Someone asked me (rather sheepishly- she did not want to be politically incorrect) how Black people feel about the election of Barack Obama. Are we proud? Are we thrilled? The answer is most of us are both proud and thrilled. However, maybe not for the reasons you think.
Before I get started I need to point this out. No ethnic group is monolithic. And it minimizes us to think that we are. There are a few conservative black Republicans. Many of them were torn by this election. They wanted to be a part of history. But, they felt they had to stay loyal to their conservative views. They were not going to vote for a candidate that didn't represent their view just because he happened to have a father from Kenya. And, I say "good for them." They need to have their heads examined for being black conservatives. But, they stuck to their principles and they should have.
But, as to why most of us are thrilled, proud and encouraged, you might think it's because we have proven that black people can qualify for the highest office in the land. Barack Obama was the first black person to be the President of the Harvard Law Review, too. Something else to be proud of. But, the reality is that there have been dozens, hundreds dare I say thousands of Black men and women with the qualifications to have done the things Barack Obama has done. Not to take anything away from his brilliance. But, while he is uniquely qualified (among both black and white people), he is not the first black man to be the smartest person in the race, the most passionate person in the race, the smartest guy on campus. I don't want to start naming all the exceptional black people in history because I don't have the time or the names and you don't want to read all of them. And listing them will give the impression the list is all inclusive. The point is we have been qualified for all types of jobs for a long time before this past Tuesday and even before the civil rights movement. The election of Barack Obama is not cause for celebration because black people achieved anything. That is anything other than finally being given what we have been qualified for for a long time.
The reason to be thrilled about Obama, the reason to have pride about this result is that we have finally reached a tipping point where the promises made in the constitution, the dream of Martin Luther King and the things we tried to legislate in the Civil Rights movement have finally been taken into the hearts of the majority of our country. The pride, for me, comes in the fact that America has matured enough to reach the point where we judge a man by the content of his character, not the color of his skin. The civil rights movement laid down the law. But, until there is a fundamental change of heart, no law can truly provide equality in a land. There are covert and subtle ways to continue to oppress a minority as long as the majority holds power. An election is the ultimate popularity contest. Kind of like American Idol. Paula, Randy and Simon can sit and pontificate as much as they want about who is the best singer. It might even be clear in their performances. But, when it comes down to it, Americans, in the privacy of their homes, can choose the absolute worst for any reason they want. No matter how qualified a candidate may be, in the privacy of the voting booth, I don't have to give my reasons for voting for the other guy. That is the thing that scared so many of us about this election. We are elated to have been proven wrong about what Americans would do when no one was watching over them. Earlier, I said, we had reached a tipping point. It doesn't mean race is irrelevant anymore. It doesn't mean we don't still have struggles ahead. But, I think rather than an uphill battle, we are on the downhill side of this struggle now.
So, my pride, my joy is not in what black people have accomplished. Black people have accomplished so much more than most whites and many blacks even know. I'm not proud of Barack Obama because he's black. Being black is an accident of birth. It's nothing to be proud of. My pride and joy is in what America did on Tuesday. My pride, my joy is for the fact that we showed the world that we are progressing and we have progressed. I've always believed a black man could be qualified to be President. What I didn't really believe is he'd be given the chance, this soon.
I have to admit, the election of Barack Obama will elevate the self-esteem of black people tremendously. Even though technically he is bi-racial and he is not descended from slaves like most of us, he has been categorized as one of us. A black man raised by a single mother who worked his way through Harvard and into the Oval Office will be an inspiration for millions of young black men (and older black men). I cannot wait to see the impact it has on this generation. This is a fringe benefit of his election. A big fringe benefit that will pay dividends for year and generations. Already, black men have a little more pride in their steps. Already they are using words like accountability and personal responsibility a little more. There are those who need role models, who need to see it done to believe they can do it. For them, this is something much needed. But, it's not the primary reason black people are thrilled with this outcome.
As an aside, I want to talk about the "racism" of Obama getting over 90% of the black vote. Yep, I've heard that claim. It's racist that Obama got most of the black vote. Of course there were those who voted for Obama simply because he was black. There were those who registered to vote simply because a black man was in the election. But, keep in mind that the vast majority of black people voted Democratic in the first place. This goes back to the debt of gratitude we owe the Democratic party for including us in the vote in the first place. That's the beginning of it. Then, you have the modern Republican party who has basically told us it doesn't want any minorities. And there are other reasons. But, anyway, the Democratic candidate would have gotten the bulk of the black vote no matter who they ran. Personally I would never give a candidate my vote based solely on the color of his skin. I would not vote for Jessie Jackson or Al Sharpton to be the head of the local PTA. But, in voting for Barack Obama, I knew I was voting for the best candidate when he ran against Hillary and when he ran against John McCain. The fact that he is black was just a bonus.
So, yes, today I am full of pride and joy. Not pride in my race, but pride in my country. Not joy just for the fact that this was a leap forward for black people. But, mostly joy because it is a major leap forward for all people in America. What brings me the most pride and joy about this moment in history is something we can all share, black, white, latino, etc. This is not just a day for celebration by black folks but by all Americans interested in true equality and the end to our racist history.