Barack Obama is the President-elect of the United States of America.
With him come many story lines and interests streaming from the glaring lights of the television. History was made: The first black president was elected. It meant something different to the black community. So why is it important? Of what real significance is the election of the first black man as the 44th president?
To the black community or more accurately, to this black author, President-elect Obama’s significance is currently outside of the realm of politics. If support for Obama was only because of his political views, then even this author would have little reason to lend political support.
For all the change promised nothing truly transformational has been stated. There has been no mention of curtailing American imperialism. The necessity of placing over 700 bases on the property of over 60 countries has not been questioned. The repeated bombings of Somalia, allegedly an attempt to strike terrorists though eye-witnesses say bombs hit innocent Somali, has not been addressed. This foreign policy inevitably alienates the Somali portion of the American black community.
The President-elect has critiqued the reason and sense of the drug war, domestically. However, there has not been a serious discussion on the disproportionate effect the drug war has had on black Americans.
It is taken as coincidence that the black community is at the target end of America’s major wars. When the National Center for Urban Ethnic Affairs finds that drug use among white adolescents is as high as among non-whites, one begins to question the validity of a drug war that has focused on black communities. Obama did not wonder, as Jamie Fullner of the Human Rights Watch put it, why “most drug offenders are white, but most of the drug offenders sent to prison are black.”
These facts simply reveal that race structures the syllogism of our society’s logic. So with these discrepancies between the black American reality and Obama’s rhetoric, on what premise can any member of the black community lend political support? Race is the language of American policy, and when racism is expressed as a major dialect, Obama has not been fluent in the racial discourse. His policy plan, domestic and foreign, does not deviate strongly with what has been done in the past. But the effects of the facts before us are multiple. In fact, racial dialogue has never been simply a black-and-white binary. The streams and story lines represent the complexity of the problem of the 20th and now 21st century — W.E.B. Du Bois’ inescapable “color line.”
Besides what Obama refers to as the physical “devastating impact,” the drug war has also had a racial psychological toll. It is here that Obama has failed to garner my political support. Even though blacks dominate prison populations, even black police officers could not help but contribute to the 50 bullets flung at Sean Bell, a New York City African-American man who was unfairly singled out for aggressive police action due to his race. The image of criminality and danger is unquestionably black.
The significance of Obama’s election for the black community then lies in the image he presents to the rest of the nation and the world. Since for many Americans, the image of a criminal is a black convicted felon Willie Horton, the President-elect offers a chance at a transformative false dichotomy. It is my hope that the image of Obama as president will significantly contextualize the image of Willie Horton in the racial psyche of American society. The dichotomy is obviously false because the choice has never been just between Willie Horton and Barack Obama. It has always been acquiesced within the black community that “we are beautiful and ugly too.”
I am proud of America. On Nov. 4, America picked Barack Obama, but I feel like America picked me too.
Filed Under: Features