As I scanned through a number post presidential inauguration Facebook statuses of my friends and virtual friends, most of them African American, Afro-Caribbean, African, Latino/a, and disbursed throughout every region of the world, I observed many variations of "I love the First Family." But I wondered to myself, "do they have the same passion for black Americans generally?" When I clicked on the profiles of my African American friends I read declarations like "we have to stop watching so much TV!" or "we have to stop making excuses!" or "we must stop settling for mediocrity!" And when I read statements of black American men who intimated that they can only now hold their heads up high and walk tall, I became very troubled. Judging from these declarations one would be led to believe that black folks have been sitting on their hands since 1903 when W.E.B. Du Bois posed the question, "how does it feel to be a problem?"
Notwithstanding the stereotypes we are constantly fed by (so-called) mainstream white America and some misinformed black leaders and intellectuals, there is, clearly, much in the African American community to be marveled. We have been--since our ancestors were forcibly taken from West and Central Africa and enslaved in North America--loving, striving, struggling and climbing against almost impossible odds. Have we forgotten the anti-lynching campaign of Ida B. Wells? Are we no longer inspired by the eloquent prose of James Baldwin or the radical critiques of Hubert Henry Harrison? Do we remember Maria Stewart and David Walker? Do we no longer appreciate the cultural innovations of Maulana Karenga and the social programs of the Black Panther Party? Are we no longer moved by the pan-African vision of Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah? And why don't we talk more about the positive mutual social and political influences that have occurred historically between African Americans, Afro- Caribbeans and Africans?
I worry that our hopes, dreams and aspirations have been placed precariously on the shoulders of one black man. Meanwhile, Barack Obama, ignoring our rich heritage, has on a number occasions reproduced what some have named Sister Souljah moments: belittling African Americans to score political points with conservative white constituents-- just as another centrist president, Bill Clinton, had done several years earlier:
What makes you a man is not the ability to have a child — any fool can have a child. That doesn’t make you a father. It’s the courage to raise a child that makes you a father.
They [black men] have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it.
As many black readers will note, these statements are not new. They are standard fare in some black churches, but thats a shame. Black men are easy targets for scorn. By contrast I have heard these admonishments delivered by Malcolm X and current ministers of the Nation of Islam, but they are usually complemented with a strong critique of structural white racism. Obama, however, delivered these demeaning statements to the loud applause of a black church congregation with scant context or qualification. And while he praised and lionized black mothers, he said virtually nothing positive about black fathers. While it is true that he did take time to mention some structural issues, it seemed to be window dressing for his disparagement of African American manhood. As I noted several days ago on my Facebook page, "If Obama had actually spent more time observing life in the hood, he would have noticed countless acts of kindness, black men/women working two or three jobs just to make ends meet, black folks with an unwavering faith in God. Nope. Just like mainstream society he mostly sees pathology."
I have one burning question for President Obama: If you, Mr. President, are constrained in how you talk to elite power brokers like the Zionist lobby, AIPAC, then why not be equally generous to black fathers who have far less power? If you appease the powerful and berate the less powerful does not that make you a bully? And imagine, if you will, presidential candidate Obama standing before a white audience and declaring that white males have been acting like boys rather than men. Or that Jewish extremists bear some culpability in the Palestinian conflict. It would never happen. Why? Because It would be political suicide--he respects the power of whites and Jews to rebuke his message to the same degree that he disregards black rebuke.
But one might ask are these comments harmful or can they be viewed as constructive examples of "tough love"? I believe they do more harm than good. I vividly recall a Boston Globe article published nearly three years ago. Not surprisingly, stereotypical notions of black behavior lead many to assume that illicit drug use is mostly a black Boston projects problem. The article, however, pointed to studies revealing that white Bostoners have a rate of illicit drug use that is significantly higher than either blacks or Hispanics. I remember the frustration of relaying this data to a young white student who simply ignored the facts and wrote a paper highlighting black drug use along with several other presumed black pathologies. I, for one, don't spend much time worrying about how we are perceived by white America. However, it is not constructive to continually and uncritically reinforce these stereotypes. Moreover, what is far more worrisome is the fact that these stereotypes are repeatedly reproduced by black people.
Lastly, in our justifiable excitement over Barack Obama's candidacy, very few of us have thought critically about the white elite controlled political system that he represents. Can we imagine something beyond capitalism and our (un)democratic form of governance? Have these systems generally benefitted the masses of black people or only rewarded the few? What do we as a collective have to show for being the most loyal constituency within the Democratic party? Why are black interests always pushed to the margins--even by a black president who routinely acknowledges other interest groups such as women, gays and lesbians, the middle-class and Zionists. As we look forward to Black History Month and beyond, it would do well for African Americans, the nation, and the international community to remember that African Americans have a long and distinguished record of achievement that need not be diminished or disparaged in order to celebrate the accomplishments of our 44th president.
African Americans are no more our less special than any other group. And our dreams, hopes and aspirations have never turned upon the successes of an individual black person. Rather, our collective record of achievement, despite extraordinary odds and severe oppression, is a testament to the human spirit. African Americans and the global African community have many daunting challenges ahead. I'm not a playa hater. As we unflinchingly face these challenges we ought to be inspired by our first Black president, Barack Hussein Obama. But we should be equally moved by our ancestors on whom shoulders we stand and "ordinary" black folks who routinely perform mini miracles in everyday life. Axé (Amen)!