The Future of Black History?
by Sean Gonsalves
“If Obama were to somehow prevail on election night, I would be OJ Simpson-acquittal shocked…The awe part wouldn’t kick in until a few months later…If he actually lived aaaall the way from election night to the inauguration, I would be so awed I’d lead an anti-affirmative action protest in front of the NAACP’s national headquarters.” — Sean Gonsalves
I wrote that in December 2006 and if Obama’s campaign continues to roll, I just might be in front of the NAACP’s Baltimore headquarters in the days following the inauguration of America’s first black president.
That’s if (I said IF), Obama wins — and survives all the way to the inauguration.
I know. It’s a horrible thought. Survive all the way to inauguration? But, honestly — are you telling me it hasn’t run through your mind, especially with all of these comparisons to JFK and MLK?
I wasn’t even alive when John and Martin were around and I’ve wondered, once or twice, whether Barack should move around a lot – maybe throw in a head-fake, here and there — whenever he speaks in public.
Recognize: it takes courage to be in Obama’s very public place. Even a soldier like Colin Powell said no to that call.
In the May 1996 issue of Ladies Home Journal (what can I say, I read a lot), Powell’s wife, Alma, put into words the echo that still emanates from the Lorraine Motel balcony, 40 years after King’s murder.
“You think everybody loves Colin Powell,” she said. “Everybody doesn’t like Colin Powell…I don’t want to describe the hate mail we’ve gotten…A black man running for president is going to be in a dangerous position.”
Not that I’m trying to divide Obamanation, as the superdelegate situation has the potential to do, but, in case you haven’t noticed because of the unfolding Obamanomenom (or maybe you’ve just been feeling Barackward lately), this is Black History Month.
But, let’s do this the left-handed way and look beyond black history to imagine the future of black history, which is to say American history. For you righties, I’ll translate: Instead of thinking about historical “progress” as if it moves forward in linear fashion, let’s think about history as a geometrical shape, like a circle.
Recently, among my multi-racial circle of friends, political discussion turned to the Obama effect on the future of black history. If Obama is elected, does that mean black history (in America) has come full circle?
Of course, an Obama presidency would not put an end to racism, especially the institutional kind. But it would likely mean whatever political support that remains for affirmative action and other race-conscious policies will dry up like a raisin in the sun.
So, on the one hand, Obama in the White House is not quite the same thing as making it to Martin’s mountaintop. I mean, unless a person thinks African-Americans are inferior, which is the very definition of racism, you can’t say were beyond “the race problem” when black folk are disproportionately in jail, out of school, unemployed and in debt. And none of that is likely to significantly change under an Obama administration — without a mass movement behind it, as Barack has pointed out ad naseum on the campaign trail, even if the point is lost on those who criticize his hope talk.
On the other hand, an Obama presidency would definitely be a huge leap forward on several fronts, to the point where it could very well signify the Civil Rights Movement (dormant since King’s death but still very much alive in our political culture), has come full circle.
And that would be a good thing because when Martin was on the mountaintop, preaching the night before his assassination, King looked to the future of American history and saw beyond the color line — to the horizon of economic justice.
“It’s all right to talk about ‘long white robes over yonder,’ in all of its symbolism,” he said. “But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here. It’s alright to talk about ‘streets flowing with milk and honey,’ but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can’t eat three square meals a day.”
So like I was saying, if — if – Obama wins, and the ghosts of black history don’t condemn us to repeat the Sixties, I guess I’ll be in front of NAACP HQ in the days following the inauguration, holding a sign that’ll read: “No to race-based affirmative action.”
The other side will say: “Yes to a class-based affirmative action.”
Sean Gonsalves is a syndicated columnist and assistant news editor with the Cape Cod Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.