I was very surprised to realize that the very historic and convincing election of Barack Obama to the Presidency of the United States has changed my own perception of the world. I spent the 5th of November (“Remember, remember, the fifth of November…“) thinking about one thing only: never again will a black male, in particular, have an excuse to doubt his own capacity, to doubt his ability to reach for the best. Never again will he be able to claim his incompetence, his social impotence on external forces. No more of the “It’s because I’m black” excuse.
Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, I am free at last!
At least, that’s what I thought.
2:00 PM, November 5, 2008:
I’m walking to work, listening to music on my MP3 player, when a silly smile crosses my face. “We have a black US President!” I’m thinking. “The bar has been set and finally reaches the top.” The thought would alternate all day with another one: “I bet most Black people, and other ethnicities, too, will hold their heads up just a little higher.”
For the next few hours, it seemed to be true. In this University town where, unlike the surrounding counties, people voted nearly 2:1 for Obama, most people actually smiled a little bigger. Co-workers showed up at work with hangovers or short on sleep, because they had celebrated the night before until much later than they should have on a work night. Some asked me if I was happy. I paused, not wanting to seem too jubilant, but then I had to blurt it. “YES! Yes I am! I’m not sure he’s the right choice,” I continued, but she promptly interrupted me with a firm “Yes, he IS the right choice!”
Yes, he is. At least I can give him the benefit of the doubt. The challenges he faces, the challenges we face as a nation are monumental. McCain no longer has the credibility necessary to work with the rest of the world. That gives Barack Obama a leg up, and most of the nation knows it.
5:00PM, November 5, 2008:
I’m circulating at the self-checkout area, making sure no one needs any help and greeting customers as they line up 5 deep in three rows. “How are you?” I ask them all. A Black customer answers “I’m fine! And maybe now we can start getting things done for us for a change!”
I’m a little shocked. I hadn’t anticipated that! Apparently, some people actually feel even more entitled. They don’t understand that the standards are raised higher, not lower. There is no excuse anymore. We can no longer blame our failures on the forces of the “evil old white oppressor”. That time is over.
At about the same time I had that encounter at work, something else was going on at home. The police had been called because someone had made terroristic threat. (“I know people who can come and blow your house up, kill your children and everything in your house!” this alcohol-crazed individual said) When the police showed up, another alcohol-crazed neighbor came out on his porch and, without even knowing what was going on, started yelling at the police. “You can’t arrest us anymore, we have a black President now! Go away so we can drink! This is MY neighborhood now, go away!”
Wow. With people like that, we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t. These are people who think black people are the majority in this country. I got news for them: only about 1 in 5 people is black. In a two party system, even if every black person had voted for Obama, he could never have been elected with just the black vote. White people elected him. The disgruntled need to keep that firmly in their brains. And just in case that wasn’t clear, let me repeat it:
WHITE PEOPLE ELECTED BARACK OBAMA
White people decided it was about time.
White people figured the black man was a better choice than the old, white, American hero from the “Old Guard”.
White people chose the Black guy over the White Maverick with the experience, the reputation for working across party lines, a man that, frankly, a lot of Black people respected.
They made this choice because they saw beyond color and judged both men “on the content of their character”, and judged Obama more worthy. He wasn’t elected just because “Oh my goodness, we have to elect a black man or else!” Instead, the electorate took a good look at what he had to say, who he was, how hard he had worked all his life, and decided he had done the necessary work.
Barack Obama did it, and thanks to him, the world is different today. Anyone who thinks it was given to him needs to rethink how the world works. Just because the President is black doesn’t mean black people are entitled to a free pass. On the contrary. Why should we be given what he had to work for? To think so is to demean ourselves and deny ourselves our true potential.
There are no more excuses.