Editors Note: When the results came in from Ohio, Virginia and Pennsylvania Tuesday, November 4, 2008, it became quite evident that Barack Obama had won the election. President-Elect Barack Obama made history by becoming the first African American to be elected President of The United States. This historical event has serious repercussions and complicated implications for the African American community. The focus of this four part series is to define what exactly the Presidency of Barack Obama means to each segment of the African American community. Part1: African American Men and The Legacy They Share With Barack Obama.
“I’m the man you think you are.” El Hajj Malik Shabazz (Malcolm X)
President-Elect Barack Obama made American and world history by becoming the first African American to become the President of the United States. While this is an amazing achievement for an African American, all African Americans can learn a thing or two from the ascension of Barack Obama. What is it about Barack Obama that sets him apart from other African American men, if anything? Would it be wrong for African American men to study President-Elect Barack Obama’s walk and tailor it to meet their own?
African American men in this country have suffered hundreds of years worth of humiliation, degradation, psychological warfare, racial strive and the systematic stripping of their manhood. Four hundred plus years have passed that has seen African American men treated as “bucks” and cattle, less than human caricatures, and eternal threats against the virtue and sanctity of Caucasian women. Hollywood exploited African American men from its’ inception with the film “Birth of A Nation.” The degrading manner in which African American men were portrayed by the movie industry continued for decades. However, the African American man on screen was a far cry from what African American men were in reality. Still, African American men found it a challenge to live in a society that hated and oppressed them. In the South, after the Civil War, being an African American man was a dangerous thing to be. African American men suffered through daily humiliation by Caucasians which included being talked down to and being treated worse than a second-class citizen. African American men found themselves called ‘uncle’ or ‘boy’ and were treated as inconsequential non-entities. African American men who decided to go against the system and demand basic human rights and liberties were targeted by the KKK or Caucasian mobs to be castrated, tortured, burned alive and hanged from a tree by a rope.
The great migration North for African American men seeking to find equality and employment was a giant step for the African American community. For once in their tragic exsistence in America, African Americans could breathe a sigh of relief and the African American man could be free to dream for himself and his family. Employment opportunities flourished and education lost the illicit forbidden luster that the South created. Still, there were huge obstacles that African American men had to deal with in order to survive in an environment that flowed with an undercurrent of racial hostilities.
Along the way, African American men have plotted a path for the African American community that should be applauded. Frederick Douglass, Nat Turner, Robert Smalls, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B DuBois, Marcus Garvey, Thurgood Marshall, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Medger Evers, Malcolm X and a host of others have held the African American community upon their shoulders. But somehow along the way, progress stalled. The reason could be that the African American community lost a lot of their leaders to violent assassinations and have simply lost faith. Another reason could be that there aren’t any African American leaders that can fit into the shoes of Malcolm X or Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and African Americans are looking for that caliber of leader. Reverend Jesse Jackson, Reverend Al Sharpton and Louis Farrakhan stepped up from time to time to fill that position, but somehow came up short. Perhaps a generation of African Americans benefited from desegregation and Affirmative Action and believed that the American society as a whole was progressing at an acceptable rate and didn’t need the help that the Civil Rights Movement provided.
However, this has proven to be the undoing of the African American community. With such a disconnect and a generation gap growing wider and wider, African American men found themselves at a disadvantage. An entire generation of African American men were shipped off to Vietnam only to return home years later to a country in deep turmoil. African American men couldn’t find employment which translated into fathers not being able to care for their families. Many Vietnam vets returned with a substance abuse habit that had to be maintained. Broken-spirited and wounded mentally and physically, African American men were discarded and virtually invisible. The Reagan Years were the toughest on the African American community and African American men because the unemployment rate in urban cities around the country was ridiculously high. These cities became webs of ghettos filled with drug-abuse and dealers, poverty and criminal activity. This time period fathered children who would grow up amidst crack cocaine’s rule and these would learn the most devastating lessons: Education is a crock, legal employment is a waste of time, and material possessions are the hallmark of being somebody.
So, what can African American men learn from the journey of Barack Obama?
1). President-Elect Barack Obama grew up without a father. But he had a father-figure. His grandfather. Just because a biological father is not present in an African American male’s life, there are always examples of positive African American men in the community. Even in the hood, there are African American men who are holding down employment and taking care of their families. There is absolutely no excuse for a young African American man today to say that he doesn’t have any positive father-figures to look up to. Right within your community are teachers, principals, community organizers and others that are beacons. Seek out your father figures. They don’t always come to you.
2). President-Elect Barck Obama is an educated man from a low to moderate income background. His family didn’t have money to send him to college. He earned his way through having top grades which equals scholarships! An education is the foundation for a stable future. School is the proving ground to life-long learning. African American men should accept that their future depends on being able to comprehend, ascertain and mentally develop the sophisticated skills needed to be employable. School is not just for chumps and fools. It is for EVERYONE. If you liked the polish and classy way President-Elect Barack Obama conducted himself throughout the campaign, know that he didn’t develop that skill by hangin’ out at the local spot, vegetating to the sounds of Souljah Boy, Plies, Lil Wayne, Jeezy, Fifty Cent, Game, or Dj Khalid. President-Barack Obama didn’t learn the art of communication or public speaking from slingin’ rocks, H, and weed in the crack house.
3). President-elect Barack Obama surrounded himself with a team of educated, experienced people that helped him to win the Presidency. Having a support system is always important. African American men who want to succeed need to understand the importance of developing a support network or team of other like-minded individuals who want the same things. When African American men abandon that sense of misplaced loyalty to friends that are involved in illegal activities or just basically come with a negative vibe, African American men will be able to go beyond their expectation level. ‘Boys’ that have been around since elementary school that aspire to immaturity, battery, criminal behavior, laziness, child abandonment and other worthless issues, are not the keys to a productive future.
4). Michelle Obama is the mother to all of President-Elect Barack Obama’s children. What can African American men learn from this? Creating life is a responsibility. African American men need to develop an urgent sense of responsibility to the seeds of life they grow within their loins. Being able to conquer and mate with the woman of your dreams is no feat. Animals do so all the time. For humans, with a built in sense of moral right and wrong, there is a need for community and family. African American men need to examine their own maturity levels and needs before engaging in sexual activity that could create life. African American men have got to start becoming responsible for their own sexual behavior. African American men need to come to a higher intellectual awareness of self and build self-love and pride. An African American man with those qualities will not have children all over the city, but know the importance of choosing the one woman that he would like to start and raise a family with. Of course, relationships sour, but that can never be the excuse for having ten children with eight different women. That era has got to go!
5). President-Elect Barack Obama does not have a criminal record. Why is that important to African American men? A criminal record is an automatic blot on your future. As an African American man, you are already working with one BIG strike. A criminal record makes any positive notes in your life questionable. African American young men should steer clear of illegal activities and friends, family members and associates that participate in them. What about the brothas that are now serving time in prison and jails across the country? Use that time you have in prison to meditate on what led you on the path to being incarcerated. Stop blaming other people for your misfortune. We all know that the criminal justice system is tilted against African American men. Therefore, hanging with your ‘boys’ at the wrong place at the wrong time could land you a ten year bid. There is no excuse for being an innocent bystander. Incarceration is a cess pool of criminal education. Not rehabilitation. If you want to live a different life, take on the challenge! Malcolm X did it! Grab a dictionary and start at ‘aardvark’. By the time you get to ‘Z’, you will feel the weighty power of education transforming your life.
6). Barack Obama had the ‘audacity’ to dream BIG despite what others thought. President-Elect Barack Obama asked his advisers what they thought about him running for the Democratic nomination. The majority of these suggested that he wait another four years. But Obama thought it through and went for it! African American men should never be afraid to have the ‘audacity’ to dream BIG. There is nothing wrong with a healthy dose of confidence. Some of the most prominent African American men in history had a healthy self-esteem and and were self-assured. When you look at President Barack Obama, do you not notice that if there is a shred of doubt in his mind, you would never know it? Besides, African American women are attracted to brothas that are confident and carry themselves this way. That’s confident, not cocky like “I’m the MAN, Look at ME!” We DON’T like that!
These are just some ways that African American men can capitalize on the success of President-Elect Barack Obama and make it their own. If you are an African American man and you have never had a positive role model to look up to, now you have one. Instead of looking to the world of Hip Hop to teach you about manhood, turn the channel on your television to CNN or MSNBC and you will see the true essence of what an African American man can be. Instead of walking around with ostentatious diamond jewelry, pants below the butt with underwear showing and expensive kicks, take a page out of the elegant, smooth way Barack Obama dresses, casually and formal.
If African American men really take the time to examine President-Elect Barack Obama, they will find a deeper connection and appreciation for what he has accomplished. No more excuses! The time for excuses has passed, African American men! You are now on the radar and everyone is watching you to see what YOU are going to do with this opportunity. African American men now have the ability to erase the long, nightmarish history of abuse and degradation that have become ingrained in their psyche. It will take work and effort, but it will be worth it.
The celebration is over. Now it is time to walk in step with a positive example in front of you.