Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Obama: the Moment & the Movement

It was barely a year ago, pundits and columnists across America were heralding the ascendancy of Barack Obama as the symbolic declaration of a new Post-Racial America. Columnists from the Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun, along with NPR luminaries such as Juan Williams and others saw in Senator Obama's candidacy cause to declare "Mission Accomplished" and proclaim the end of the Civil Rights Movement. "Obama is in the vanguard of a new brand of multiracial politics. He is asking voters to move with him beyond race and beyond the civil rights movement ", wrote Williams. The Washington Post went a bit further with an Op-Ed piece that declared that we had entered a "post-civil-rights era".

These pieces reflected a hopefulness; a want to believe that the Nation's long journey through the toils and turmoils of race had suddenly ended. As such they are understandable, though misguided. Because America's sojourn through the cauldron of race, while filled with horrid images and shameful moments, can not and should not be characterised solely by its excesses. Ours is not a story demanding transcendence. Ours is a triumphant story; one of incessant progress despite our fears and setbacks, and the hope of a nation reluctantly fulfilling a potential the world has yet to see.

Senator Obama is not an emblem marking our arrival into a post-racial dream-fulfilled tomorrow (one need only ask Geraldine Ferraro). Senator Obama's candidacy is not a post mortem for the movement; his success is the movement's vindication.

The salient underpinning of the movement since it's inception was the faith and belief that our community was capable of producing Barack Obama's all along. The dream that animated the movement was not that someday wealth and opportunity would be shared by all regardless of qualification. The dream was built on the conviction that when the playing fields were leveled, when the barriers and obstacles were overcome, when opportunities were extended to all, and when all were able to explore their potential without limitation, then all of the diverse peoples who inhabit this nation would each see themselves reflected in America's story of accomplishment and success.

This is the moment that WEB Dubois described back in 1897 when he wrote:

"The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife, -- this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He would not Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face.

This, then, is the end of his striving: to be a co-worker in the kingdom of culture, to escape both death and isolation, to husband and use his best powers and his latent genius. "

That Obama has arrived at this powerful milestone should not now afford us cover to shrink from the bitterness of our favorite poison. No, let this moment stand to reinvigorate our efforts now vindicated through the brilliance of our favorite son. When after years of mining, one finds a diamond; you don't close the mine and declare the search a success... Rather you intensify the search, because where one is present, more lay undiscovered.

So let us continue the fight to improve our educational system to lay a path for the Grace and Strength of the next generation's Barack Obamas. Let us continue to fight for an end to social disparities so that we may lay a path for the genius of the next generation's Condeleesa Rices. Let us continue to chip away at the calcified attitudes and stagnant beliefs that obscure the brilliance of our children, even from themselves. And let us continue to build upon the dream of several generations of activists, nuanced appropriately by the poignancy of right now. Together, let us collectively dream of the day when we will no longer see the intelligence, grace, and abilities of a Barack Obama as exceptional, but that they would be recognized as a normal apportionment of our potential.

Barack Obama once said when asked about his significance to the Civil Rights Struggle:

“We have inherited this opportunity from the Moses generation ... who have teed it up for us,” he said. “I didn’t have to go to jail. I haven’t had my head beat in — haven’t had dogs and fire hoses set on me. So I’m benefiting from what the Moses generation did. ... The question is whether the Joshuas among us are willing to stand up, are willing to be counted, are willing to vote, are willing to organize, are willing to mobilize, are willing to get going.”

...Yes we can, and yes we will...

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Villager June 5, 2008 at 9:21 AM  

Outstanding analysis! This post is being added to my next 'Village Blog Safari' so that users on my blog can enjoy it...

peace, Villager

Francis L. Holland Blog June 5, 2008 at 10:39 AM  

Excellent writing!

You know, there's not a single Black blogger from Kansas credentialed to blog from the Democratic National Convention. I would think that blogger ought to be you, should the opportunity present itself. After all, we can't possibly win the presidency in 2008 unless Black people come out to vote in historic numbers, and that's going to require precisely the kind of outreach that you're doing every day.

I would think the DNC would want to encourage the sort of outreach you're doing to mobilize Blacks for November.

Anonymous,  June 5, 2008 at 1:46 PM  

Great article! I believe you have accurately captured the road ahead. Obama's success in the Democratic Primary race should spur us to greater action. This is not a time for resting, it is a time to continue mobilizing!

Eddie G. Griffin June 9, 2008 at 2:58 PM  

Nice read. I must be part of the Moses generation... mountain top... seen the promise land. Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Would we even know what it looked like, whenever we arrive?

KWiz June 15, 2008 at 12:05 PM  

What an insightful post. That the civil rights era was vindicated because of Obama's accomplishments is a fabulous way of looking at his candidacy. And your post should be encouraging to those of the Moses generation and the Joshua generation! I know it's encouraging for me as a wife, mother, and teacher. Indeed, when the field is level, we do, can, and will achieve.

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