancing the Common Good, gives an account of his own political education that have shaped his particular civic vision for America.
Question: Does Barack Obama represent a post-racial age?
Cory Booker: Well, I reject the term post-racial, it kind of scares me in the sense that I never want that to happen to America. Ah, let’s not sanitize, homogenize, deodorize our country, dear God we are not a homogenous country like Norway or Holland, nor do I want us to be, not that there's anything wrong with that, but I want to be America. We are America, because we have strong Italian communities steeped in who they are, Irish communities with the pride of that community, Korean, Mexican, Haitian, Nigerian. We are the United States of America which is the wonderful collection of so many different races, ethnicities and religions and God forbid if we ever get to a point where we “transcend our race.” What makes America so rich, so powerful, so strong is our diversity. And I want to be a person that is who I am fully, I want to be a guy who is from New Jersey, I got my New Jersey pride, blasting my Bruce and my Queen Latifah, and, ah, but I also want to be a guy who is a Christian. I don’t want that should be something I should apologize for and I want to be a black guy, you know, I am African American, that comes with certain culture, from the food I eat to the music I listen to. My father’s Charlie Parker records or, or Earth, Wind, and Fire, all these things that are part of the African American experience and culture. I want luxuriate in them, I want to enjoy them, I want to be proud of my background and heritage and my heritage's contribution to this country, but all those things ultimately are portal for which us to all, if we truly are rooted in who we are, we eventually emerge to a deeper understanding of humanity in more texture or more rich, Understanding our true commonalities as a people. This where I found out what I found out with Schmuley in England. Now, I still never forget we were sitting there in the drunken spectacle of a purim party and the only three people left standing are the rabbi, who has got the biggest tolerance to alcohol is the Mormon, Greg Inan, Michael Benson who was the grandson of the Ezra Benson the head of the Mormon church, this is like the Prince of Mormon is right here, who does not drink and me that the Christian ex-football players who has never had alcohol and three of us who sitting looking at each other and it was a powerful moment where Mike Benson turns to Schmuley, an observant Mormon turns to a orthodox Jew and says, “Being around you and who you are and how fiercely Jewish you are, proud of Jewish you are, you made me a better Mormon” and Schmuley turns to him and says to a to Michael, he said “you know, being around you made me a better Jew” and I turned to both them and I said “Hanging out with you guys has done nothing for my love life.” Ah, but, ah, the reality is that is what the great thing is about America. The more we understand each other the more powerfully, we celebrate our cultures. I think it tighter our binds could be and it greater we bring out the power of humanity. So, let’s not have my generation of Obama’s or Adrian Fenties or Archer Davis’s or Harold Fords, these young African American guys who are coming along. Let’s let them never symbolize the over of the transcendence of race. I have anything that it celebrates that our country is becoming a place where all cultures, all ethnicities can get into the center of the arena and fight for a better America, but the thing that you said about, at the end of it though as this idea that we are beginning to heal the racial pains of the past. That we are been into address the racial disparities of the past. Now that is a good question or good point which is really what is happening in America, a generation since civil rights movement, especially for leaders in our generation who weren’t alive in 68, 67, 66, 65 and 4 when lot of that action was happening, what is this really mean and the first thing I says is looking at Obama, Harvard-educated lawyer Archer Davis, another Ivy-league lawyer or Harold Ford, another person with great presidential credentials. In many ways it is the celebration that our ancestors opened up this incredible door for even a larger flow of African Americans, Latinos other minorities in women to get opportunities, but they didn't get two or three generations ago in America and it in and of itself is wonderful thing, but we has the country we have a lot of work to do. You know, there is kids in Newark who stood up this morning and uttered something that people in Beverly Hills did, the same kids is still said the exact same thing that we are one nation under God, indivisible, I love that ideal, with liberty and justice for all. To me those words are still aspirational. We haven’t achieve them yet. You do not have to go far to see disparities, you can challenge anybody. I have done this in audiences all time. I said, “Everybody here knows who Jon Benet Ramsey is and Natalia Hallaway, privileged girls who happen to be white, who were murdered, became national scenes, but in cities like Newark there are unsolved murders of black children that don’t capture the same kind of national sensation, you have to wonder why is that. You look at racial disparities in incarceration, in New Jersey for example, 14% of our population is African American over 60% of the present population is black. Look a racial disparities so many different areas, we have not become a country that reflects our ideals yet. Nobody, black or white, Latino or Asian can say that we have achieved it yet. So, if anything this next generation of African Americans leaders or Latino young leaders or whatever ethnic group, what we have to realize is while we have benefited, so lavishly from the sacrifices of our parents. We have larger obligation to continue their struggle and not give up on the highest ideals of America that we can become that country that our children speak to every single morning and that is what excites me most is that you see a guy like Barrack Obama or whomever expressing that unbelievable commitment. That same kind of fire, that same kind of hope and optimism and belief that we can be this nation that, as King would say, “I have been to the mountaintop and I could see the promised land and we will get to that promised land.”
Recorded on: 3/11/08