The day of an African American President of the United States is no longer
coming. That day is here. Witnessing Barack Obama take the oath
of office, in the freezing cold with a million other people, is
surely one of the seven highlights of my life (along with witnessing
the birth of my four children, my second marriage and being present
at the Million Man March in 1995). The chests and breasts of black
people were bursting out with all “Americans” who shared in this
celebration. I was close enough to witness the look on his face
but far enough away to feel stymied in the pomp and circumstance
of a transition of power progress foreign to everyday people, particularly
every black people.
To be honest, this was the first Inauguration Day most first time attendees,
black-white-brown-red-yellow, ever wanted to attend. Foreign to
this process are people that have been rarely included. Washington’s
“power elite,” namely the corporate America and its lobbyists, had
to find another way to play - at least for one day, as the American
people reclaimed its country back and common man (woman) played
centered stage. On January 20th, race took a backstage in a way
that it rarely does. But for the fact that Barack is black, a fact
that in all its history-making glory was impossible to ignore, people
of all ideologies came together to celebrate this day.
even took pictures with some “Rednecks For Obama,” something I would
have sworn, just a year ago, I never would have done. But if rednecks
can put aside race and suppress a twisted ideology for the common
good of the nation, so can I. That was the power of Barack Hussein
Obama taking the oath of office. It was a great day for America,
and an even greater day for the people whose legacy is tied to those
who once labored in this nation as slaves. They certainly celebrated
this day, as they gave more than any of us ever could suggest, their
blood, sweat, tears, their lives and their deaths - and their freedom.
Leading up to Inauguration Day, the frequent commentary sought to suggest
that Martin Luther King, Jr’s “dream,” the nightmare of black America
that King so many times articulated in his speeches and highlighted
in the speech white America has chosen to romanticize in the aftermath
of King’s life, has been fulfilled. Barack Obama’s election and
swearing-in, which seemed to take forever in the past three and
a half months, is being framed as some kind of “payoff” on America’s
vicious past. That somehow, the election of a black President makes
up for the centuries, decades and generations of racial oppression
and economic subjugation that America tolerated (and on some levels,
still tolerates) is misguided.
Just for the record, America can elect ten black Presidents and never
make up for slavery and segregation. But the very thought that America,
and commentators in America, think that we’re “even” now, and that
America has somehow gotten past race and racial differences, is
incredulous. The election of Barack Obama simply means America has
progressed to the extent that, in its worse realities, it was not
prepared to allow race to hold the nation back, as it once would
have. It doesn’t mean America has progressed to the extent where
it would look past race to allow the nation to move ahead.
is a difference, and here it is: we all know that Obama was the
superior candidate throughout the campaign season - but not one
person would have bet his or her home or life savings that Obama
would, for sure, be elected the next President of the United States.
The Republicans ran inferior candidates and presented the inferior
arguments, and even in the face of a discredited party and a failing
economy, John McCain was in the race until the last week before
the election. Even then, the nation feared a “Bradley effect” that
most whites wouldn’t vote for a black candidate - even when it became
obvious that the country really experienced a reverse Bradley effect
whereby many whites wanted to (and did) vote for the best candidate
but couldn’t publicly state they had for fear of being viewed as
traitors to white privilege and white interests.
Race is most subtle in American culture, but it is still present. Yes,
an aspect of Dr. King’s “dream” was fulfilled when America elected
Obama, based on the content of his character, and not on the color
of his skin. But America still has massive racial disparities in
income, wealth, health and education. America still prosecutes and
jails more African Americans, discriminates more in housing and
credit, charges them higher interest on loans, hires them last,
fires them first, still wages hates crimes against them in disproportionate
measure and mocks them disproportionately as less responsible, less
moral, less civil and less “patriotic.”
Black America has a long way to go to be considered full partners in
this “American Dream.” What we do know is that it took a huge leap
of faith in electing Barack Obama, and kept its promise in this
week’s swearing-in ceremony. Now,
black America is taking a huge leap of faith that the check marked
“insufficient funds” in the “dream” Dr. King spoke to 45 years ago
will be paid - not on the backs of future generations - but by the
dreams and aspirations of future generations of black youngsters
who never knew the real possibilities of their full potentials,
much less this possibility, because of race reality in America.
Has that really changed?
That is a question that is yet to be determined. In the meantime, we
know one thing for sure: no, the dream hasn’t been completely fulfilled.
But America made a helleva down payment in electing Barack Obama.
Maybe, just maybe, change has indeed come to America.
Dr. Anthony Asadullah Samad, is a national columnist, managing director
of the Urban Issues Forum
and author of Saving The Race: Empowerment Through Wisdom.
His Website is AnthonySamad.com.
to contact Dr. Samad.