Following was published in Sept. 3 edition of The County News, where I am editor-at-large. The County News is an African American weekly covering Mecklenburg, Catawba, Iredell, Cabarrus and Rowan counties in North Carolina.
Barack Obama stands on the threshold of an historic achievement – the American presidency.
He would be the first black – at least half-black – man to reach this nation’s and the world’s pinnacle of power.
But even as Obama fights valiantly to win this election, many African Americans – and whites – are already trying to assess the meaning of an Obama victory on Nov. 4.
That victory is by no means assured, of course. Most polls indicate a neck-and-neck contest with Republican Sen. John McCain – even after last week’s ceremonious crowning of Obama as the Democratic Party standard bearer.
Some blacks are already criticizing Obama for not speaking often enough or loudly enough on “black issues.” Some noted, for example, that he did not mention Martin Luther King Jr. by name during his acceptance speech. Obama said simply “a young preacher from Georgia.” His critics missed the poetry in Obama’s phrasing. Have you heard of “the man from Galilee.”
And, Obama surely would not want to be accused by those same critics of evoking Dr. King’s name in a vain attempt to make political hay from that young preacher’s historic legacy.
Obama ruffled a few black feathers when he called recently for black men to be better fathers, a contentious issue for many who note that past and current racist practices debilitate black manhood.
Despite the criticism, however, most blacks understand that Obama is in for the fight of his life and of African American election history. Most also understand that Obama is not running as the black community’s candidate. He is the candidate of the Democratic Party, which despite its near universal support from black voters, remains an umbrella organization of a number of groups and causes. Note the Hillary Clinton inspired desires for a female president.
Obama represents the best hope of all those groups for a more welcoming America.
An Obama victory will mean much to this country and to the world.
But what that victory will mean for African Americans is not so clear.
It will not mean “forty acres and a mule” or such other reparations sought by many. While Congress and a number of state legislatures have passed resolutions apologizing for slavery, there’s no consensus on reparations for that horrible national sin.
And, while an Obama-led administration may include more African Americans in positions of power, we cannot expect the entire cabinet and other top slots to be filled solely by African Americans.
Obama is not likely to appoint all black federal judges, though its likely that at least one African American jurist could be elevated to the Supreme Court. The conservative Clarence Thomas needs a good “whist” partner, I’m sure.
Problems that have plagued the black community will not magically disappear. Black-on-black crime and high unemployment, particularly among young black males, will continue to be challenges.
Educational achievement gaps will continue to plague the nation’s public school system, though one can hope Obama would scrap or fully fund “No Child Left Behind.”
Blacks will continue to wrestle with such health issues as high rates of hypertension, diabetes and kidney disease, though Obama is promising to build a health insurance system that covers most Americans.
Those and other Obama initiatives will still have to pass a Congress where legislation looks more like sausage than pork loin.
If Nov. 5 will look pretty much like Nov. 4, why should African Americans care whether Obama is the next American president?
The answer lies at the core of what’s really the most difficult challenge facing the black community and this nation. That challenge is finding a way to inspire hope in the hearts and minds of a growing legion of disaffected and alienated young black Americans.
Obama’s story is the story America loves to tell. It’s a story of opportunity grasped, of obstacles overcome, of hard work and sacrifice. Obama rose to power not because his parents were wealthy, but because he got a world-class education and because he learned to serve his community, not terrorize it.
That’s the story that must be sold to young African Americans and others who aren’t great athletes or entertainers.
An Obama victory in November will be an opportunity for black parents and for teachers, mentors and pastors to once again challenge children to work hard in school. It ‘s an opportunity to tell our children they should dream those impossible dreams, which even when they don’t come true, carry us so much further in life and provide a compass to guide us along the way. It is our dreams, after all, that define who we truly are. It is our dreams which make us pause before making decisions about joining a gang, breaking into a house or picking up a gun. Our dreams make us avoid drug and alcohol abuse and lascivious behaviors. Our dreams keep us working on the job, not because we are working for “the man,” but because we are working for ourselves and our families.
If Obama can inspire a larger number of parents and children to be better today than they were yesterday, to study harder and to work longer, the social and economic impact on the black community and the nation will be immeasurable.
But for Obama’s election to have such an affect, the black community must use it wisely. Election night parties involving youth and including talks on the political history of the United States should be in the planning stages. Workshops, seminars and sermons retracing black history until today should be in the works.
An Obama inauguration should be an occasion for historical education and celebration, kicking off a few days early one of the most informative Black History Month commemorations of our lifetime.
Used properly as a tool of instruction and inspiration, Obama’s election could have an impact on Black America, and indeed White America, not witnessed since Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus, black Civil Rights marchers defied obstructing law officers, and black college students refused to leave whites-only stools at lunch counters.
But now, as then, the black community has to be involved in order to reap its reward.
Obama’s election, if used properly, could be a catalyst for the changes black Americans have long hoped for.