Friday, November 14, 2008

I stand corrected about Obama

I Stand Corrected by eyecalone

On November 4th, 2008 something happened, that from this day forward will probably be described using a long list of clich├ęs, so I will describe it using the most appropriate one – historic. Perhaps attempting to in some way exorcise more than 3 centuries of the demons of racial injustice and exclusion the people of the United States elected their first African-American president. This President Elect was not just any African-American either. The President elect was an African-American first generation immigrant in a sense, with a East African name and an Islamic middle name. Sure one of his parents is White, and he was essentially raised by Caucasians, but in the social order of American race relations, Barack Hussein Obama is undoubtedly a Black man.

Honestly if anyone had asked me about such a possibility 8 or even 4 years ago I would have ruled it out. It was a possibility that I would have been confident I would see in my lifetime, and once Barack Obama showed viability in the Democratic primary against Hillary Clinton, I began to believe. However, in a country that, allegations and proof of election fraud aside, had just elected George W. Bush twice the United States as a nation, just seemed too prejudiced, frightened, and angry for such a thing to happen.

Or perhaps, I was too cynical.

In either case, I stand corrected!
The 2008 election was a monumental moment in history that I am glad I was alive to see, though I’m hardly teary-eyed or politically swayed by it. I maintain my skepticism (more like outright rejection) about the prospects for making meaningful change through the less right-wing, portion of the American single party system, the Democratic Party. By my estimation the Democratic party continues to function like a pressure release valve for the public’s discontent with this system and prevents truly meaningful and far reaching progressive changes to American society. In fact it even discourages and limits any serious discussion of such change.

For all the sloganeering about “change” and Obama’s campaign being based on it, I’m still a little hazy on what the extent of what these “changes” will be. In fact if those most responsible for the groundswell of public support that ushered Barack Obama into office don’t hold his feet to the fire I fear an Obama administration may look eerily similar to the Clinton years. Already as Obama looks to build his cabinet many of the top names on his list are Washington insiders and a surprising number of Republicans. Although I can’t really fault President Elect Obama, for these proposals as he has consistently made his “centrist”, moderate Democrat views apparent in his speeches, writings, and public appearances. It is only large numbers of his “progressive” supporters who have failed to hear him, preferring to paint him with the brush of what they would like him to be, instead of what he has already told you he is. I suppose after 8 years of the disastrous policies of the Bush administration people feel they can get into all the specifics later, they just know they don’t want any more of anything that looks like more of what they have been getting.

Still, there is something special about this moment.
As an African-American man whose political views, would place me soundly on the left of the political spectrum, I also find myself fighting two wars. I find myself looking at the 2008 election from many angles and with a variety of emotions, but mainly a combination of apprehension and hope.

As novel as it may be to have an African-American president for the first time, I am apprehensive on a number of fronts. As one of the faux-news correspondents on the Daily Show jokingly put it on election night, Barack Obama is being handed America as a crap sandwich - a steaming economic crisis patty between two sesame seed wars. At this point there may be a limited amount that can be done to stave of further crisis or to deliver on any of his “promises” as it will likely take more than 4 years to unravel the damage done by the last few administrations. If things do not immediately turn around, there will definitely be attempts from sections of this society to saddle him with the blame for the nation’s decline. And although Obama’s ascendancy may represent progress on some fronts, it hardly represents the arrival of full equality for people of color in this nation though that will certainly be one the most prevalent arguments made. If Barack Obama can become president then racism, institutional, etc, is over and we must all be equal, and now we can finally get rid of any programs meant to redress centuries of exclusion and denial of fundamental rights and equality – right? If nothing else Obama’s election is the rebirth of the American myth that this nation is a meritocracy and that anyone can become anything they want in America through hard work alone.

I also worry that so many newly invested people now believe the job is done and will become jaded and politically apathetic again when/if this singular act of electing Barack Obama as President doesn’t produce the results they hoped. And lastly, but not least, I am apprehensive because at the end of the day this election may have breathed new life into a fading empire. It will be putting a very new face on possibly the same old thing especially in the arena of foreign policy. Obama’s election has ushered in a new era of goodwill and hope internationally as the world rejoices and waits to see what will happen now, and if the empire’s new ambassador will truly be different from all those previous in something more substantive than his appearance. If he proves not be a significant change from their most recent experiences, those feelings of goodwill and the opportunities for dialogue internationally may quickly revert to the old feelings of seething anger and distrust that have haunted America’s dealings internationally, recently more than ever.

Lastly I worry – in fact I already know, that Obama’s election will render many people, especially African-Americans incapable of thinking critically about his policies. It is clear unless he does several things bad on the policy front, to the point of being reminiscent of the Bush Administration, Obama will be beyond reproach in many communities of color. In the Black community there is only room for two images on the mantel place in “Big Mamma’s” house, one is Barack Obama and the other is Jesus.

Despite my misgivings there is hope and an appreciation of the sheer magnitude of this event. Even if the Obama administration is politically not the “change” so many had hoped for, as a Black man it is a public relations coup. So much damage has been done to the image of Black people internationally and in America especially, by the media and entertainment that the United States produces, that the image of Obama and his family is of tremendous value. The day after the election I had no less than 3 of the teenagers that I work with say that they were reevaluating their life outlooks, hopes, and dreams based on Obama’s achievement. One of the more rough around the edges of that group, actually told me he no longer “wanted to be a ‘gangsta’” after witnessing Obama’s election. Obama’s regal persona, intelligence, charisma, and a host of other positive personal traits provide an alternate image of Black manhood for children of color, the value of which is hard to underestimate. Using a different set of positive adjectives, a similar argument can be made about Obama’s picturesque family, his powerful, beautiful, and capable wife Michelle and the beauty of their relationship. It gives a whole new set of images in America and on a world stage on how Black men and woman relate romantically or at least how they should.

I left my home to go to Harlem’s 125th street after Obama’s surpassing of the 270 electoral vote count total needed became more or less official, not because I couldn’t sleep due to the noise of the evening, but because I felt a need to read the pulse of people at that moment. Before I was able to walk two feet from my doorstep I was passed by a group of 6-8 brown children smiling, laughing, and chanting “O-ba-ma! O-ba-ma!”, as they walked hurriedly down the block. There was something magical and palpably special about the night and as I walked towards 125th street there were people of literally every color chanting and visibly ecstatic about the night’s events. There were people yelling from cars and cab drivers honking their horns. It had the feeling of a city after a major sports team wins a championship after decades of losing. The excitement and hope, and specifically for people of color, pride, was unlike anything I have ever seen before. Only time will tell what, if anything, any of this will mean once the euphoria wears off but it was a sight to see.

Lastly there is the fact that despite the outpouring of support from people of color, particularly Blacks Americans who have consistently voted above 90% for the Democratic candidate in any recent election, Obama’s election would not have been possible without a majority of support from White Americans. The Republican ticket made every possible appeal to backwardness and prejudice that they could get away without openly being accused of racism, and this time it wasn’t enough. The perfect storm of looming economic disaster, disgust with the Bush administration and the outpouring of support from younger White voters exposed a bit of a generational divide among White Americans. Of course racism in America is nowhere near conquered, at best maybe there is a dent in the armor, but this occurrence perhaps signals more hope for the current generations and those of the immediate future, than I had been willing to concede in the past.

Like the President Elect this election has me inheriting two wars. I still long for much more far-reaching and meaningful progressive change for every ethnic group in this country. The kind of change that is not even allowed to be discussed in mainstream media venues. On another war front, I realize there is a tremendous amount of work that must be done in the Black community to redress centuries of trauma at the hands of the exploitative and racist economic and social system that is America. Sometimes these struggles overlap, while other missions are mainly for one of these wars. However based on what I’ve thus far seen and the almost irrational exuberance about the results of the 2008 election this may be a period where I’ll find it most rewarding to shift my resources to the war front that involves repairing the Black psyche. My intuition tells me that the next few years I may find it hard to convince many people that it is the system that must be challenged when they now see themselves so thoroughly as part of the system.

Yes We Can!

Yes We Did!

Now it remains to be seen what exactly have we accomplished.
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