Wednesday, November 5, 2008

1st Black president kills racism dead?


From Michael Eric Dyson's "Race, post race
Barack Obama's historic victory represents a quantum leap in the racial progress of the United States." 

Please read the full text here.

"Contrary to many critics, his [Obama's] election does not, nor should it, herald a post-racial future. But it may help usher in a post-racist future. A post-racial outlook seeks to delete crucial strands of our identity; a post-racist outlook seeks to delete oppression that rests on hate and fear, that exploits cultural and political vulnerability. Obama need not cease being a black man to effectively govern, but America must overcome its brutal racist past to permit his gifts, and those of other blacks, to shine.

Our belief in Obama must become contagious; it must spread and become a belief in other blacks who have been quarantined in racial stereotype. Regarding Obama as an exceptional black man -- when he is in fact an exceptional American -- hampers our whole nation's desire to clear the path to success for more like him. Obama is not the first black American capable of being president; he's the first black American who got the chance to prove it.

We should not be seduced by the notion that Obama's presidency signals the end of racism, the civil rights movement, the struggle for black equality or the careers of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. A President Obama would not have come to be without the groundbreaking efforts of Shirley Chisholm, [black woman who sought the Democratic nomination in 1972, first black woman elected to Congress] and especially Jackson. Obama is able to be cool and calm because leaders like Sharpton, at least in the past, got angry.

Obama is likewise the beneficiary of Frederick Douglass' eloquence and sense of struggle, Booker T. Washington's self-reliant uplift, W.E.B. Du Bois' brilliant unmasking of racial hierarchy, Mary McLeod Bethune's imperishable desire for education, Ella Baker's tactical and strategic energy, Malcolm X's will to literary reinvention and Martin Luther King Jr.'s soaring oratory and ultimate sacrifice.

Obama is the latest link in the chain of progress they all forged in the struggle to improve the U.S. by improving the condition of black folk. Obama will move in exactly the opposite direction: As president, he will improve the condition of black folk because he improves the nation. That is a sign of his calling as a national leader, not a black leader. Or, in the adjectival way we measure racial progress, Obama is not a black president, but a president who's black.

As a black man, I feel indescribable elation and pride to be an American on this day. Black folk have told our children a useful lie in the past: They could be anything their minds and talents permitted them to be, even president. Now we can stop lying and start working to make sure that Obama is only the first of many more -- presidents, astronauts, governors, senators, theoretical physicists, baseball commissioners, NASCAR drivers, Olympic swimmers or whatever other pursuit we can dare to imagine.

One of the greatest effects of Obama's becoming the most powerful man in the world is the incalculable psychic boost it gives young black egos that take shape in the glare of TV screens that project his face and words around the globe. But the real miracle may be that Obama's presidency persuades Americans to take for granted that a talented black person, if trusted, can do a great deal of good for the country. Even before he swears his oath of office, Obama has served the nation in heroic fashion."

Michael Eric Dyson, a professor of sociology at Georgetown University, is the author of many books, including "Holler If You Hear Me," "Is Bill Cosby Right?" and "I May Not Get There With You: The True Martin Luther King Jr."

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

What does it mean when people say Our Constitution is a pro-slavery document?

Keisha said...

I woke up Wednesday morning in a daze. I stayed out in Harlem pretty late celebrating and just acting a fool. So I was a bit groggy when I got out of bed yesterday. When my grogginess subsided, I turned on the news and heard the words, "President-elect Barack Obama." Wow! It was like a dream. I kept reminding myself that it wasn't - this was real. I played with visions of the Obama family in the White House (and their new puppy), Barack addressing the nation as our Commander-in-Chief. I was on a cloud. I got into the shower and as the water streamed over my face, I absorbed all of it. I took it in. I thought about what not only Barack Obama has accomplished, but an entire nation of organizers, believers, activists, youth, men, women, and families. It brought tears to my eyes and inspired such an overwhelming feeling of hope in me. I had forgotten what hope felt like. It's one of those emotions that can so easily slip away through years of cynicism, doubt, and witnessing injustices. I rode my cloud all the way to class. Every time I thought about it, tears would well up in my eyes. As the day went on, I began to cry for a different reason. I understood that though this is a wonderful and historic moment, it only accents the great amount of work that has yet to be done. It breaks my heart to hear of the various anti-gay laws that have passed in California and Arkansas. It breaks my heart to hear the news media actually ask whether we have moved passed racism in this country. I am deeply overjoyed, but my newly reclaimed sense of hope is tempered by feelings of resentment and the realization that the work is not yet done. I initially found Barack's election night speech to be a bit odd. His voice and posture seemed so subdued. Now I understand it to be the voice of a humble man who also realizes that there is a great uphill climb ahead. On my way home a young man said to me, "Now begins the heavy lifting."

butchrebel said...

Anonymous: There is a lot that can be said in response to your question, so I may add to my answer in the days to come.

First, the original wording of the Bill of Rights -- which is what the 1st ten Amendments to the Constitution is called -- referred to the right of "men" to "Life, Liberty, and Property." Since enslaved black women, men and children were legally defined as property -- the Bill of Rights/ theConstitution secured the right of slaveowners to possess black bodies and labor (both physical and reproductive).

Additionally, the white men who wrote the Constitution -- both slaveholders and non-slaveholders -- protected the international slave trade for 20 years and agreed to counting enslaved people as 3/5ths of a person.

The number of representatives each state has in the House (i.e., the House of Representatives in Congress) is based on the size of their population. Legally recognizing enslaved people as 3/5ths of a person (a white man was legally defined as a full person) allowed slave states/slaveowners to put more representatives in the House -- representatives that would, of course, protect the interests of slaveholders (particularly, large slaveholders) who were the wealthiest people in the South and among the wealthiest people in the entire country (like today, the extremely wealthy comprised a small number of the population).

Enslaved people could not vote before they were considered 3/5ths of a person -- and they could not vote after they were considered 3/5ths of a person -- yet it was their presence that permitted southern slaveholders a more significant, powerful place in Congress.

By protecting the international slave trade and recognizing slaves as 3/5ths of a person, the Constitution's writers demonstrated their belief in and acceptance of slavery as part of the U.S.'s so called democracy.

United States democracy has always carved out a place for white supremacy (male supremacy, heterosexual supremacy) etc., -- after the Civil War, when slavery was abolished, the federal government withdrew its troops from the South (in 1877), which ensured that black male southerners would not vote until the 1960s and permitted white southerners to go on a decade long killing spree that included lynchings and organized rape campaigns.

After slavery's abolition and the North's/federal government's withdrawal from the South -- the federal government permitted Jim Crow -- or legal race segregation -- to exist for about 70 years, and failed -- yet again -- to protect African American women, men, and children active in the mid-20th century Civil Rights Movement from being brutalized, murdered and raped by white southern segregationists.

That's why some people call The Constitution a pro-slavery document.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for answering so fast.

-s.l.

butchrebel said...

S.L. -- I should add that white women were legally defined as white men's property as well. So the Constitution's reference to "men" implies that slaves -- that is, enslaved black women, men and children are the property of white slaveowners -- and white women are the property of their white husbands and fathers.

Campbell said...

Very eloquently put. American dreamed this moment and it became real.