Barack Obama is officially the 44th President of the United States of America, and the 1st African American. There’s excitement in the air from coast to coast and from the lowest valleys to the highest mountaintops and people of all creeds feel united.
I remember feeling a strong sense of unity among ordinary strangers in the aftermath of September 11th, 2001. But that connection born out of tragedy doesn’t seem to compare to unity that comes about when people see a common goal and dream come to fruition. The unity seemed to start with President Obama’s campaign and was reinforced again today in his inaugural speech which espoused a sense of community that penetrates all racial barriers. But I can’t ignore the glaring question of what happens to Black America now.
It’s been several decades since Blacks obtained the right to vote and witnessed Black leaders (King, X and Rustin alike) spread a message of social justice and equality on a national and international scale. While Blacks have seen progress, institutional racism still exists and white privilege is alive and well in education, health care, the criminal justice system and employment. But finally Blacks have seen some change come.
In the days following the election CNN and other networks reached out to Black youth in urban areas to ask what the election of the first Black president meant to them. I saw one young man seemingly stunned by the question. He began to cry as he stood along with his classmates in amazement. Through his sobs he uttered “Now I can be President too.” It was an emotional moment for me as a Black man to see a young Black boy, who lives in a community where hope may often seem scarce and struggle is ever-present, identify with his new president.
No doubt knowing the dirty secrets in the history of this country and seeing a man of color become the leader of the greatest and strongest nation of the world provides an incredible sense of hope and dignity to all people, especially Blacks. Finally we can stop doubting ourselves as we’ve been taught to do. Finally we know that in a country that not too long ago wouldn’t even let us vote, we can be elected. Finally we know that we too can lead a country that was built on the backs of our ancestors. Finally America is moving closer to fulfilling her promise to be the home of the free. Finally!
But I wonder now if the majority of Whites in this country see Barack Obama as just an exception to the “rule” (which has never been more than an ignorant misconception) that Blacks can’t be great leaders because they are incompetent and can’t lead, or do they see Barack Obama as a genuine token of the potential, success, intelligence and power that exists in Black America?
While he was never President, Dr. King was one of the most powerful and elegant orators in American history and he too unified people. Yet racism killed him and marched on after his life ended. Oprah Winfrey and others have knocked down barriers for Blacks and women, yet Black women continue to be plagued by degrading stereotypes and confronted by racist and sexist sentiments.
And so I must ask white racists ideology, (and I’m not just speaking to the KKK, but I’m speaking to every White woman who clenches the hand of her child or the strap of her bag a little tighter when a Black man walks by; I’m speaking to the White employer who sees an “ethnic” name on an application and immediately has negative thoughts; I’m speaking to the professor who wonders ,while reading the paper of a Black student, where they learned such “big words”; I’m speaking to the cop who instinctively reaches for his gun while I reach for my wallet, are you done yet?
Are Barack and Michelle Obama enough to convince you that Blacks are capable? Are these two enough evidence for you to understand that the poor social and economic conditions of Blacks, which you use to misjudge them, only exist because of social institutions established years ago on the basis of race? Are they enough for you to know that many Blacks can “speak so well”? Are they enough? Are you done yet?