23
Jun
08

Can we stop thinking of Senator Obama as “the Black guy who might be president”?

I had been kinda holding in my less popular political views for some time now – particularly those that pertain to people of color.  (I have a tremendous amount of respect for Bill Cosby and his accomplishments.  I think his indictment of Black fathers and whether our priorities as they pertain to education are probably the right message, but delivered in the wrong forum.)   I received an e-mail recently that sent me over the top.  In the e-mail were several animated images (GIFs) of popular Black actors dancing.  These are actors that you might see in sitcoms (George Jefferson from The Jeffersons, Carlton from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Whitney Houston had one from one of the many embarrassing moments in Being Bobby Brown.)  The subtext of the e-mail was that it was time to sing and shout because, “Obama got the ticket”.  (Meaning that he’s become the apparent Democratic candidate.)  And that was all I could take.

Please don’t misunderstand my sentiment.  I’ve been a fan of Senator Obama since reading a story about his life in a men’s magazine (it was either GQ or Men’s Health) a few years before the John Kerry endorsement speech.  And then when I heard him speak at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, I thought, “Whoa.  This is the guy who I might be able to get behind!  Let me stay tuned!”

Since that moment where he spoke so passionately at the DNC four years ago, he’s had a similar impact on many other people.  My dear friend at work (who happens to be of Korean descent) and I talk all the time during our much treasured lunches about the fact that he’s peaked our interest.  Very early in January, before Obama-mania hit, he went to a rally to hear more about his policies and where he stands on certain issues.  And despite my respect for Senator Clinton (although that respect has been tested over the past few months), I felt that Senator Obama represents a segment of the country who hasn’t been heard.  He represents a compassionate way of dealing with the problems that we’ve inherited.

All that said, please understand: I’m a huge Barack Obama fan and I anxiously look forward to his career, whether or not he becomes President of these United States.

So what’s so unsettling about this e-mail?

In a large part, I think it represents an apathy on the part of my people (people of color.)  Now, I do love my people and I have a tremendous amount of pride about where we’ve been and our road to citizenship in this country – including the part that it has played in allowing people from other ethnic backgrounds who are also dark in complexion to participate in our freedom.  But I’m starting to reconsider whether Bill Cosby’s tactics, as mean-spirited and as accusatory as they may have appeared, might not have been right on time (as Michael Eric Dyson debated in his book.)  The truth is that our priorities are completely in disarray.  I’m including myself in this indictment.  We often complain about not being business owners of the restaurants that we patronize or the business in which we shop, but we don’t seek the power through business ownership ourselves.

So what is it about this e-mail that bothered me so?  Well, for one thing, it makes me kinda sad at our Leon Lett attitude.  While it’s a time to reflect on what an accomplishment it might be to have Barack as the first Democratic Party endorsed candidate for president, this reminds me of celebrating in at the end of the 3rd quarter because you’re up by twenty points.  There’s a lot of ball to be played yet.  While he’s closer than most have come, the real work remains to be done.  The key question to be asked is whether the people sending around this e-mail took the time to vote in the Democratic primary to insure that there would be this moment?  And for that matter if they plan to participate in the general election and to seek to educate others about the stance that Senator Obama has on several key issues?

I guess that’s too much work.  “Come on, can’t we just click ‘forward’ on the e-mail?”

The bigger issue that I have is with everyone referring to Barack Obama as “the Black candidate.”  Yes, Barack is a candidate of color who’s experience in Chicago as a man of color gives him a certain level of identity with the issues that people of color face in this country.  However, please understand that the person who will attain the highest level of influence in this country need be more than just apathetic to the issues of people of color.  He needs to be understanding of the issues of ALL people.  And what’s so exciting about Senator Obama is that he has this gift.  He’s received international support due to his somewhat controversial views about preferring to come to the table to talk to people that we don’t necessarily agree with (rather than stay apart and hope that things get better.)

I’m offended by the continual emphasis that “Obama might be the first Black president” every bit as much as I am offended by the Internet pop up ads that ask the question, “Do you feel safe with Obama as President?”.

Yes, Senator Obama is a man of color, but he’s so much more.  He’s a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard University Law School.  He’s the husband of another Harvard Law School graduate.  He’s eloquent.  He’s had the opportunity to live in places outside of this country.  He’s a best-selling author.  He’s witty.  He’s charming.  And he just may be the fulfillment of the dreams of many that prophesied that this day would come before I was an embryo.

And oh, yes…. he just happens to be Black.

If Alan Keyes had become Republican Candidate for the presidency back in 2000 or 2004, would we be sending out e-mails celebrating his nomination?  Is he not a Black candidate also?  Why weren’t we elated when Clarence Thomas was sworn in as a Supreme Court Justice?  Could there be more to a candidate’s worthiness for our support than simply being “Black”?  I could argue that either of those men have had upbringings that are more traditionally identified as “Black” than Senator Obama.  And yet while I respect their accomplishments as people of color who persevered every bit as much as Senator Obama did, I don’t believe that their conservative views resonate well with people who share my experience.

I have one other ‘wake up’ message for all those who are resting unbelievable hopes on the back of Senator Obama: as much as I feel that he could potentially change the country, there’s a lot that you could be doing regardless or who holds the office of the President of United States that will make your life better.  The Presidency is not a kingship.  (But this is another post.)

Let’s try to stay focused more on Barack as a dynamic and compelling young voice of a generation who can start to bring the pride about being an American back into our hearts – and a bit less on the fact that we happen to share the same ethnic makeup.  The truth is that the former has a lot more to do with the quality of his presidency than the latter.

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1 Response to “Can we stop thinking of Senator Obama as “the Black guy who might be president”?”


  1. June 26, 2008 at 7:12 am

    this is one of the most thoughtful and thought-provoking pieces i’ve read about the broader implications of an obama presidency. if every voter took the time to reflect and soul-search that devron has done, our country would become a far better place, and very quickly.


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