Friday, February 01, 2008
Barack, Blackness and the Future
I still remember one of the lines Jesse Jackson delivered at the 88 Democratic National Convention. Referring to Governor Michael Dukakis he said ‘he may have come over on an immigrant ship, I may have come over on a slave ship, but we’re all in the same boat together‘. Rev. Jackson wasn’t referring to he and Gov. Dukakas’ personal journey as much as marking the historical factors that brought European immigrants and African-Americans to this country.
In 1988 most African-Americans weren’t deluded into thinking that this country would actually put a black man into the white house. The hope was that the northern white liberal establishment would at least know that our issues were important and that we could not be so easily blown off if the Democrats were to have a chance to win back the White House.
Fast forward 20 years and another black candidate is running for the democratic nomination to be president of the U.S. Unlike Rev. Jackson however Barack Obama didn’t arise out of the Civil Rights establishment. Also unlike Rev. Jackson Senator Obama is well, Senator Obama. He’s already run and won state wide office proving that he can relate to and gain support from a large majority of white voters. (BTW can those of you who live in the bell weather state clue us in on Senator Obama’s appeal) Unlike Rev. Jackson Senator Obama won the Iowa caucuses and came very close to capturing the N.H. primary. Finally, unlike Rev. Jackson Senator Obama does not have the rank and file black democratic machine behind his historic run.
And this in my humble opinion means that Senator Barack Obama has placed himself in the most delicate dilemma a black man has ever found himself in these United States of America. On the one hand he is a black man who desires to run a national campaign in which his ethnicity is not the prime focus. For some that is proof enough that he’s a fraud and phony. On the other hand should he run as ‘the black’ candidate not only would he most certainly lose, but others would decry him as a race baiter for making blackness the issue.
Whatever you think of Senator Obama as a man, public servant and potential president his candidacy is a window into how we think or want to think about race/ethnicity. For many African-Americans his run for the roses represents what we hope is the next stage in racial progress. For the first time in our history millions of Americans may consider a black man for the top elected office in the nation. They may look at him and actually decide that all things considered it’s simply ridiculous to not vote for him just because he is black.
For others however his candidacy signals nothing less than a frightening seismic shift in how race is played out in America. That may be the reason that many Civil Rights stalwarts have rejected him as being some kind of uppity outsider. Think about it for a moment. Even if Obama comes close to winning the nomination it would mean among other things that the next African-American candidate for president would most certainly follow his blueprint. Moreover there could be other talented young black public servants who seeing Obama’s success decide to run for statewide offices such as governor and senator. And how would they run you say? Most surely by appealing to a broad spectrum of their constituents on the basis of shared values, issues and challenges and not on the strength of a single ethnic base. It could be that Senator Obama’s run does more for changing how young African-Americans see themselves and their possibilities than anyone other than Dr. King himself.
Funny, isn’t it. We’ve recently celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday and have now entered black history month. And for the first time in our history we’re witnessing a situation in which a black man may actually be judged by the content of his character and not by the color of his skin for the most important public post in the country. Am I saying we’ve finally overcome? No, not yet. But I do hope that Senator Obama’s candidacy represents one small step for Barack and one giant leap for America.
To Him Who Loves Us…