By Elwood Watson
A few weeks ago, I was talking with a good friend of mine about the acceptance speech that Barack Obama delivered in Denver. We both watched the speech at different locations and commented on how Obama’s was so inspiring, emotive, sincere and downright “on the money in his message!
I am a generation X Black professional and he is a Generation Y professional. We are both college professors. According to those who examine birth groups, generation X encompasses those of us who were born between 1965 to 1977. Generation Y accounts for those of who were born between 1978 to 1992. At 29 years and 41 years old respectively, we are both on the upper end of our generations.
This fact aside, we both had a very emotional conversation (a positive one) on what we had witnessed. Both of us were overjoyed at the fact that an attractive, intelligent, community-conscious Black man had secured the Democratic Party nomination for president of the United States of America. Despite the fact that we both believed that we would probably see a Black person nominated for president, we thought that we would be much older when such an event would happen. The fact that it happened while we are relatively young people was even more gratifying.
Needless to say, such glee transformed itself across generational lines. My older siblings, all baby boomers, were elated at the prospect of a Black president. I saw a number of television programs were Black people of all ages from 15 to 92 were being interviewed, some with tears running down their faces, many expressing their undiluted joy that something that they thought would never happen in their lifetimes. In fact, one of the most unprecedented and inspiring moments I witnessed at the Democratic Convention was when I saw Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi officially state “I declare Senator Barack Obama of Illinois the Democratic nominee for president of the United States.” Upon hearing this, several Black delegates, mostly elderly ones, but of varied ages broke into tears. So did I.
While the fact that a Black man has received the endorsement of a major party, there are still some Black Americans ranging from talk show hosts, to professors, to maintenance workers to retired people who are concerned (not without total rationales) as to whether an Obama presidency will actually be a double edge sword for the Black community. Many of the individuals casted their ballots for Obama with the hope that his presidency would help bridge the nation’s racial divide are also concerned that his victory will prompt many White Americans (and perhaps some Blacks) to adopt a “well, we a have a Black man as president, we have obviously overcome” sort of mindset. This conversation is of real concern from barber and beauty shops to soul food restaurants and from academic conferences to houses of worship. The fear for some is that the problems of the Black poor and underclass will be relegated “to the wilderness” so to speak.
While it is clear that an Obama presidency will not change the problems that are facing a large segment of the Black community overnight, or a period of time for that matter, I am more optimistic about the fact that a biracial man who has risen from humble beginnings, was temporarily the product of a single mother who had to sporadically apply for food stamps, was largely raised by his White grandparents, decided to forego a lucrative law firm position, but rather immersed himself into the grunting and largely thankless, tedious, and at times stress-filled job of a being a community organizer will certainly remind, indeed demand, that White America as well as Americans of all races be attuned to the fact that the problems of Black, White, Latino, poor and the economically disadvantaged of all races are real and will not be forsaken. Perhaps that is the optimist in me, but it is exactly the sort of optimistic spirit in many Black Americans that inspired a large number of us to cast our primary ballots for him. I have no doubt that the majority of us will do the same this coming November. Whether he wins or loses the presidency, there is no doubt that Barack Obama is a Black person who can serve as an inspiration for us all.
Dr. Elwood Watson is a full professor of History and African American Studies at East Tennessee State University. He is the author of several award-winning academic articles, several anthologies and is the author of the book Outsiders Within: Black Women in the Legal Academy After Brown v. Board (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Spring 2008)