During history lessons in elementary school, if we weren’t talking about slaves then chances are we’d be discussing Martin Luther King Jr., maybe Rosa Parks-perhaps Michael Jordan or Shaq in which case it was probably a friend of mine talking, not a teacher.
It was just one of those things I grew up and got used to. What American history naturally narrows is culled even further by a five day, nine month school year.
I always knew black Americans excelled in numerous fields despite, or perhaps, due to the struggle of living in an intensely racialized society; yet, I rarely saw those accomplishments reflected around me.
If you weren’t picking cotton, or marching in Selma, or picking up Grammy Awards, or winning a sports title then I had to dig deep to find any evidence of an influential black forefather or foremother, which I think is an experience common to many African-Americans trying to uncover their historical legacy.
For the longest time, I used to throw around that tired line of Bill Clinton being the first black president-and in some unconscious portion of my mind I think I was content with the “reality” of that idea: we may not see a black president for decades.
But with the official Democratic nomination of Barack Obama pending, many African-Americans are reevaluating their status in the United States.
Obama has created a profound shift in the consciousnesses of many blacks, black youth sometimes cynical in a nation that often seems to marginalize them and black elders who have lived through de jure and de facto racism, never dreaming this moment possible.
Obama seems to have reignited a new flame of black pride. He represents a hearkening back to the old black leadership of the Civil Rights movement, a towering beacon around which the black community can organize. He’s reminiscent of figures like Jesse Jackson, not so much in their similar leadership tactics, but in their spirit of revolutionary politics: coming to the people, arousing much needed trust and confidence in not only their political system, but in themselves, in their ability to fully utilize the democratic system for their benefit.
So potent is the effect of Obama’s campaign that even black conservatives waver. In an era defined by the decline of the faith in the two-party system, especially among younger voters, Republican blacks may vote for Obama enthralled by the legitimate possibility of an African-American president or simply tired of a party that some black Republicans feel neglect the needs of the black community such as poverty and the plight of urban blacks.
In an article from Yahoo! News, conservative black radio host Armstrong Williams reveals:
“I don’t necessarily like his policies; I don’t like much what he advocates, but for the first time in my life, history thrusts me to really seriously think about it,” Williams said. “I can honestly say I have no idea who I’m going to pull that lever for in November. And to me, that’s incredible.”
Even faithful conservatives feel mixed about voting against Obama. “Among black conservatives,” Williams said, “they tell me privately, it would be very hard to vote against him in November.”
Internationally, Obama’s effect is just as potent. His election would represent to many across the globe the realization of the American Dream for a new century.
In France of all places, Obama has a massive fan base according to a recent New York Times article. Unsurprisingly though, in a nation filled with African and Caribbean immigrants where talk of race is still taboo and the census does not check for race, there is a rebirth in negritude, originally an ideology of black pride during the 20s and 30s pioneered by Aimea Ceasaire and Leaopold Seadar.
Obama is a trailblazer, his is an historic life and history stands before us. I’m not one for identity politics, but this is a beautiful occasion for blacks across the globe. History will be made regardless, and should Obama loose this November who knows what reactions might be, but hope will be stronger despite the loss. Being the first is always difficult, but it gets easier with each future black man or woman.