Monday, January 19, 2009

You Can Be Whatever You Want To Be?

With today’s historic inauguration of President Barack Obama as the nation’s first black President I wanted to try and put into words what it meant to me as a black man in America. I also wanted to try and put it into an historical content for myself and other black children who grew up during the civil rights era of this country. However, as I began to contemplate the enormity of the event and the history I realized that I was overcome with so many conflicting emotions that I would not be able to present them in any coherent manner and still stay within the constraints of this medium. So I decided to take one aspect and try to focus in on it.

For many black children growing up during and immediately following the civil rights era in America our parents and grandparents began to tell us that we could grow up and be anything we wanted to be. We were told that for the first time in our history we would have opportunities to become engineers, doctors and business people. We were told that if we studied and worked hard we could better ourselves and no longer would we be relegated to being janitors, porters, and sanitation workers. We were told that the dream that was America was slowly unfolding for all of us. In retrospect I wonder how many of these parents and grandparents truly believed those words to be true?

Then we enter 2008, and the implausible and what many considered impossible happened. A majority of Americans were able to overcome our nation’s racist history and stereotypes and elect our first black President. But has the election of President Barack Obama suddenly made these words true? Has his election really taken these words from wishful thinking to reality? I think before we answer we must look at who and what Barack Obama is and what he represents. Unlike many black leaders who came before him Barack Obama did not come out of the civil rights movement or the black church. President Obama is not a child of slavery, but of immigration. President Obama was not raised in the traditional black family, but by whites. So we see that in every basic area of importance to traditional black leadership he is different. How do these differences translate to his ascendancy to power and what are the lessons to be learned for our black children today wanting to make a similar journey?

I think the most important lesson is we as black Americans have to move away from racial identity politics. We have to begin to build collaborations with others. For too long it has been no one can relate to our pain, that pain has become our identity. For too long our leaders have sold us and our children a false narrative. They have clung to an ideology and to tactics that no longer have relevancy or resonate with the people. While these tactics have managed to provide wealth and power to these men they have done little to raise the consciousness or the status of black people as a whole. While these leaders have stressed the responsibility of others they have done little to stress our own responsibility for our conditions. Instead of teaching that with opportunity there is responsibilities they have taught that responsibility owes opportunities. What this has resulted in is a loss of wealth between generations instead of a growth in wealth. Many black children today are in worse economic shape than their parents. Why is this? Why have black children in so many cases been unable to build on the successes of their parents?

What we see with President Obama is that he was raised with the true belief that if he worked hard he could be anything, not just the words. If a child does not see or hear the conviction behind the words that are spoken he will not believe them. If a child believes that even with hard work they cannot succeed then many will give up hope and not even try. And that is what is happening in the black community today, a child believes that they have a better chance to become a rapper or an athlete than to become a doctor or an engineer. In my opinion the most egregious insult to Dr. King’s legacy perpetrated by the so-called black leadership that followed him was that it lost the hope that was Dr. King. Dr. King always looked to tomorrow to be a better day than today and he offered this hope and belief to millions of others. It was this hope that allowed so many to ignore personal hardship and tragedy and to continue to push for equality and justice.

President Obama embodies that hope because when opportunity presented itself he worked hard to be able to take advantage of it. He didn’t believe that just because he was black it was owed to him. Instead of focusing on the past he looked to the future. For so many of us we can’t see tomorrow because we refuse to let go of yesterday. Everyone wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die. Everyone wants to be successful, but nobody wants to put in the hard work. In order for us to move forward we must begin to change our culture towards education, hard work, and responsibility.

You can be anything you want to be black child, but it is going to require hard work, discipline, and hope.

1 comment:

Villager said...

Excellent commentary. I agree with you 100%. I'm also from the generation where we had to work twice as hard to get half as far. It's cool to work twice as hard and get rewarded it for it ... as Obama (Barack and Michelle) have shown all of us...

peace, Villager

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