today in black history

June 23, 2024

Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas was born on this date in 1948 in Pin Point, Georgia.

Just Beyond the Horizon

POSTED: August 28, 2008, 1:33 am

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So far he has come ... So close to winning it all. Just one more victorious run. Defeat fellow US Senator Republican John McCain on November 4, 2008, and Democratic hopeful Senator Barack Obama will become America's first African American president, having triumphed through the trials and tribulations of a seemingly endless primary season. Surging ahead of the pack of White and Latino male competitors, he finally defeated his greatest rival, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton; whose supporters early on felt it was her time - an opportunity like no other to put a woman in the White House, at the seat of power, not next to it.

In the process, Obama defied history, the negative expectations of too many pundits to count, and many of his fellow Americans, including once skeptical Blacks, whose weak-at-best early support dramatically turned around after the young Illinois senator's victories in the Democratic Party race convinced many that he was no shooting star or fluke. They evolved into a juggernaut and were not alone; young folks registered in droves to vote and joined men and women of all races and religions enamored and inspired by Obama's rhetoric, notably his calls for an end to military involvement in Iraq, an end to partisan gridlock in Washington, DC and political profiteering, and inclusion - every voice matters, every hand can be held up high, every person is important to making America live up to its ideals. When it was all said and done, and the smoke cleared from the rhetorical and financial intra-party primary battles, the articulate, charismatic and ethnically exotic Barak Obama, a Black man of interracial roots - a Black Kenyan father and White Midwestern mother, could hear his campaign slogans - "Yes We Can" and "Change We Can Believe In" - yelled by his supporters and most delegates at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado. So far, has he come.

But the journey ahead is no easy walk. "Stony the road" he has, and will, trod. Death threats, media caricatures, questions about religious beliefs and associations, debates about ethnic and racial identity are par for his presidential run and have been par for the course in American politics, which has never had a Jew or Muslim at its helm. One Catholic, John F. Kennedy, managed to overcome the Protestant hegemony, thanks no doubt to the black vote in 1960 that allowed him a close margin of victory over his Republican rival, Richard Nixon. No woman has held the reins of presidential power; many of Hillary Clinton's diehard loyalists still cannot accept her defeat in the tough primary race. Her primetime DNC speech called for unity behind Obama's candidacy, but her words largely heralded her platform and set the stage for a possible run for the White House in 2012. Barack Obama listened and observed the speech from afar, knowing that behind the scenes his campaign just can't shake the Clinton hold on the past and present, let alone the future. Requests, even demands, that his campaign gives millions of dollars to her defeated war chest to relieve its multi-million dollar debt border on political blackmail, to say the least. Angry calls by some in Clinton's defeated camp to switch party affiliation and vote for McCain rather than support the Obama - Biden ticket are remindful of the southern Democrats who abandoned Harry S. Truman's relatively racially progressive platform in 1948 and initiated an eventual tidal wave of southern White Republicanism, notably in the wake of civil rights gains in the 1950's and 1960's that bore fruit in the rise of a substantial, even dominant, southern Black electorate tied since then to the Democratic Party.

Will White anger, albeit male or female, take a similar course today? Will one Black man's rise to be the Democratic Party's choice fuel a White exodus, however rhetorically denied or packaged - note the divide between pollsters' exit poll results about the voter's choice in the primary races and the actual racial tallies, which told a different story. Only a few - of any race - freely admit that their vote was purely racial. Surely, most race-based voting cannot be empirically calculated. The Klansman's hood has given way to the voting booth's curtain. Obama's advisors know this. Obama knows this ... He has been politically and personally bleached. His identity even called into question - so much so that even many African Americans debate his "blackness" and "authenticity." How ironic since Obama is truly an African (his father) American (his mother) born in Hawaii, an American state. Maybe Barack's repeated emphasis on his bi-racialism and mother's family tree have touched a. raw nerve among American Blacks, who are rightfully tired of the historical propaganda dating back to slavery, when light skin and "white blood" were touted by racists as indicators of racial superiority. No doubt many Blacks today can recall the brown bag tests of social I fraternal organizations. Dark- and light-complexioned Blacks survived and thrived amid such racism, however deeply it crept into the social, economic and political landscape within and without their communities. Maybe that is why so many Blacks see “authenticity" in Chicago's own Michelle Obama, Barack's "strong" and "outspoken” “sista-who-keeps-it real” wife. Thank goodness, many reveal on the streets, that she's dark-skinned ... Sure, she went to Harvard and is a well-educated lawyer. But, she's a "homey."

Barack, on the other hand, has been packaged for a greater audience - to get White and Latino voters, although the latter generally voted for Hillary in the primaries, thanks in part to her husband's pro-NAFTA ideas and policies. His tone and swagger have been honed to draw, n01 scare away, voters, notably those consumed by racial ignorance about a Black man, whose assertive strengths have so often been deemed aggressiveness. His "whiteness" helps, though miscegenation still upsets and fuels the fires of racial hatred among racial purists in all races. Barack's speeches shy away from any "Black agenda" Not surprisingly, he was practically forced to quit his church because of his pastor's inflammatory rhetoric. The church is more than one person. But Barack had no choice ... Not only denounce the minister, but leave and disassociate from the church if you want to be behind the presidential podium. Racially mixed, religiously isolated, showing no favoritism for his black side~ Obama's ready ... Real politik is alive and well in America, where an individual has the equality of opportunity and the opportunity to lead, if he or she plays the game and abides by its written and unwritten roles.

Making it to the end of the race and crossing the finish line first is no guarantee of personal power, for no individual rules America. The political system and its economic underpinnings guarantee that the President of the United States has to be a team player, the titular head of an elite gathering of sponsors and handlers. This has been true from the very beginning, when George Washington, a wealthy slaveholder and landowner, let go of his horse's reins to grab the reign of power his fellow “slavocrats” and other grateful post-Revolutionary War fellow White Americans handed him. This is~ and will be, true for Barack Obama, notwithstanding his reformist zeal and successful efforts at raising campaign finances through millions of small donations. The big players - professional politician~ who live or die at the money trough, and corporate and institutional powers, who decide whether to fill it or not - are not just waiting in the wings, lining up for a meeting with the new president in January, 2009. The lobbyists have showered the DNC delegates and other attendees with gifts, parties and, no doubt, fiscal promises. Quid pro quo.

Every word from Obama's mouth will be scrutinized; every appointment questioned - as it should be. But race will linger and haunt the questioning. President Bush could appoint Blacks to his administration - Powell and Rice, to name the most notable and highest ranking. He was applauded.

Will the same be said for Obama? Every choice will be subjected to a debate in and outside of his administration. How many Blacks? It doesn't matter that his campaign staffers were largely Whites and that his campaign war chest was, and is, largely funded by Whites. That's history.

Barack Obama's place in history is set. He will forever be a symbol to all Americans that one's race is not a barrier to mobility. Contrary to popular thinking, his candidacy doesn't mean that any Black can become president. But it does, however, personalize possibilities. He and his family are real - living symbols, not television characters, not the Bill Cosby-led Huxtables of 80's fame. Indeed, similar familial Black success has always existed off screen. But the media spotlight all too often has shone on the failures in Black America. Obama's rise has given rise to more hope - something never dead in Black America, just dormant, tired and in need of a shot of inspiration. More young Blacks will register and vote; many will be elected and appointed to political positions heretofore held by Whites or older Blacks. some of whom who have held onto the reins of power far too long, satiated by the trough of power, prestige and personal financial gain, their loyalties tied more to their political partisanship than to their constituents. Representing authority, they have too readily and falsely been called leaders. But will political aspirations be joined by a surge in educational achievement and the development of skilled workers - carpenters, masons, electricians, nurses, teachers, to name a few ready to build America and finance their personal and collective dreams. Obama's political rise must not be an inspirational ticket for only political gain - far too long an arena in which Blacks have concentrated their collective, aspirational energies, only to witness the masses bypassed by too many of the political elite they elected, while unemployment and underemployment festered at home and throughout the neighborhood.

The jury is still out. Will Barack Obama be a leader in a position of authority?  Right now, Americans lining up for him are beckoning for his leadership. History tells us that he can only do so much. History tells us that he will be challenged as never before, for he is at a place where no Black has ever been - at the edge of the seat of power, just beyond the horizon. Indeed, the quest is the longest journey ... so near, yet so far. Is America in the midst of a seismic shift in attitudes, if not awareness? Time will tell. Will a Black man be trusted to not only hold, but direct, the reins of power? So ingrained are racism, chauvinism, and too many other isms to list. We are a noble experiment, this nation of opportunities. Indeed, America has wrestled since its inception with the notions of inclusion and the meaning of equality. This struggle will never end. Only the players and their ethnic/cultural groups will change. That's American social dynamism at its best and worst.

"Yes We Can," Obama's supporters cry aloud. They will if our nation, not only Obama supporters, builds on its strengths, clears its social minefield of myopia and replies, "Yes He Can." Obama will need troops willing to step into that minefield and rid the quagmire of its fears and isms. That may be a part of his spiritual and emotional agenda, but it remains a task for all of us long after the DNC and the remaining days of a campaign to defeat John McCain and the Republican Party's hold on the White House. After the parties and festivities, after the election in November and January inauguration, the victor - Obama or McCain - will face a nation far more inspired for change than at any other time in recent history. Neither one can change the past. But they can insure that the future reckons realistically and inclusively with its myriad concerns. The mass of Americans will want "Change We Can Believe In.''

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