by Bro. William P. Muhammad
Whether Senator Barak Obama wins the upcoming Presidential elections or loses them, the bottom line is the world has now seen that a Black man is both willing and able to occupy the highest office in the United States and as such to sit in the world’s most powerful seat. While many in the African-American community are proud of the Illinois Senator’s achievements, and would be elated with an Obama victory in November, a question nevertheless remains: How would the day after the elections be any different from the day before?
From the Reconstruction Period after the Civil War, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements to now a Black man who has become the Democratic Party’s nominee for President, Black people have always risen to the occasion no matter how high the bar and how difficult the challenge. But as all things come with plusses and minuses, the African-American drive to succeed has many times been stunted by a mindset that rests upon the laurels of another which stifles the struggle for excellence, self-sufficiency and self-determination.
Without doubt, Black people have benefited from the sacrifices, struggles and aspirations of those known and unknown heroes and heroines within our community, and credit should be given where credit is due, but standing next to another’s greatness and watching their greatness from the sidelines does not necessarily give the observer any points on the scoreboard.
For instance, during Reconstruction there were Black politicians who, under federal protection, rose into prominence in former Confederate States, but their successes were short-lived as resentment and hostility among whites led to the emergence of night riders, the Ku Klux Klan, unjust Supreme Court decisions and what would later become state sanctioned Jim Crow Laws. Effectively suppressing African-Americans through mob terrorism on one hand and state enforced apartheid on the other, Black leaders continued to emerge in spite of the seemingly all encompassing attacks in both Northern and Southern states.
Inspiring others to succeed in their wakes, however, and regardless of the consequences, many of our people sacrificed their lives to force social, political and economic change. Those who didn’t either cheered from the sidelines or quietly reaped the benefits of their sacrifices. During the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, it was the same paradigm once again, and this time the backlash manifested itself in the “Law and Order” rhetoric of Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy,” the “War on Drugs,” a seemingly euphemistic code word for a war on Black youth and a general flight of whites from the Democratic party into the Republican party - particularly in the South.
Today, however, for those observing his political ascension, the candidacy of Senator Barak Obama signals a paradigm shift in that for the first time a Black man has secured the nomination of a major political party and a good chance of winning the White House.
Like the resentment Southern whites had to the rise of Blacks during the Post-Reconstruction period and the political backlash toward the Civil Rights and Black Power movements of the 1960s and 1970s, the success and rise of Senator Obama is likewise fostering resentment and hostility, but this time in a more nuanced and sophisticated manner among politicians, their handlers and conservative interest groups.
Whipping up fear for an America with a Black president, stereotypes of lazy and shiftless Black constituents and outright hatred for the idea of a Black man leading a campaign against the best the right wing has to offer, it is clear that a yet-to-be-seen reaction is in the making should Obama win the Presidency in November.
With Machiavellian adeptness, conservative interest groups are stirring the pot of racial confrontation through white nationalist rhetoric and patriotic zeal as a means to determine who is truly American. These efforts should tell those paying close enough attention that the racial fault lines in American society are closer to the surface than many would like to admit, and those hidden hands manipulating the general public, to energize their partisan interests, are responsible for any negative fallout.
Those Blacks hoping to ride Barak Obama’s coattails to the “new day in America” will be sorely disappointed if they do not take inspiration from his candidacy and pursue excellence for themselves. Those who sit on the sidelines hoping to gain from his struggle will likewise be disillusioned if they fail to roll up their sleeves and reach for their piece of the American pie through perseverance, hard work and sacrifice.
Whether Senator Obama wins or loses the election, the African-American community will benefit from his candidacy only in proportion to its love for self and kind and through an awareness of what is in its best interests. We can admire and draw inspiration from the Senator, but we cannot look to him to do for us what we are capable of doing for ourselves. Win or lose, the game remains the same, and its time that Black folk understand that the solution to our problems lies within each man and woman willing to sacrifice for change.Bro. William P. Muhammad is a graduate of the University of Texas at El Paso and an author.